Classic Names: A trio of Theos

The Theo family of names is moving on up, en masse.

The pater familias, Theodore, progressed thirty places this year on the Social Security list, rose 115% on Nameberry searches and was the only boy’s name to register more than once on our latest Quarterly Report, plus it’s been the choice of several celebrities, including Dallas Bryce Howard, Natascha McElhone and Ali Larter.

 It’s a name with so much to recommend it—as one of the classic names that has a lot more personality than many others, being serious but with a sense of humor, and boasting a choice of great nicknames.

In this country, Theodore’s history is very much tied to our youngest president ever, the ebullient, energetic, charismatic Theodore Roosevelt (who was a Theodore, Junior), the U.S. Chief Executive from 1901 to 1905. It was in that period that the name hit its highest peak, reaching Number 30 in 1904, then staying in the Top 100 until 1944. One thing that didn’t catch on, though, was his childhood nickname of Teedie.

But one nickname that has led to the resurgence of Theodore is the lively o-ending Theo, which leads an independent life of its own. Though it sounds cool and modern, Theo has actually had periods of popularity in the past, on the list from at least 1880 to 1945, peaking, along with the father name, in 1904, at Number 407. In modern times, Theo was no doubt energized by the friendly image of the only male Cosby kid in the eighties and early nineties; Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg used it for their son back in 1988.

It’s not that Theodore hasn’t had some image hurdles to overcome. There was the annoyingly naïve, nerdy Chipmunk starting in the sixties, and the equally naïve Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver in the days of black-and-white TV. But there are more notable namesakes as well: founder of Zionism Theodore Herzl, novelist Dreiser, poet Roethke, painters Géricault and Rousseau—as well as being the first name of Dr. Seuss, spelled without the final ‘e.’ In literature, Theodore is the birth name of Laurie in Little Women, and Theodore Nott is a Harry Potter character.

The more conventional nickname Ted (also used as a pet form of Edward) was consistently on the list until 1996, when it had begun to feel really dated, associated, for one, with the white-haired Ted Kennedy, who was one of the Edwardian Teds, as is Ted Danson, while Ted Turner was christened Robert. Baseball’s Ted Williams and musician Ted Nugent were actually born Theodore. The most recently famous/infamous Ted was the foul-mouthed cinematic stuffed bear protagonist of the eponymous film. In spite of that, though, as parents are currently reassessing the nickname Ned, we wonder if Ted couldn’t make a comeback as well.

The cuddlier Teddy was also strongly associated with President Roosevelt, and popular on its own throughout most of the twentieth century, dropping off with Ted in 1996. How did the name become associated with a stuffed animal? The Teddy bear was inspired by a TR hunting trip incident in which he refused to shoot a helpless animal; this became the subject of a Washington Post political cartoon which in turn inspired the creation of a little stuffed bear cub dubbed Teddy’s Bear—setting off a national fad.

The lovely feminine version Theodora, which also means “gift of god,” hasn’t ever approached the popularity of her brother. She’s never ranked higher than the 500s and has been out of the Top 1000 since 1954—making her an excellent candidate for revival. Theodora did play a part in the ancient world, in particular as the beautiful ninth wife of the Emperor Justinian, considered to be the most influential and powerful woman in the Roman Empire’s history, later canonized a saint. Other associations: as the name of a famous Handel oratorio, a classic screwball comedy, Theodora Goes Wild, a sister of Prince Philip, and a now-grown daughter of Keith Richards. Silent screen vamp Theda Bara was born Theodosia—a more exotic form, as is the Russian Feodora.

Thea, though not having the theo beginning, still feels very much like part of the family, the artistic, creative one. In Greek mythology, Thea gave birth to Helios, the sun, Eos, dawn, and Selene, the moon, and thus is the goddess from whom light emanates. And with Thea you get your choice of three pronunciations: THEE-a or THAY-a or TAY-a.

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22 Responses to “Classic Names: A trio of Theos”

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Mara_lyn86 Says:

October 22nd, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I like these names.

Theodora is going to get more popularity soon with the release of Oz: The Great and Powerful in 2013. Mila Kunis plays a character named Theodora, so people may see it as being more attractive because of her.

Teddy is such a cute nn.

Heyheymse Says:

October 22nd, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Noooooo, don’t write about Theodora! That’s my number one name – I can’t stand the idea of it getting popular before I have the chance to have a little Theodora of my own.

