Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Otto
Otto was originally a pet form for any of the ancient Germanic names beginning with the element “od, ot” meaning “wealth, prosperity” (it shares the same Germanic root etymology with the Olde English element “ēad” also meaning “prosperity, riches” which gave birth to English names like Edward, Edgar and Edwin). Otto is actually an early medieval variation on ancient names such as Odo or Oden and was borne by the founder of the Holy Roman Empire in the 10th century, Otto the Great. To put into perspective just how old this name is, Otto the Great had brothers named Thancmar and Hedwig (names which obviously didn’t survive into modern times). Four different Holy Roman Emperors claimed the name Otto between the 10th and 13th centuries, but it really all began with Otto the Great who marked the beginning of the German monarchy. At this point in European history, the Carolingian kings had lost their power. The Carolingian Dynasty had been founded by Charlemagne in the 8th century and controlled much of Western and Central Europe (the first great empire following the collapse of the Roman Empire three centuries earlier). By the 10th century the Carolingians had become ineffective at holding back Germanic, Slavic and Hungarian tribes pushing at their borders. This offered an opportunity for Otto to carry out the work begun by his father Henry the Fowler, Duke of Saxony and appointed first King of the medieval German state. Otto inherited this lofty position and deftly set about unifying the various German tribes, gaining control of the Roman Catholic Church and subduing the political power of the aristocracy through strategic marriages and appointments. His son and grandson (Otto II and Otto III) were not as “great” as Otto I but the Ottonian period (as these three successive reigns are often referred to) formed the beginning of a German national identity. Another illustrious and pivotal figure in German history is Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) who used his considerable power as Prime Minister of Prussia to lead the unification of the modern German states through a series of wars (first with Denmark, followed by the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars). Considered a pragmatic nationalist yet diplomatic genius, von Bismarck would eventually be named Chancellor of the newly defined united Germany. Another important Otto was Otto Frank (1889-1980), the father of Anne Frank. Otto is one of those quintessential German masculine names (others that come to mind: Karl, Ludwig, Franz, Claus, Johann, Leopold, Sigmund and Wolfgang). Today the name Otto is most commonly used in Finland but it’s also a Top 100 choice in Sweden. It appears to have fallen out of fashion in Germany, though.