Odette, Ottilie, and Otis: The Ottos

Otto Names

Once upon a time, there was a tiny Germanic name element: Aud.  It meant wealth, and appeared mostly in compound names like Audoin and Audogar.  I’m not sure if all of those names were directly related to Aud, but the sound was a fairly common one.

Eventually, Aud became Audo, Odo, and the familiar Otto.

Now Otto and his cousins are early days into a what could be a serious comeback, bringing with them forms of the name that have never been popular in the US.

From celebrity choices to hipster baby name lists to television characters, a growing number link back to Otto and company.

Also on the upswing: Otto’s quiet cousins, names linked in the deepest recesses of onomastic history, but completely under the radar today.

Otto Names for Boys

Otto – Through the years Audo become Udo and Odo and Otto, and it is the last of those that has proven most wearable in English.  The first Holy Roman Emperor was Otto the Great, back in the 900s.  Fast forward a thousand years to the 1800s in America, and Otto was a Top 100 pick.  But then came the World Wars, and all things German were less desirable.  Otto faded, leaving the US Top 1000 entirely in the 1970s.  But now he’s back, re-entering the US Top 1000 in 2011, and reaching #696 in 2013.  Otto feels quirky and cool.  With that vibrant ‘o’ ending, Otto is an alternative for parents disappointed that Leo and Milo have gone mainstream.

Otis – Otto has the edge in terms of numbers, but Hollywood prefers Otis.  Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis admitted that they were influenced by singer-songwriter Otis Redding when they named their son Otis Alexander in 2014.  Otis is originally a surname form – think of Otis elevators and escalators.  But it migrated to the first spot long ago, and was only slightly less popular than Otto in the nineteenth century.  While Otis has yet to return to the US Top 1000, here’s guessing that we’ll see him there soon.

Odilon – Okay, no one is naming their sons Odilon.  But I’m intriguing by this French rarity, just a few sounds removed from Shakespeare’s Oberon and the mythological-celestial Orion – which has seen a big uptick in use in recent years.

Otto Names for Girls

Odelia, Odilia – Olivia, Amelia, Odelia.  It’s easy to imagine this name fitting right in, isn’t it?  Odelia hugged the edges of the US Top 1000 back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  28 girls were given the name last year.  Meanwhile, Odilia is even rarer – never in the Top 1,000, and a mere five girls given the name in 2013.  With no notable saints, queens, or pop culture references to speak of, Odelia seems destined to languish unused.  And yet, if you’re after a girls’ name ending in -lia that is truly unusual, but not at all invented, Odelia qualifies.

Adelaide Giuri as Odette and Mikhail Mordkin a...

Odette – Odette had a good run in France in the 1920s, and Odette Sansom was a heroine of the French Resistance during World War II.  In the US, Odette would have likely remained obscure, except for one little thing: The Black Swan.  Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake was given new life in 2010, thanks to the Oscar-nominated film.  Now we all know that the White Swan is called Odette.  Recently, Odette has made it to all sorts of lists claiming it is a hipster baby name – whatever that means.  It definitely has the potential to appeal to parents after something decidedly different.  60 girls were given the name in 2013.

Odile – If Odette is the White Swan, does the Black Swan have a name?  Yes, yes she does – Odile, pronounced oh DEEL.  There’s a Saint Odile of Alsace.  Legend has it that she born blind sometime in the 600s.  Her powerful father disapproved of a disabled daughter.  Odile was sent to a monastery, baptized, and her sight was miraculously restored.  Her cult was big in the Middle Ages, especially in Germany, but Odile was a French saint.  (Odilia is the Latinized form of Odile.) Strictly speaking, Odette evolved as a pet form of the more formal Odile – but they’ve long been understood as two separate names. In France, the name peaked in the 1950s.  It’s seldom heard in the US.

Ottilie – A favorite in name circles, with a literary lilt thanks to a Robert Louis Stevenson poem and a mention by Goethe.  Ottilie feels French – think of Emilie or Elodie – but is actually German.  Remember the popularity of Saint Odile?  It’s among the rarest names on this list – just six girls were given the name in 2013.

