The baby name Leonidas remains rare, even as Leo roars back into wider use.
Thanks to Lou for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
First, it’s worth noting that not every Leo name relates to lions.
Germanic picks, like Leopold, actually refer to “the people” – leud. They’re more closely related to names like Luther than ancient Greek names like Leon.
But the baby name Leonidas does come from Greek roots, and it refers to a lion.
The -idas ending is a suffix meaning “son of.” So Leonidas, once upon a time, referred to the son of Leon.
There’s a piece of ancient history that’s because wildly famous, and Leonidas is at the heart.
Along with a half-brother, Leonidas I ruled Sparta during the fifth century BC.
They were at war – always. But in this case, the Persians were invading Greece.
The Spartans’ army numbered just 300 soldiers, though the total force was closer to 7,000, including troops from other allied states. Some accounts suggest that the Persians were on the march with perhaps over 100,000 men. (Though contemporary accounts suggested it could be one million.)
Thermopylae, a narrow mountain pass, was chosen as the outnumbered Greeks’ best chance to stop the Persian advance.
And it worked for days – including three days of fighting.
But then they Greeks were betrayed. A local showed them a small side path used by shepherds, and Persian troops began to quietly move behind Sparta’s line.
As it became obvious that they would be defeated, Leonidas dismissed most of the troops. But he, along with his 300 Spartans and 700 others, opted to stay and fight. Defending the pass bought time for the rest of the Greek troops to retreat.
And while Leonidas lost the battle – along with his life, and the lives of all of his men – the Greeks would ultimately win the war the following year.
Some argue that Thermopylae changed the course of the war, but most scholars disagree. Instead, the sacrifice of Leonidas probably served as symbolic – a rallying cry, and a signal that Sparta was willing to undertake heroic effort to defend their country and their allies.
No surprise that the baby name Leonidas endured. He was widely celebrated as a courageous leader and hero.
Perhaps as many as half a dozen saints Leonidas are recorded in the early church.
Arguably the most important was Leonidas of Alexandria. He was martyred under Roman persecution around the year 202. His son, Origen, became a theologian, a prolific writer, and one of the most influential thinkers of the early church.
Either because of the Spartan commander’s fame or despite it, the baby name Leonidas remained in use throughout the ancient world.
BY the NUMBERS
Fast forward to the late nineteenth century in the US.
The baby name Leonidas hovered on the fringes of the US Top 1000, barely making it in a few years, but mostly overlooked. That’s despite the Top 100 status of names Leo, Leon, and Leonard during the same era.
It would take more than a century for the baby name Leonidas to enter the mainstream.
But we have to return to that ancient battle to understand the baby name Leonidas’ twenty-first century appeal.
It’s not just references to Thermopylae. Though there are plenty of those, from poems and history books, across the years.
The first movie about the battle was made in 1962.
In 1992, Frank Miller penned the graphic novel 300. It served as the basis for a 2007 movie titled 300, starring Gerard Butler as Leonidas.
And that’s what did it.
In the year 2006, 19 boys received the baby name Leonidas.
By 2008, that number surged to 241 births, enough to put the baby name Leonidas in the US Top 1000 at #880.
A 2014 sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, followed. While Leonidas wasn’t part of the story – obviously – he was seen in flashbacks. Factor in our ongoing affection for Top 100 name Leo, and it’s easy to see why this name has continued to gain.
As of 2020, the baby name Leonidas stands at #455.
Pretty impressive for a name launched by a king who died in battle over 2500 years ago.
The name sounds ancient, fierce, and self-sacrificing. It’s a name that signals courage, all these many years later.
What do you think of the baby name Leonidas?
First posted on September 13, 2011, this post was revised and re-published on December 22, 2021.
I love Leonidas. The first and only time I heard it on a little guy I was pleasantly shocked. Leonidas and Auberon were our almost names, before my husband chose Balor. Ultimately, shortening to Leo was its downfall.
