What are Leo names?
Short in letters, but big on style, the regal Leo ranks in the current US Top 100. But so do over a dozen more names that easily shorten to Leo. The more daring your appetite for naming babies, the more possibilities appear!
Let’s take a look at the best of the longer Leo names. But first …
King of the hill, it’s the three-letter Leo that parents love best – at least right now. It represents a whole host of trends: it’s got that great ecovintage vibe, but it also ends with a bright, upbeat ‘o’ sound. It’s old-fashioned and modern, a little bit gentle and a whole lot fierce.
Sure, it’s lay-oh, not lee-oh, so maybe Galileo isn’t the most logical way to get to Leo. But it’s a bold, world-changing name, related to the Biblical Galilee. With names like Orion and Luna so much in favor, why not a famous astronomer’s name, too? And the letters are right there. If you love rare boy names ending with ‘o’, this name might belong on your list.
Another ancient possibility, Leander feels like a mash-up of Leo and Alexander. And that’s exactly right! It means “a lion of a man,” a bold and inspiring meaning. One downside? The Leo nickname doesn’t follow as logically. (But Leonder just plain looks wrong, doesn’t it?) Still, I think Leander makes a great, under-the-radar possibility.
Leandro is simply the romance language form of Leander, discussed below. It’s used in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. It fixes one possible flaw in Leander: there’s an ‘o’ here, making Leo the obvious contracted nickname.
This one started out as an English place name. Reality television gave the name a boost, thanks to Dog: The Bounty Hunter. The reality series follows Duane “Dog” Chapman and members of his family and family business, including son Leland. I think it sounds polished, even gentlemanly. But the nickname Leo makes it roar.
I’m a big fan of Leocadia, the name of a third century saint. It stands to reason that Leocadio would be the masculine form; in fact, I found the Late Roman name, Leocadius, too. Instead of lions, this group of names comes from a Greek word meaning bright. They’re extravagant and dramatic, but I think they work. If Leonardo and even Leonidas feel mainstream, why not Leocadio? Possible nickname Cade offers an alternative to Leo, too.
It sounds a little like a Leo-Otis mash-up. Leodis made waves when actress Keke Palmer gave the name to her son with boyfriend Darius Jackson. (Wait, maybe that’s a Leo-Darius mashup?) Former NFL player Leodis McKelvin is one notable bearer. And was used in small numbers for boys born in the US through much of the twentieth century. With that stylish -s ending and a high profile birth announcement, Leodis could be ready for a sharp rise in use.
It sounds like a Leo name, but in this case, it’s Old English. Leof means dear; it’s cousin to our word love. Still, it’s a quirky way to arrive at Leo.
A new coinage, Leomar combines the oh-so-stylish Leo with the -mar ending. (Think everything from Omar to Waldemar.) Seldom heard, but very wearable, and made familiar thanks to a handful of footballers.
Wildly stylish in Europe and parts of Latin America, Leon remains slightly under-the-radar in the US. But it might be the most international form of the name, used in French and German, as well as Spanish and several several Scandi languages, too. Back in 2008, the Jolie-Pitts chose it as the middle name for youngest son, Knox Leon, to commemorate his place of birth, France.
Solid, sensible Leonard isn’t without worthy namesakes. There’s legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, and Leonard Nimoy, the Star Trek actor better known as Spock. It feels a little heavy for a child born today, and yet nickname Leo works, as do Lenny and Len. It might make for one of those great grandpa name choices that no one expects, but wears very well.
A second Top 100 pick, Leonardo extends the mini-name to a full four syllables. It brings to mind world-changing Renaissance man da Vinci and Hollywood royalty DiCaprio. Of course, it’s the Italian and Spanish form of Leonard. That romance language angle likely explains some of the name’s appeal.
Another Spanish name, Leoncio comes from Leontios, the name of a handful of early saints, plus a Byzantine emperor. It’s an upbeat, intriguing rarity.
Most of the Leo names are cousins, and Leonel is no exception. It’s the Spanish language form of Lionel, which evolved as a diminutive for Leon in French. But while Lionel feels slightly removed from his Leo name cousins, Leonel – with the pronunciation lee oh nel – seems logical.
Worn by an ancient warrior king of Sparta, the long and elaborate Leonidas caught parents’ eyes thanks to the movie 300. Call the movie historical fiction, a mix of real events and Hollywood embellishments based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel. Gerard Butler played the brave, but doomed, ruler. A year after the movie’s release, Leonidas returned to the US Top 1000 for the first time in ages.
Maybe you’ve never heard Leoncio or Leofric, but Leopold? It’s familiar, if only from our history books. Leopold is yet another Leo name with no ties to lions; it comes from the Germanic Leudbald or Liutpold, meaning bold and people. It feels vaguely European and maybe a little eccentric today, but also terribly charming.
Leodis was a sometimes-heard twentieth century Leo name of uncertain meaning and origin. And Leotis? That’s a slightly more popular cousin to the ‘d’ spelling of the name.
LEOVANNI and LEOVANI (unranked)
A modern mash-up of Leo and Giovanni, it debuted in the US Social Security data in 2007 – which is pretty much yesterday. Despite the name’s novelty, it works well.
The name literally means “little lion,” but the spelling separates it from Leo, if only slightly. It also conjures up model trains, thanks to the long-time model train company by the name. Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi has given the name a boost, but it remains one of the less popular of the Leo names. Maybe that’s because it last peaked in the 1930s – so it’s just readying for a comeback right about now.
It’s a big name for a child – heck, it’s a big name for a full-grown adult! And yet, it’s been used in small but steady numbers over the generations. If you did give this imperial appellation to your son, a nickname might be in order – and friendly, accessible Leo might be your most logical choice.
