He’s the original Renaissance Man, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and one of the leading actors of our generation.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Leonardo as Baby Name of the Day.
Like so many names in long use, this story begins with a saint. Sixth-century Leonard of Noblac was a nobleman who converted to Christianity. Rather than accepting a comfortable bishopric, he devoted his life to working with prisoners before entering a monastery. Miracles aplenty are attributed to him, from helping a queen safely deliver a male heir to convincing prisoners to reform their ways.
His name was also recorded as Linhart and Lienard, but Leonard is a perfectly reasonable choice. In the same era, we also find saints called Leobinus, Leontius, and lots of other Leo- names, including just Leo.
They all come from the Germanic lew – lion, via the Latin leo – paired with a variety of other endings. Leonardo’s –hart meant brave, so Leonardo is brave as a lion.
Fast forward to our times, and Leo- names are enjoying a renaissance. While Leonard’s English pronunciation falls flat, and nickname Lenny fares little better, Leo is hot – and the Italian Leonardo has climbed up the charts.
Two famous Leonardos lead the way:
- It’s hard to think of a more accomplished figure than Leonardo da Vinci, whose contributions range from painting the Mona Lisa to pioneering flight with sketches of a helicopter. The name wasn’t uncommon in the era – or at least, the mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci also wore it;
- Then there’s Oscar-nominated actor Leonardo DiCaprio. His first appearances were as a child in the 1990s. By 1993, performances in This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape gave notice that he was more than just another fleeting child star. Then came 1997’s Titanic. As the ship went down, diCaprio became a superstar.
Leonardo also owes some of his success to the many Spanish-speaking parents choosing the name – he’s especially popular in Texas and California, where he’s in both states’ Top 100. And, of course, after generations of Americanizing immigrant names, parents several generations removed from Ellis Island are embracing heritage picks. If Aidan and Connor are big, why not Leonardo?
While I don’t suggest anyone name their offspring after a Saturday morning cartoon, the heroes in a half shell certainly made Leonardo a familiar name for the current generation of parents – the original series debuted in 1987.
But this name’s trajectory seems clearly influenced by the leading man. In 1992, Leonardo hovered at #381. In 1997 – th year of Titanic – he ranked #357. Since then, he’s climbed to #164. That puts him comfortably ahead of Leo, at #209, though I’d imagine most Leonardos answer to the short form at some point.
It’s a romantic, extravagant name for a boy, but in this era of Romeo and Orlando, it doesn’t seem nearly as outrageous as it might to an earlier generation. The only real hitch is that Leo and company seem to keep rising. Rather than fret that Leonardo is too much, some parents might almost find him too ordinary.