Lioness at Okonjima Lodge, Namibia
Lioness at Okonjima Lodge, Namibia; Image via Wikipedia

With Leo all the rage for boys, will we meet more little lionesses?

Thanks to Chrissandra for suggesting one possible feminine form: her grandmother’s name, Leona, is our Baby Name of the Day.Leo is fashionable today, but Leona got her “n” from Leon. Along with Leonard, he was once a perfectly reasonable choice for a son, as ordinary as Josh or Jayden today.

Some masculine monikers have a clear feminine form; others, not so much. File Leo and company under the second category. Over the years, we’ve seen:

  • Leonia, one of the earlier entries, can be found scrawled on the Tomb of St. Peter. The -ia ending is consistent with other feminine forms from Ancient Rome – Julia, Annia, Flavia;
  • Leona appears in both German and English;
  • Leonie is a French form;
  • There’s also Leola, Leonora, Leontine, and probably more.

The emphasis is normally on Leona’s middle syllable: lee OH nah. While she might seem like an invented choice today, that’s not so. From 1896 through 1921, Leona ranked in the US Top 100. Choose her for a daughter in 2010, and you’re more in the “antique revival” than “nouveau coinage” camp.

Today, Leona is a rarity. She fell out of the US Top 1000 in 1981. The Biblical Leah stands at #28 in 2009, satisfying many parents’ search for a Le- name for a daughter. But there are signs that Leona is due for a comeback. In 2009, she reappeared in the rankings at #968.

What’s behind her revival?

Regal, brave lions have long inspired parents. They’ve featured in ancient cultures – the Sphinx in Egypt, the cave paintings at Lascaux – and have continued to maintain a place of prominence. Disney’s Lion King comes to mind.

There are also plenty of notable Leonas:

  • Leona Vicario played a pivotal role in the Mexican War of Indpendence, spying for the rebels;
  • Silent film actress Leona Hutton appeared in four dozen films in the 1910s;
  • Opera soprano Leona Mitchell went from singing in an Oklahoma church choir to singing with Pavarotti on some of the world’s most famous stages;
  • Real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley amassed a fortune in New York City, then married even more money, before being convicted for tax evasion – and pilloried in the press as the “Queen of Mean.”

Helmsley could’ve taken the name out of circulation from her bad reputation, but Leona was already fading before her conviction.

This name’s rediscovery is probably thanks to multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated British singer Leona Lewis, winner of the third season of The X Factor. Lewis is relative newcomer, so it is too soon to say if she’ll push her first name to the top of the charts.

But even without Lewis, Leona has the feel of a name that might be revived circa 2010. She’s a little bit fierce, undeniably feminine, and balances a vintage feel with a modern sound. It’s tough to resist a name with a lilting L and a jaunty o!

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I recently met someone in their mid-twenties wearing this name and I fell in love with it. My eyes have skipped over this name for years, but hearing and seeing it on an actual person has placed it firmly in the Favorite category.

  2. I actually know an 8 year old named Leonna – at first I thought it was odd, but it’s grown on me. I would imagine very few people in their 20s and younger have ever heard of Leona Helmsley, so I think the name use potential is getting better. It also sounds very Southern, which as a Southerner is fine with me! I

  3. I think Leona is very pretty, but I prefer Leonie or Lenora.

    For some reason I was remembering the neighbor on Good Times as Leona, (but I just looked it up and she was actually named Willona) and that’s why Leona feels middle-aged to me. Leona needs to shake off the mothballs, while Leona Lewis helps, she isn’t a huge star in the US (yet.) Maybe it the British start using it first…

    It’s funny how timely your posts can be, last week I watched a documentary on the aviatrix Pancho Barnes, who was born with the name Florence Leontine. I had never heard the name Leontine spoken before and now it’s a new guilty pleasure.

  4. I really like Leona and I don’t have any associations with it, except for Leona Lewis. I’m too young to remember Leona Helmsley and have never actually met one. I think it’s pretty while still retaining a strength.

  5. I constantly fall in and out of love with this name. So it never really stays on our long list. Something I love about the -ona sound, but the Lee is what starts to grate my ears.

  6. Sorry, this one still skews as an old lady name for me. I would rather use Leonora (with Nora as a nickname) or the lovely French Leonie. I would even rather use the Poe-esque Lenore before Leona.

  7. Being just over 40, Leona Helmsley is ALL I think of when Leona comes up in conversation. I was about half my age now when she was all over the news and it quite ruined Leona for impressionable me. I do think she’d make an awesome Disney bad girl! (Or was she already? Maybe my memory’s faulty).

    If I didn’t already have a Leo (who’s headed for 25 this year), I would still have the Operatic Leontyne/Leontine on my lists. I adore Leontyne! What a show-stopper she is. But Leona? Nope, not a chance. I don’t even think a pretty little one could save Leona for me.

  8. Liona Boyd was a popular Canadian classical guitarist (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron!) in the 1970s. No idea if her name is a creative spelling of Leona or something else.

    I think Leah is more appealing than Leona because it avoids that nasally sound that can sometimes occur when Leona is said aloud. But with the current popularity of boys’ names for girls, I could see some parents choosing Leona and using Lee or Leo as a nickname. I like the French pronunciation of L

  9. I used to really like this name and now it does nothing for me. I get easily tired of the Lee names.