Poppy528 Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:06 am

Love Theodosia. My husband and I met in college while taking English 101, and the teacher’s name was Althea, which makes the name Thea seem a little dear.

shinysarah11 Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 5:57 am

I love Theda, particularly. I love the 1920’s, so this is an adorable option! Theadosia and Theodora are also great. I still love Isadora better if I had a choice, but I think it’s on the verge of getting popular. Why are all the good interesting names getting too common??

aunt_ning Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 6:53 am

I love the name Theodore, partly because of Little Women, which funny enough I picked up to reread this morning. Its such a strong classic name with the chance for fun nicknames.

dresdendoll Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 10:30 am

I prefer the spelling Theadora (with an “a” in the middle, not an “o”)…nn Thea.

Whirligig Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 10:31 am

My sister is called Theadora! We mostly just call her Thea though. I like Theo etc. names but would never use them as it would be confusing for other family members.

Also a question-The forums don’t seem to be working. Is that just me or ise anyone else experiencing this problem?

Pierrette35 Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 10:53 am

Theo is not only getting popular in the US it is also getting popular in Canada. In the (french-speaking) province of Quebec there were 82 little Theo born in 2007 and a whoping 348 in 2011! (
It is now the 23rd most popular name. It is my absolute favorite name if I ever have a boy. I’ve even considered Thea if I have a third girl. P:)

erose Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:24 pm

The forums aren’t working for me either, it’s not just you Whiligig!

My great grandfather was a Theodore, called Teddy and I plan on naming a son after him.

(There is a heroine called Theodosia, of a children’t book series the title of which I have forgotten)

pam Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Sorry about the forums, everyone. Yesterday’s Amazon Cloud outage, which shut us along with a lot of other sites like Reddit and TMZ down, continues to cause some odd problems with the site. Working to get it all running back to normal asap. Frustrating!

Whirligig Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Thanks Pam. Its good to know its not just my computer. I have been shouting at it all afternoon!

UniqueNameLover Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Theodora is nice, but I think I prefer Isadora and Theadora.

pam Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 1:01 pm

The forums should be working again now. I hope your computer didn’t shout back! We can all blame the hacker who took down the Amazon servers…

dayjoysky2815 Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I’ve always loved Thea, especially since Leah became popular. I thought of Thea as a unique alternative to this. Very pretty sound.

namelover77 Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I adore Theodora, but I’m not crazy about the others.

spotlightstarlit Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I have been thinking about Theodore so much lately!

It feels slightly “official” as a brother for my boy names, though I am not very in love with them, at least not as much as I am with my girl names.

However, as a writer I do have a flair for the literary, and after turning over and over Josephine and deciding it was not “me” enough, perhaps I should turn my attention to Theodore as retro nicknames Theo and Teddy are 100% perfect for my other nicknames!

Agent99 Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 5:24 pm

I love Theodora but agree, when “Oz: The Great and Powerful” comes out the name will definitely gain more attention, but I doubt it will shoot up the charts.

For some reason the site is saying my name is “namelover7” when it’s actually “agent99”, I’m going to post this comment and see if it comes up correctly, if not I will send an email to Pam or Linda to see if I’m having a problem or if it’s on Nameberry’s end.

cbuxton Says:

October 23rd, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Our first son is Theodore (almost always called Theo). He was born in 2010! I hope it doesn’t become too popular, it’s relative unpopularity here in Australia was one of the reasons we chose it! I suspect Theodora will become more attractive after Robbie Williams gave his daughter that name.

blueberry1215 Says:

October 24th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Hate the nickname Teddy, but I love Althea. Teddy was the name of a big-eared kid who was the first one to ever ask me out . I declined. XD

pattyanniee Says:

September 28th, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I love Theo, just plain Theo, not as a nickname or anything, although realistically I suppose it’ll have to be. I don’t see Theodora becoming too too popular, and do love its Spanish-literature relations.

taliesin Says:

October 20th, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Theodore, Theodora, Ted, Teddy – Have a friend who named his third son Matthias Theodore.

also Theo is the name of Clair Bloom’s character in the 1963 creepy The Haunting based on Shirley Jackson’s very excellent and creepy book The Haunting of Hill House, so I’ve always associated the name Theo as one for a psychic.

CandaceMarie321 Says:

November 23rd, 2013 at 10:12 am

I have always loved the name Theodore. I was fortunate enough to marry a man who’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather carried so it was the perfect choice for our first born son in 2005. He was Teddy as a young child, but around the age of 6 decided he was more of a Theodore and now goes by his full name (except at church where everyone still calls him Teddy).
It is kind of exciting to see Theodore becoming more popular (and to feel like I was way out in front of a naming trend). It gives him a stronger sense of familiarity in his generation but he is still quite unique in his age group.

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