|Leo in the sky with stars|
Yesterday, at a birthday party for one of our many newly- 3-year-old friends, I was pleasantly surprised to find the various zones in the childrens' play place were named. The play house area, for example, was painted "Alaia and Leonie's Play House." Charming set, right? Leonie has always been a favorite of mine, and would have been a serious contender for my daughter's name were it not for an unappealing association on my husband's side. Seeing it there made me remember just how much I like it, and since another little partygoer's name was Léo, the name and all its forms have been on my mind.
Leo itself a name that I like and have always liked, though I vastly prefer its more unusual variants. It's been in the top 1000 as far back as 1880, when the online records begin, and actually reached its highest ranking in 1903, when it was #38. It's currently trending upward — in 1990 it had fallen to #477, by 2000 it was at #390 — and is currently at #167, its most popular point since 1953. It has true international appeal, making the top 100 in England, Australia, Austria, Croatia, France, Norway, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Part of what I like about the name is its meaning — "lion" is pretty straightforward. One of the most obvious animal-connected names I can think of. It's noble — it's the name of 6 Byzantine emperors and 5 Armenian kings) and was the name of 13 popes. Its astronomical connection is immensely appealing — the fifth sign of the zodiac, the constellation Leo was one of the earliest recognized star formations. I also like its literary ties — I'm thinking of Tolstoy and one of my favorite characters ever written, Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin, though technically they are both Lev, the lovely Russian form.
I can't think of another name that has so many long-form options, and they are the names I'm really drawn to. Not only are there just a lot of Leo spinoffs, there are a lot of good ones, and they cover all sorts of different naming styles. Here are some of my favorites —
Leon — though this one has a bit of a dated feel in the US, I think it's ready for a fresh look. I think of Trotsky and Leon Russell, and I like that it has a sort of 70s vibe. It still ranks quite highly (it was #405 in 2011) though it's been on the decline since the 1930s. Actually, it's been on a slight rise since 2008 — coincidentally, that was the year Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie used Léon for their son's middle name
Leonard — I think Leonard is the male equivalent of newly-revisited Gloria. It's so ready for a comeback. It combines Leo with German element hard, meaning "brave," so the meaning is actually "brave lion." I love the idea of the nickname Lenny, too
Leonid — Russian and Macedonian form of Leonidas, the Greek long form of Leo. Most people will associate it with Leonid Brezhnev, so it might read a little stuffy, but I think first of another connection to astronomy, the Leonid meteor showers — so cool
Leoš — Czech out (sorry) the fabulous pronunciation here. I find the "S" ending really appealing. I actually first heard this form while looking up the work of composer Leoš Janáček after he was mentioned in Murakami's 1Q84
Leonie — quite sure I've talked about this one enough here on Eponymia, but it's worth mentioning its popularity in the UK, Austria, France and the Netherlands, and the fact that it's relatively obscure here in the US. There were only 32 girls named Leonie born in the US in 2011
Léonne — the feminine spelling of Léon, this one is new to me. I think it could work quite nicely, and is actually more accessible than Leonie might be to an American eye
Léonide — this one's my newest favorite girly Leo. Another reference to the meteor showers, and it is actually a unisex French form, though I only like it on a girl. Something about that "-nide" ending (pronounced like "need") just reads strong and feminine, to me
Leonille — Leonille is soft and sweet, such a pretty form. Lots of people out there have grandpas named Leo to honor, right? This would be a great, striking middle name
Leontine — if Léonide is strong and Leonille is sweet, then Leontine is sassy. This is one of the rare names I like to use an unnecessary "Y" on (Edith is the other one, for some reason I'm totally smitten by Edyth/Edythe) and the spelling Leontyne makes me think of Leontyne Price which is a pretty rad association
Girls: Leona (Leona is the only feminine Leo name that appears in the top 1000 and it's at #929) - Cleo - Leora - Leonna - Leonie - Leonor - Eleora - Leonora - Cleopatra - Eleonora - Leola - Eleonor - Leonela - Eleonore - Kleo - Elleona - Leo (6 recorded as girls) - Leonella - Leoni - Leonia - Leonah - Leota
Boys: Leonardo (edges out Leo by just 18 spots) - Leo - Leon - Leonel - Leonard - Leonidas - Leobardo - Kaleo - Leopold - Leopoldo - Leondre - Napoleon - Leonid - Deleon - Galileo - Cleon - Leodan - Leone - Leonell - Leonides - Emileo - Juleon - Leonidas - Leonitus - Leovardo - Cleo (7 recorded, I actually like this on a boy quite a bit) - Leomar - Corleone - Jayleon - Leonte - Leondro - Leor