Dorotea y Teodora

That the Spanish name Dorotea can be rearranged to make Teodora is no coincidence: the names contain the same two elements, but in opposite order. Both of those elements are of Greek origin, with dor- (related to Spanish dar) meaning ‘gift’ and Theo- meaning ‘God,’ so that the sense of the names is ‘God’s gift.’ English similarly has Theodora (e.g. the dancer Theodora Duncan) and the much more familiar Dorothy*; English also allows Dorothea, as in the social reformer Dorothea Dix.

But it isn’t only girls who can be gifts from God, so on the male side we have Teodoro/Theodore, along with the English nicknames Ted and Teddy. Due to the popularity of Theodore Roosevelt, who hunted big game, that second one took on a life of its own with the meaning ‘a stuffed toy bear.’ (Decades later, and with apparently no connection to the president—or anything else that etymologists have been able to figure out—a teddy became ‘a type of all-in-one female undergarment.’

Spanish allows the reversal of the elements in the male name, so paralleling Dorotea there is Doroteo. For example, the birth name of the Mexican revolutionary later known as Pancho Villa was Doroteo Arango. English has no male equivalent to Doroteo as a given name, but an Internet search shows Dorotheo as a family name. While we’re on the male side of this name, we might add that Russian, which has no th sound and regularly converts that sound in foreign words to an f, uses Fyodor (Фёдор) as its version of Theodore. The most familiar bearer of that name was Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


* In response to a comment last time, I mentioned that Dolly originated as a nickname for Dorothy but is becoming more common as a nickname for Dolores. In addition to Dolly as a nickname for Dorothy, English also has Dottie or Dotty.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. georgettesullins
    May 13, 2012 @ 09:15:24

    Thank you for the explanation of Fyodor.


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    May 13, 2012 @ 10:18:06

    You’re welcome. The Russian version isn’t obvious to speakers of Spanish or English.


  3. shoreacres
    May 13, 2012 @ 14:08:47

    Ah! The etymologists should consult with the fashion historians. The “teddy” was named after its inventor: Theodore Baer. Teddies originally were called camiknickers, because the garment was created by combining the camisole and knickers. It was the perfect 1920s solution for the problem of what to wear beneath those short flapper dresses. Here’s a link – the relevant info is in the left-hand column at the top.

    And you’re right – I never would have connected Fyodor with Theodore.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 13, 2012 @ 17:52:13

      Thanks for the sleuthing. Skeptical me has to wonder, though, about the validity of the statement in the book you referred us to. In my follow-up query, every hit I got on the Internet was that source or what appeared to be a recycling of it. It’s true that I didn’t look very hard, but I couldn’t find any other source to confirm that book’s claim, nor did I find any other reference to a Theodore Baer in the clothing industry. The book’s assertion may turn out to be true, but I thought I should mention my uncertainty. I did find plenty of references to cami-knickers (with and without the hyphen) in the 1920s, and in books from that era, so that much seems beyond doubt.

      Although Fyodor for Theodore isn’t obvious, the substitution of f for th occurs in English, too, but in black English rather than standard English: for example, with becomes wiff.


      • shoreacres
        May 13, 2012 @ 18:43:45

        I know – I ran into that clump of identical entries first. I just lost another hour discovering there’s a whole corner of the blogworld devoted to costuming and such, and in the process I did find this rather amusing entry (scroll to the bottom of the page and look for “bustier”).

        I ended up sending an email to a blog friend in St. Louis who lives her life in the heart of the fashion world. If anyone knows – she will.


      • Steve Schwartzman
        May 13, 2012 @ 20:03:06

        Thanks for that follow-up link, which says: “The ‘teddy’ is thought to have been so christened back in the 1920’s because its somewhat shapeless puffiness reminded someone of the general outlines of a teddy bear.” The wording “is thought to” confirms the impression I got when I did research for this post, namely that etymologists just aren’t sure where the lingerie sense of teddy came from. If your blog friend unearths anything conclusive, do please let us know.


  4. shoreacres
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 22:35:00

    This is amazing. I was reading a blog tonight, and in the midst of an original poem I found these lines:

    …the sisters following the scythe
    With diligence and hay rakes,
    Tedding in the scyther’s wake…

    I didn’t know the word “tedding”, but it caught my interest. As it turns out, it’s a farming term that refers to shaking, loosening and spreading out hay to dry.

    That didn’t seem to have much relationship to the garment called a teddy, but the second definition was more promising: (Clothing & Fashion) Informal short for teddy boy. When I clicked on that link, I found this: In Britain, especially during the 1950s, a tough youth wearing a modified style of Edwardian clothes.
    From the name Teddy, nickname for Edward, after Edward VII.

    I’d not read much about Edward VII, but he did get around and the BBC history says “his penchant for flamboyant accouterments set trends among the fashionable.” He died in 1910, just before the introduction of the garment known as a teddy – a favorite among the equally flamboyant flappers.

    This all sounded reasonable to me, so I did some searches using phrases like “Edwardian lingerie” and – to paraphrase Professor Higgins – By Jove, I think we’ve found it!

    This really is pretty funny. Two men nicknamed Teddy, one famous for bears, and the other famous for bare.

    Sound reasonable to you?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 09, 2012 @ 06:23:31

      Now that’s some serious etymological delving, and so nicely summed up with the play on words involving bear and bear! The missing link was teddy boy, with its connection to Edward VII, whom neither of us knew much about.

      One additional thing that would be helpful is documentation about when teddy first appeared with its ‘lingerie’ sense. My impression is that the word wasn’t in use that way before the 1950s, something that lends credibility to what’s in the dictionary.

      Thanks again for your latest find.


  5. shoreacres
    Jul 09, 2012 @ 07:39:55

    I woke up thinking, “Sears, Robuck & Company”. Sure enough, there’s an online archive of their catalogs. I chose 1920 as a year to seach for “Teddy lingerie” and by golly, here it is.

    There’s a photo on that page, eight entries down. And if you click to the second catalog page, the second entry is for “Teddy lingerie”.

    When I have some time, I’ll go back and see if I can find the first entry. I’ve been thinking about joining anyway – I just didn’t expect that the final motivator might be a search for lingerie. 😉


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