Alex Smith says
I named my son Leonidas. We had twins and called the other Harrison. We called him Leonidas because before he was born the scan showed he had a very rare condition, a “Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia”, which basically means he has a hole in his diaphram. What had happened was because of the hole his stomach was sitting where he heart should be. So his heart was pushed over to the right. Because of his stomach his left lung did not inflate properly and was half the size it should be. He also had part of his liver and bowel through the diaphram. We were told that chance of survival would be slim. When they were born they were both taken to intensive where Harry stayed for about 2 weeks before being released to a minor ward and we took him home after a month. Leo stayed for 2 months in the hospital. They were at one point pumping 8 different drugs into him! They waited about a week before they done surgery and surgery took 4 hours. I’ll never forget the walk (which seemed slow motion) as the surgeon approached us after surgery. It was good news, the surgery went well. As for the hole in the diaphram the surgeon said it the worst case he’d seen and that Leo had pretty much no diaphram at all! They put everything back where it should be and gave him a mesh diaphram and said his diaphram will grow over it and form. He has hiccups now so its obviously working! 19 months later both the little buggers are doing great and we are so lucky and thankful. When decided he needed a strong named so we named him after King Leonidas of Sparta. Which is wuite ironic really as any babies born in Sparta that werent 100% fit, where thrown from a cliff. According to my Sparta documentary DVD. Good job we live in England! Lol
My husband wanted to name our just born son Leonidas. He didn’t win but I told him son #2 could have this as a middle name. We are both classics buffs with Spartan history being one of our passions, so it is too funny this name is being brought up in different places.
I love Leonidas (nn Leo). In fact it’s on my short list (along with Peregrine and Maximilian, Maxim for short). I think I could sell my other half on it too…
Ugh, hate it. I don’t like the Leo names, and this one is too long and too…something.
It’s nice, but a bit too Mills & Boons /Harlequin Presents for me.
I like Leo a lot (though I’d never use it, it’s the name of one of my cousins) but I’m not a fan of Leopold or Leonardo at all. Leonidas is more to my taste– I like the historical connections, and the -as ending. I do think it’s too over-the-top for a first name, even with the accessible nickname– though I’d love to see a little Leonidas.
I actually think it’s far more likely for a Leonidas to be teased than the other three names– Henry and Simon are pretty common at my high school (I can name probably 8 different Henrys, and a couple of Simons) and as far as I know none of them are remotely teased. I also know a couple of elementary-school aged Ottos and I doubt their name is a source of ridicule. Now that I think about it, I can’t recall anyone I know being outright teased about their name in school.
All I think of when I hear this name is “This… is… SPARTA!”
Lionel is my favorite of the “Leo” names. Leonidas is a bit much, but it would make an interesting middle name.
Sarah A says
Leonidas is my favorite way to get to Leo, though I do think Leo stands well enough on his own. Leonidas is such an awesome, uber-masculine name. I like how Leo really softens it up and is an easy nn if the kid turns out to be a shy little bookworm 😉
Lou @ Mer de noms says
When I went to Blackpool for the illuminations it seemed like there were thousands of Leons and Leos being shouted for by their mothers, so those two variants really have taken off over here it seems. As for Leonidas, I think he’s rather charming, even if my I struggle to articulate the name.
Leonidas is pretty awesome but give me simple Leo. Just charming! 🙂
C in DC says
There’s a Leonidas Chocolate Shop in Georgetown. Yummy!
There’s a Leonardo (nn Leo) in my daughters’ preschool class.
I love it but I’m pretty sure my mom would never let me live it down.
Fortunately, I get to exorcise all my “can’t really use ’em, but love ’em” names in fiction. 😉
I love this name and Lionel and Leopold. I will have to stick with Leander though as my current swoon inducing name!!!
Oooh, I really like this name!
Leonidas is the name of a chain of chocolate shops in France. 🙂
Oh, I love it! I’m making a note that I need to find one and photograph it on my next trip, which is scheduled for … oh dear. It might be a while!
Wow love it! I can see this definitely appealing to dads. It’s kind of butch and geeky at the same time.
(Simon and Henry get you bullied in the playground???! Since when?)
I’m not sure if any name actually gets you bullied on the playground. But I’ve heard an awful lot of them dismissed for that reason – including, but certainly not limited to, these three!
I went to school with a Henry and he was pretty much a stud – nobody was bullying that kid, let me tell you! The Simon I knew was a little nerdier…
Okay, Leonidas is a HUGE name. I can’t imagine anyone calling “Leonidas! Time for school!” every day. I guess people do that with Evangeline and stuff, but it seems different for a boy – weird! I think Leo is spunky but my true favorite Leo- name still is Leon. Is it really that awful?!
No, I love Leon! I don’t think it’s fusty at all! The rock band Kings of Leon probably helps it’s image a little
In the long run, I think that any and every name has the potential to get you bullied on the playground. Mine did, and it’s a Top 10 name.
While I can’t fault a parent for vetoing names they think will get their child bullied, in the long run it’s the child’s personality that will sincerely affect their bullied status, and the name will simply be an easy target. A kid could come to school the next day in a different sweater, but not a new name.