Except for the fact that he was not considered Roman, Odoacer's precise ethnic origins are not known. Most opinions consider him to be of Germanic descent, from one of several East Germanic tribes such as the Turcilingi, Scirii, Heruli, Rugii and Gothi, or possibly also of partial Thuringii descent; while a minority opinion holds that he was a Hun.
Both the Anonymus Valesianus and John of Antioch state his father's name was Edeko (Edika). However, it is unclear whether this Edeko is identical to one—or both—men of the same name who lived at this time: one was an ambassador of Attila to the court in Constantinople, and escorted Priscus and other Imperial dignitaries back to Attila's camp; the other, according to Jordanes, is mentioned with Hunulfus as chieftains of the Scirii, who were soundly defeated by the Ostrogoths at the Battle of Bolia in Pannonia about 469. Since Sebastian Tillemont in the 17th century, all three have been considered to be the same person. In his Getica, Jordanes describes Odoacer as king of the Turcilingi (Torcilingorum rex). However, in his Romana, the same author defines him as a member of the Rugii (Odoacer genere Rogus). The Consularia Italica calls him king of the Heruli, while Theophanes appears to be guessing when he calls him a Goth.
The sixth-century chronicler, Marcellinus Comes, calls him "the king of the Goths" (Odoacer rex Gothorum).
Reynolds and Lopez explored the possibility that Odoacer was not Germanic in their 1946 paper published by The American Historical Review, making several arguments that his ethnic background might lie elsewhere. One of these is that his name, "Odoacer", for which an etymology in Germanic languages had not been convincingly found, could be a form of the Turkish "Ot-toghar" ("grass-born" or "fire-born"), or the shorter form "Ot-ghar" ("herder"). Other sources believe the name Odoacer is derived from the Germanic Audawakrs, from aud- "wealth" and wakr- "vigilant". This form finds a cognate in another Germanic language, the titular Eadwacer of the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer (where Old English renders the earlier Germanic sound au- as ea-).
Odoacer's identity as a Hun was then accepted by a number of authorities, such as E. A. Thompson and J. M. Wallace-Hadrill—despite Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen's objection that personal names were not an infallible guide to ethnicity. Subsequently, while reviewing the primary sources in 1983, Bruce Macbain proposed that while his mother might have been Scirian and his father Thuringian, in any case he was not a Hun.