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!