What do you think of Leo? Do you like it best on its own, or would you consider one of the longer Leo names instead?
First published April 20, 2012, this post was revised substantially and re-published on February 21, 2019 and again on July 30, 2019, April 26, 2020, and September 28, 2020 and again on August 17, 2022.
I’m pregnant right now and planning to use Leopold for my son’s middle name! I found it in a family history book and discovered that I’m from a long line of Leopolds going back to the 1700s, which I found so cool. Tried to convince my husband to go for it as a first name, but no go..
Love Leo and Leon the best!
I know a 10 year old Leonard, called Len which works really well in a traditionally masculine way.
I went to school with a bloke called Lambert and everyone called him Leo (remember Lambert the sheepish lion from Disney?).
We named our son Aurelio and we call him Leo for a nickname. I really like his name a lot and the nickname is a bonus!
What a great name, Sarah!
Elliot, nickname Leo, really appeals to me! It’s so fresh and different. Leo really perks up Elliot and Lionel. I think Leo can stand on its own too and it need not have a full name. Leo is at the top of my list, but with my last name “lee vee” it might be too alliterative? I just might go with it anyway since I love the name and its meaning.
Sarah A says
I am totally in love with Leonidas, not because I like uber-masculine names but because I like ancient names. Leofric is pretty neat, Leander is great, Leopold is very regal, and Leland is cowboy cool. I actually like nn Lee better than Leo for Leland and Leander. Leo works on his own but why pass up the opportunity to use 2 great names if you can? 😉
These are awesome! I adore the nickname Leo, and I thought of another way to get at it – I think. How about Elliot nn Lio?
Whoo-hoo, Leo! 🙂
I adore sweet, simple Leo and used it almost 27 years ago for my first-born. I have never second-guessed his name. I like most longer forms as well but clearly would never use one. Leonard, Leon & Leopold are my favorites of the bunch, but Galileo is awesome! So glad to be able to post again Huzzah Abby! Love the new place! 😀
Spelt Lio, you could go with Elior or Eliot. Leolin is cute too.
I love Leo!
Leon is #1 in Germany, so had to cross it off my list, but after seeing the King’s Speech I’ve really warmed up to Lionel.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but I like the idea of Lorenzo nicknamed Leo.
Levon Helm of The Band passed away yesterday, so that reminded me of another Leo name… Although, I don’t think Levon really needs a nickname.
We almost used Napoleon, whose nickname would’ve been Leo, but chickened out.
I think I would be most likely to use just Leo. I do love Leopold and Leander. Leonidas is fabulous, as well, but I think I’d only use him as a middle. Galileo would make a really interesting middle, too.
I quite like Leonard, but I’m rather fond of old-man names. I first think of the character Leonard Hofstadter, played by Johnny Galecki, from The Big Bang Theory.
C in DC says
Leonard is one of the characters on Big Bang Theory, keeping it firmly in nerd territory for me. Leland would having me asking if the parents went to Stanford.
Fun post, and I have to say my fave is Galileo! But you missed a couple. First, plain old Leonid, shorter than Leonidas – which lends his name to a meteor shower. Also Leontes, a Shakespearean character (a king) from The Winter’s Tale. LOTS of options!!
Leo as is doesn’t excite me, I would only use it as a nickname for a longer name if even then. As far as longer names go I really only like Leonardo for his artistic ties and the fact that he’s a ninja turtle (which is also why I love Raphael). I recently read a book with a Leon and it has me looking at the name more favorably. Leopold, Leander, Leonidas, and Galileo are all cute and different, which I like. If I were to use any of these I’d probably go with Leonardo or Leonidas, but probably with Leon as the nickname and not Leo. However, I much prefer to use a girl “Leo” name. I love Leonie for a girl, and Leona is also nice. I hadn’t considered Leo as a nickname for a girl, but thanks to Havoye’s suggestion I will have to think on it.
As far as Lenny goes, it’s not my favorite, but I think it works tolerably well for a modern boy. I don’t really love any of the -enny boy names–Benny, Denny, Kenny, Lenny, Venny…
I’m not particularly fond of the name Leonardo and that has sullied Leo for me. I want to like it but it’s just too popular and overused. I’d like to actually see it on an italian child, not another America child of people I went to school with 🙂
Although I love the name Lionel…probably because of Lionel Ritchie.
On the other hand, I wonder, was it something of an unusual name back in the mid-1800s? My great-great-grandfather’s name was Ott and he had three brothers, their names were: Royal, Alaska, and Leo. From comparing all the sibset names, it makes me think Leo wasn’t quite so common back then…although I know Royal wasn’t such an unusual name back then.
As I understand it, Lio is a standalone name with some history of use, though offhand I don’t know much more than that. I suppose it could also be a nickname for a name like Julio.
I was just think recently that Leo could be a cute nickname for feminine names such as Leocadia, Leonie, Leona, Leonor, etc. As much as I dislike full masculine names used on girls (e.g. Aubrey, Avery and the like), I’ve always liked boyish nicknames on girls such as Sam, Nick, Stevie…and now Leo!
oops…”thinking”, not “think”.
My cousin Leonor goes by Léo 🙂
I’ve always liked the idea of Elliot nn Lio/Leo.
My mom’s friend has a new grandson named Leon. She and my mother thought the name was a bit old-fashioned but I think it is adorable.
Aside from Leland, Lionel & Leander, the names on this list are a bit exotic for my taste. The Leann sound at the beginning of Leander is a bit too feminine sounding as well….I much prefer Leandra.
I adore Leopold which is funny because I am not a huge fan of Leo.
Galileo is fabulous. I would love to meet a little Galileo.
I love so many of these names…Leofric, Leonidas, Leander, Leocadio, Leland! And I know a 7 year old boy called Lenny. Not sure what his full name is but he wears it well.