Theodore belongs to a US president, a singing chipmunk, and more and more real boys with every passing day.
Thanks to Katharine for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Theodore: Gift of God
Long before the chubby chipmunk first appeared on television with Alvin and Simon in the 1960s, this name was well established. In fact, it stretches back to pre-Christian times, making the animated rodent more of a footnote than a defining figure.
In Greek, the name started out as Theodoros. Theos refers to god; doron means gift – God’s gift.
The name was in heavy use in the ancient world – a pioneering sixth century BC architect and a fourth century BC mathematician.
The first saint appears around the 400s AD. There’s a seventh century Byzantine military leader. Add in a pair of popes and the rulers of Naples, Russia, Corsica, Ethiopia, Antioch and Montferrat and this was a widely known name well before the nineteenth century.
Theodore: Victorian Favorite
But not until around 1800 did the name become popular in English, when those creative Victorians finally discovered Theodore.
We can layer in literary Theodores (Dreiser, Roethke) and, of course, the 26th president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt.
US popularity data begins in 1880, and this name is squarely in the Top 100 – and rising. In fact, it was President Roosevelt’s election that seemed to catapult the name into the Top 50 during his tenure in office.
The name reached peak popularity in the first decade of the 1900s.
By the time Ross Bagdasarian recorded his novelty Christmas song in 1958, creating the trio of singing chipmunks, Theodore was on its way out.
In fact, all three chipmunks were named for executives at Bagdasarian’s record label – which tracks, because those executives were probably born during the name’s earlier run of popularity.
By 1959, the trio were appearing in a comic strip. And by 1961, they had their first television show.
They’ve been updated and revised over the years, changing and adapting to try new musical styles.
For much of this time, the names Alvin, Simon, and yes, Theodore, were all out of favor. Today, even though the trio has recently appeared in a successful quartet of live action movies, parents seem less concerned about the association than ever before.
Theodore: Teddy and Theo
Energetic Theo, cuddly Teddy and retro Ted all serve as possible nicknames. I’d guess that our love of Leo helped encourage parents to consider Theo.
Teddy might also appeal to parents who love names like Charlie and Max – casual, but classic, too.
He’s attracting more attention than ever nowadays. Theodore ranked #301 in 2007, and had climbed more than one hundred places to #197 by 2012. He shows no signs of slowing down, as parents look for classic choices slightly less common than William and Alexander.
Theodore: Comeback Classic
Way back in 2000, Theodore ranked a relatively rare #312. Since then, it’s grown dramatically in use, reaching the Top 100 in 2015, and standing at #62 as of 2017.
If you’re after an indisputable classic with easy nickname options and a smart, capable vibe, this name belongs on your list.
What do you think of Theodore? And do you prefer Theo or Teddy as a nickname?
This post was published originally on October 24, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on November 4, 2013, and again on August 15, 2018.