Classic Names: A trio of Theos

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.

Any of these make it onto your list?

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.