Celebrity Names Blog

Will "The Help" Boost The Popularity Of The Name Octavia?

Will "The Help" Boost The Popularity Of The Name Octavia?
Juan Rico/Fame Pictures

The Academy Awards are five months away but Octavia Spencer is already being talked up as a nominee for her role in The Help. As her unforgettable performance as outspoken maid Minny Jackson resonates with movie-goers and critics, we brush up on the history of the regal sounding name Octavia, which you may hear a lot of — following the words "And the award goes to..." — come Oscar time.

Octavia is of Latin origin and means “eight” or “eighth.” Parents have been known to give their eighth child the name Octavia — though eight-child families are rare these days. A modern alternate could be to give it to an August baby to signify the eighth month. The number name was very memorable in Roman history thanks to Octavia the Younger. She was the sister of  the first Roman Emperor, Augustus (also known as Octavian), and the fourth wife of Mark Antony. Funny enough, she also had a half sister Octavia the Elder, and later her great-granddaughter — who went on to marry Emperor Nero — was named Octavia, too.

Two modern TV shows — The BBC’s award-winning I, Claudius (1976) and HBO’s Rome (2005-2007) — focused a lot on Octavia The Younger, who is generally remembered in history for being loyal, noble and womanly. She was also included in Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra.

The multi-syllabic name Octavia is feminine sounding and rhythmic. It could be an alternative (albeit a formal one) to the popular Olivia. The –ia ending gives it potential – Sophia, Sofia, Mia, Victoria and the above mentioned Olivia are all Top-50 names. However, Octavia is more formal sounding. Also, Octavia lacks a good nickname, with the Tavie or Tavy being the only real options, and could be a mouthful for young children.

As far as Octavia’s popularity in the U.S., the name continuously appeared in the Top-1000 from 1880 to 1928. (It peaked at No. 306.) It fell off the list in 1938 and returned in 1971 before disappearing permanently after 1998.

Kevin Sorbo has a daughter named Octavia Flynn (born in 2005). Other famous women with the name are the sci-fi author Octavia Butler (1947 –2006) and British reformer Octavia Hill (1838 – 1912), the latter actually was the eighth daughter in her family.

The Help actress Octavia Spencer, who tells Name Candy that she is named after Octavia the Minor ("the most famous Roman Octavia"), comes from a large family but she’s "one of seven" children. She's also pals with author Kathryn Stockett who wrote the novel The Help with Octavia inspiring the personality of the character Minny. But Octavia got a huge surprise when she read the book for the first time and discovered that Kathryn named Minny’s sister Octavia in honor of her friend. "I wept like a baby," she said to Backstage.com about the honor. "I was like, 'Oh my God, my name's in a book!' "

And it’s possible Octavia’s name will go down in the books… especially come award show time.

How would you describe the name Octavia? Share the first two or three words that come to mind. Plus: Did you see The Help? What was the name of your favorite character?



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August 29, 2011 10:21 PM
By Joyce (not verified)

I think octave, pitch, musical. Have not seen The Help yet but plan to on my next girls night out.

August 29, 2011 10:31 PM
By Elizabeth (not verified)

I knew an Oktayvia. I have an affection for that name.

August 30, 2011 6:42 AM
By Anne Maddox (not verified)

We named our 4th child Octavia, named after my great great grandmother. She is 15 months old:) We call her Occy. My gg grandmother went by Octie. Our oldest daughter (age 6) is named Penelope, then we have a Henrietta, a Millicent, and baby Octavia. We love the old fashioned names.

August 30, 2011 9:59 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I like the name Octavia. I would use the nn Vita, but I think Tia would also work.

August 30, 2011 10:22 AM
By Susan (not verified)

I love it. I could see a sib set of Octavia and Aurora!

August 30, 2011 11:57 AM
By Quelle Belle (not verified)

I met a Tavia once (not sure if her name was short for Octavia; she would be around 35 now). With the -a ending, I think it flows better that just Tavie.

August 30, 2011 12:49 PM
By Zoe (not verified)

While I like the sound I think it might be held back by its lack of easy nicknames. The hard sounds are also contradictory to the current trend for our old fashioned names to be soft and lilting. Isabella, Charlotte and Lillian are perfect examples.

August 30, 2011 1:59 PM
By Nicole (not verified)

My Octavia turned 8 this year, fittingly enough. Pythagoras's Law of Octaves was the inspiration for her name. She loves her name and her dad and I still do. She doesn't really have a nickname, although she sometimes refers to herself as Ock. The only problem she encounters is people wanting to call her Olivia all the time.

August 31, 2011 12:57 AM
By Kira (not verified)

Original, artistic, lovely.

I would use Octavia for a daughter. I love the letters O, T, and V in names. Also, eight is my favorite number.

September 1, 2011 4:25 PM
By Jude (not verified)

I liked Abiliene myself.

September 7, 2011 1:33 AM
By Tarmie (not verified)

I've always liked the name Octavia - it sounds regal. :) I also think it's a good formal name if you wanted to use the name Ava for your little girl, but without it being her full name.

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