Analysis · Medieval Names


With the increasing popularity of Otto in the U.S. (currently ranked #527), will some parents start choosing Odo for their baby’s name? The two names are related (deriving from a Germanic word meaning “wealth” or “fortune,” though Odo is pronounced more like Oh-doe than Ought-o or Odd-o. A relative’s Star Trek binge-watching planted this obscure name in my mind. To me, Odo evokes images of handsome medieval knights and polite, stern space aliens.

Odo has never appeared in the Social Security Administration‘s extended name data. In order for that to happen, a name has to be given to at least five same-gendered babies in a year. Thankfully, the SSA’s “Popular Baby Names” isn’t the only database available to search for baby name histories. You can also glance at the Social Security Death Index* for clues. The SSDI is especially useful for researching names in the late 19th century and early 20th century, because it doesn’t seem to have minimal popularity restrictions (which are in place for the birth data to protect the privacy of presumably living citizens). Also, sometimes if you see a “popular” 19th century name in the birth data, you’ll find a higher number of them in the death data. No idea why *that* is, but it is another reason why the SSDI is such a valuable tool. Finally, you can sometimes see the names of people born before 1880 in the death index; the birth index starts at 1880.

While I never found Odo in the birth data, I did find over sixty Odo‘s in the death index. The earliest two were born in 1874 (in Wisconsin and Texas), and the last in 1946 (South Carolina). The youngest was probably the son of another Odo who was born in 1915 in the same SC town; overall, the last Odo born before the youngest (that has died, anyway) was born in 1938. According to the death index, no more than three Odo‘s were born each year nationally. While there might be a handful still living, this paucity suggests the possibility that Odo never reached SSA’s minimal popularity threshold of 5 uses even accounting for incomplete/inaccurate name info before 1937. The other possibility is that even if five Odo‘s were born in a single year after 1879, at least two weren’t recorded because they died early or worked in the wrong employment sector.

Despite Odo‘s status as an extremely rare name in 21st century America, it isn’t exactly obscure. Nowadays, Odo mostly appears in pop culture and video games. The book Fellowship of the Ring mentions a minor character named Odo Proudfoot, who is a cousin to Bilbo Baggins. An Odo is also referenced in Harry Potter through song. Star Trek’s Odo is probably better known than the examples above, though. In Deep Space Nine, Odo is the station’s shape-shifting, Quark-hating security guard. That Odo is a major character, and I’m honestly surprised the name didn’t breach the extended data at least once during the show’s run in the 1990s.  Odo isn’t exactly a sci-fi creation; it’s a historical name!

From left: Bishop Odo, King William, and their brother Robert

Did I mention history? Famous early bearers include King Odo of France (also known as Eudes) and Saint Odo of Cluny. William the Conqueror also had a maternal half-brother named Odo who was Earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux. If you’ve ever played “Crusader Kings II” as I have, you may have interacted with this character (whose surname is “de Conteville”). In real life, he wasn’t the only Odo in England. The 1086 Domesday Book records several individuals named Odo and even one Odolina.

What do you think of Odo? Is it too weird or pretentious for modern usage, or is it like a book just waiting to be dusted off and read? Would *you* use it? Let me know in the comments! 

*If you’d like to access the SSDI and don’t have a subscription to, you can do as I did and go on Family Search, which offers it for free. 

4 thoughts on “Odo

  1. Hey, great blog! I think (as someone from an Austrian background) that Odo is just not in keeping with the trends that people look for in names. I think it is just too stolid and simple. People seem to all want to choose ‘lithe’ names, with lots of vowel sounds and if you can squeeze a diphthong in there, all to the better!

    I think the Lord of the Rings character reference is very apt, it sounds like the name of a stocky labourer or farm hand in some slightly b gone era. I can imagine Odo repairing a drystone wall, or catching a cow by the nose to help the vet deliver a stuck calf. I can’t see Odo in a suit, doing the ‘success’ thing. But gee I’d like to!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like Odo. Sounds very medieval. (Also rhymes with Frodo, so perhaps fits well with the hobbits!)

    I had no idea that Otto was gaining in popularity! I had a great uncle named Otto (my grandmother’s brother, they came from Germany) so I have a bit of a soft spot for that name. Great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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