Plenty of parents search for girls’ names that are feminine with sacrificing substance. Doubtless that’s why Sophia – from the Greek for wisdom – has cemented her place in the Top Ten.

But if parents are also hoping for something underused, Sophia no longer fits the bill. Thanks to Emmy Jo for suggesting one that just might, today’s Name of the Day: Alethea.

Pronounced ah LEE thee ah, this name also comes from the Greek, and means truth. The classic origins and virtue-name quality serve to anchor the pretty, flowing four-syllables. It’s as feminine as Arabella, but with more strength.

It’s always been an uncommon moniker, but has never gone entirely out of use. In Elizabethan England, a time when the pool of possible given names was tiny, we find Alethea Talbot, later Countess of Arundel. Her older sisters were Mary and Elizabeth. Perhaps her parents were influenced by the era’s embrace of scientific learning and the arts; maybe they were simply early naming innovators.

Literature gives us an Alethea in Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh, an early 20th-century generation-spanning study of the fictional Pontifex family. But, of course, the Victorians were daring baby namers and so the choice of Alethea is not at all outlandish.

But what’s curious is that Alethea popped into the US Top 1000 in 1973, debuting at #522, dropped to #716 a year later, and then disappeared. It never appeared in the rankings before, and has not been listed since.

What explains this moniker’s brief moment in the sun?

Believe it or not, back in March of 1973, an episode of hit television show Kung Fu was titled Alethea. The show detailed the adventures of a Shaolin monk traveling in the American West during the 19th century. It’s a cult favorite referenced in cult favorites – both Office Space and Pulp Fiction mention it. The March episode featured then unknown Jodie Foster as a young girl who believes she witnesses the hero committing murder. She’s mistaken, of course, but is fearless in telling her version of events.

The name is an important plot point – even as he goes to the gallows, the monk praises Alethea for her honesty, and notes that her name means “truth” in Greek. Ignoring the question of how a man raised in China who is just learning English would be versed in the Greek origins of an obscure name, one imagines that many prospective parents liked and remembered the reference.

In any case, over 500 girls were christened Alethea in the space of two years.

Today, Alethea would be an interesting choice. It’s little known, but certainly has a history of use at least several centuries old. And while the name is undeniably feminine, perhaps even frou-frou, with a weighty and undisputed meaning, it could wear well on a modern child. She could go by Thea, Tea or that all-purpose starts-with-Al nickname, Ali.

If you’re searching for a name that combines classic strength and feminine appeal, Alethea is certainly a good candidate.

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. Ooh, a serial killer. That does put a spin on the name. 😉

    I think my favorite of the “Thea” names is probably Anthea. I can’t recall where I heard it, but it’s another Greek name that means flowery. Or there’s always Theadosia – a family name on my husband’s side, but one that he stubbornly refuses to entertain!

  2. To be honest, I’m not that fond of Alethea. I do think it’s a lovely choice for a daughter; a lot better than Sophia, but I recently read a book in which the antagonist was named Alethea, so Alethea just conjures up an image of a serial killer 🙂
    I love Thea though. It’s such a sweet name, and Athena is gorgeous too. Just not a fan of Alethea!

  3. I find the Kung Fu connection endlessly amusing, too, Kayt! Glad to know I’m not alone. I actually knew someone born circa 1974 called Alethea. Since neither of her parents are classics scholars, I suspect it’s from the TV show. I haven’t talked to her in years, but if we cross paths again, it’s going to be my first question. (Well, after “how have you been?” etc.)

  4. I too find Alethea rather lispy. I prefer Aleta (as a short form) and the completely unrelated Anthea.

    Alethea is a gorgeous name, lush and rich. I love Thea as a possible nickname, too! But honestly, if I loved Thea enough to use it myself, I’d use Cynthia for my favorite cousin (that’s her nickname, too).
    I will agree, if a parent is looking for something real, strong & still entirely feminine but uncommon with a touch of elegance, they’ve found a winner in Alethea!

  5. Wow! I had always thought it was some kind of creative combination of Athena and Alice. It’s really good to know I am so far off! I like the roots of the name a lot, and I am really really amused by the Kung Fu thing. I’m going to have to second Natalie though. I feel like I’m saying Alicia (like Ms. Silverstone says it) but with a lisp. Either way, I do like it. I’m always partial to names that can be shortened to Thea, even though I’m not sure why.

  6. When i first saw the name i thought it sounded lovely but after saying it a few times it sounded like i was pronouncing the name Alisia (a lee say uh) with a lisp. However i still think it is a strong choice for a daughter.