Ottoline – British actors Sienna Miller and Tom Sturridge welcomed a daughter named Marlowe Ottoline in 2012. A few years earlier, the name was given to a children’s book character.  During the 1920s and 30s, Lady Ottoline Morrell was a noted hostess of a literary salon that attracted writers like Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf, and TS Eliot.  But that’s where the trail of noted Ottolines ends.  The name has never been given to as many as five girls born in the US in any single year.  But if Caroline is a classic, and Clementine is stylish, why not Ottoline?

Otto Names: Distant Cousins

Now we get to an interesting category – names connected to Otto by a gossamer thin strand!  Ead is the Old English equivalent of Aud, and it also features in many a name.  It might be a stretch to call these Otto names, but they definitely share some percentage of name DNA.  Others are likely derived from aud, but sound nothing like Otto and company today.

Adair – A Scottish surname name, sometimes connected to the given name Edgar, one of many names derived from the element ead – wealth.

Edgar, Edith, Edmund, Edward, Edwin, Edwina – That Old English cousin to aud was well-used in given names.  While many of these died out after the Norman conquest, many were revived in the nineteenth century.  Today they range from stylish up-and-comers like Edith to classics like Edward to those in style limbo – probably the right category for Edgar and Edwina.  All have history and some claim to the same meaning as our friend Otto.

Elodie – I’ve been waiting for Elodie to take off.  This French name is a favorite in name circles, with that stylish Elo- sound shared by Eloise.  And 170 girls were given the name in 2013, up from just 21 in 2013.  So Elodie may have a bright future.  The name makes this list because it is the French form of the Spanish Alodia.  Alodia is probably one of those names that came to Spain with the Visigoths between the 600s and 800s, and comes from the element aud.  We remember Alodia because she and her sister, Nunila were young Christian women martyred in the ninth century during the Christian persecutions in Cordoba.  But all of that is fairly obscure today, and it is Elodie’s appealing sound that could lift the name.

Eudes – No one is likely to name a son Eudes in the US in 2015.  I’ve included it on the list to show just how far those Audo names changed in other languages.  Eudes is a French form, worn by a ninth century King of West Francia, also known as the Kingdom of the West Franks.  There were a handful of other notables, and Eudes survived as a surname, as in Saint John Eudes, the seventeenth century priest and founder of the Order of Our Lady of Charity.

Monet – It’s impossible to hear Monet and not think of the artist, Claude Monet, a founder of Impressionism, and perhaps one of the best known artists of all time.  But as a surname, Monet may be related to Edmond – and thus an Otto name by the slimmest of connections.

Othello – Otho could be a Roman family name, or it might be another form of Otto.  If Otho is an Otto name, than so is Othello.

Which Otto names are your favorites?  Are there any I’ve missed?  Would you consider using any of these for a child?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

9 Comments

Actress Ottilie “Tilly” Losch, Countess of Carnavon, Selma Ottilia Lagerlöf won the 1909 Nobel Prize for literature,Ottilie Godefroy, aka Tilla Durieux, was an Austrian actress, Ottilie of Katzenelnbogen, born in 1453, daughter of Countess Ottilie of Nassau who named her daughter Ottilie as well. Ottilina would be a nice varient.

Also, don’t forget Odin for a boy.

I have a relative named Odelia — she’s Israeli, but I believe it’s equally uncommon there! One other Ott-name — I have an Italian friend named Ottavia (oh-tav-ee-ah), it’s constantly mispronounced, but a beautiful name.

My great great-grandfather was named Otten, and my mom’s maiden name is a patronymic meaning Otten’s son. I really wanted to use Otten/Otto for my son’s middle name, until we picked Peter for his first name and I realized we couldn’t curse him with the initials POS. Auden also made our shortlist, but since the only Auden we know IRL is a girl… hubby nixed it.

Ottilie is one of those names that loses its wonderful crispness in a Canadian/American English accent. I think the French variant is spelled Othilie. I put it on our list when we were expecting our girl and it didn’t get a very positive response.

Adair is, well, very debonair, although I think I prefer Alasdair. I think Otis is my favourite on the list.

Marlowe Ottoline is such a strange pairing!

The loveliness of Odelia gives the Shakespeareian sense of Ophelia…but without the whole “Oh-FEEL-ya Butts” joke.
I’m recommending this one to a friend!
Beautiful list once again, Abby!

This is one of those name groupings that I would sing from the rooftops in the direction of all my pregnant friends…if I wasn’t so horribly selfish. I love the Otto-family and I want them all to myself!