Is there a currently accepted etymology for the name Otho? Lewis and Short suggest it comes from the Greek Ὄθων, which I suppose they mean comes from ὄθομαι, but how good is that suggestion? There's also ὠθέω, but from Juvenal, the first O in Otho is definitely short.

For what it's worth, the OLD doesn't have an etymology for it.

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    FWIW, the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names gives only one hit for Ὄθων (in volume 3A -- maybe this is the emperor). It certainly wasn't a common Greek name.
    – TKR
    Jun 10, 2017 at 16:02
  • @TKR Good catch. There were a couple of Othones, so my bets are on this fellow being a Roman, not a Greek, though I don't have immediate access to the Lexicon.
    – cmw
    Jun 10, 2017 at 16:05
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    Lewis and Short do not actually say that Latin Otho "comes from" the Greek Ὄθων, but rather that it "= Ὄθων", that is to say, that Ὄθων is the Greek spelling of this Roman name. It is a Latin cognomen.
    – fdb
    Jun 10, 2017 at 22:46
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    The Wikipaedia article on Otho says that he came from an old Etruscan family, so perhaps the name is Etruscan in origin? Hard to say, considering our lack of knowledge of Etruscan.
    – varro
    Jun 12, 2017 at 0:02

1 Answer 1


As Varro says in his comment above, the cognomen Otho might be Etruscan, because the family was apparently descended from Etruscan princes, according to Wikipaedia:

Otho belonged to an ancient and noble Etruscan family, descended from the princes of Etruria and settled at Ferentinum (currently Ferento, near Viterbo) in Etruria.

Greek Ὄθων seems to have been a Graecification of the Roman cognomen.

There are of course many German Othones (= Ottones), but it seems highly unlikely that an old, noble Roman family should adopt a Germanic name, if only because the Germans were still mostly far away in the east at the time.

Utho seems to have been an alternative spelling, as on the coin below. Etruscan names containing -uth- do exist. And according to Draconis below, Etruscan didn't distinguish between u and o, so this would fit into the theory of Etruscan origin.

enter image description here

Places like Ut(h)ica and Uthina exist in northern Africa, but it seems Utica was founded by (Semitic) Punics and hence unrelated to the Etruscan language. According to Wikipaedia, Uthina was a Berber town, but it would seem likely that its name, too, was originally Punic.

There are also the towns of Othaea and Othoca in western Sardinia. Pauly suggests an alternative spelling Uta for Othaea and says it is "wohl" ("arguably"?) Punic, like Utica.

Pauly doesn't say much at all about the origin of the name Otho itself:

enter image description here

I could not find the reference Iunius Salvius Otho at its expected place. There are over 200 Iunii with long articles in Pauly, ordered mostly alphabetically, but he wasn't there. Three Iunii Othones are mentioned, but nothing about their origin seems to have been known.

De Vaan remains silent.

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    The Otho/Utho ambiguity fits with an Etruscan origin, as the Etruscan language didn't distinguish those sounds.
    – Draconis
    Jul 27, 2017 at 2:00
  • @Draconis: Ah, I'm not surprised!
    – Cerberus
    Jul 28, 2017 at 15:19
  • Thanks for the run-down. Without a definite etymology, I'm going to keep this open for a bit longer, though, hoping someone will know something further.
    – cmw
    Jul 31, 2017 at 17:39
  • @C.M.Weimer: Naturally! It's not exactly an answer.
    – Cerberus
    Jul 31, 2017 at 20:18
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    Well, sometimes "we don't know" is an acceptable answer!
    – cmw
    Jul 31, 2017 at 22:33

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