The baby name Leah offers a timeless, enduring sound in a straightforward, nickname-proof package.
Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
IN THE BEGINNING
Leah, she of the tender eyes, spends much of the Book of Genesis in competition with her younger sister, Rachel. They both marry Jacob and bear him children.
Philosophers and writers loved to compare them. Philo associated Leah with reasoning and Rachel with feeling. Augustine made Rachel the symbol of monastic life; Leah, of the active one. In Dante’s Purgatory, Leah explained that Rachel’s “joy is in reflection, mine in act.”
Several meanings are suggested: weary, cow, ruler.
The baby name Leah rose in use during the Protestant Reformation, as Old Testament choices replaced saints’ names. It traveled to the New World early days.
AN ABUNDANCE OF LEAHS
The baby name Leah has never left the US Top 500, not since the data was first recorded in the year 1880.
Since 1979, it has appeared in the US Top 100 most years. That makes it a name for a mother or a daughter, tough to pin to any particular decade.
It peaked at #24 in 2010, but remains at #45 as of 2020.
Famous bearers of the name include:
- Late nineteenth century novelist Belle Kendrick Abbott’s Leah Mordecai is the story of the challenges faced by a young Jewish woman growing up in the South.
- Leah Baird starred in silent films during the 1910s and 20s.
- Celebrated Israeli author Leah Goldberg wrote everything from poetry to children’s stories.
- Actors include King of Queens‘ Leah Remini and Glee’s Lea Michelle.
- Roy Orbison recorded a single by the name in the 1960s. Donnie Iris scored a hit with “Ah! Leah!” in 1980.
- One of the Gosselin sextuplets of Kate Plus 8 fame wears the name. Princess Martha Louise of Sweden gave the name to her daughter. So did troubled reality star Amber Portwood of Teen Mom fame.
- It’s the name of a werewolf in the Twilight series. Leahs also appear in Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Pick a decade, and someone notable has answered to Leah.
LEA and LIA
Change the spelling ever so slightly, and the baby name Leah becomes a world traveler.
Drop the h, and Lea appears in French and German, as well as Scandinavian and Slavic languages.
Swap the ‘e’ for an ‘i’, and Lia is Italian.
Keep both vowels, and Leia is the possibly-related name of Star Wars hero Leia Organa.
But while American English speakers pronounce Leah with a long ‘e’ sound – lee-uh – Princess Leia is lay-uh.
Both Lea and Lia appear in the current US Top 1000, with Lea at #745 and Lia at #289.
LA LA LOVELY
It’s not just the baby name Leah, though.
Girl names beginning with L top the charts. Factor in El names, and it’s ubiquitous.
There might be just one Leah in any given class, but chances are that there will also be a Layla, Elena, Ella, Lily, Lyla, Luna, Lucy, or Eloise in the same group.
Lovely L names are everywhere.
And yet, even though L names dominate the popularity charts for girls, the baby name Leah remains a timeless favorite. It’s complete and enduring, a name equally appropriate for a child or an adult.
It’s not trendy or dated. In many ways, Leah hits the sweet spot.
What do you think of the baby name Leah?
This post was originally published on August 17, 2009. It was substantially revised and re-posted on August 24, 2015 and again on October 20, 2021.
My middle name is Lea, pronounced like Leah, but my mother intended it to be the feminine version of Leo, which means “lion”, and thus Lea would mean “lioness”. Not sure of the accuracy, but that was her logic lol.
As an aside, Amber is a guilty pleasure of mine and I’d love to see it on a newborn.
I think Leah is a sweet name, the kind that grows up well and carries a certain dignity.
Leah sounds blah to my Slavic ears, but Lea sounds much better – somewhat more refined and elegant 🙂
Leah has been my favorite name since I was 8 years old. I’m now in my mid twenties! I was very serious about naming a daughter this and even told my husband before we got married how I loved Leah. I thought Leah Noelle was perfect! My husband was fine with it because he knew how strongly I felt. Then a friend, although a casual friend, named her daughter Leah Noelle. YES!! The exact first and middle name I had picked! How does this happen?? I was devastated and, of course, cried. I grieved and then we decided we could still use Leah anyways. Since then, my tastes have changed to a bit more unique and less common names (think Evadne, Calliope, Juno, Honor, Geneva, etc.). I doubt Leah will be used at this point, but who knows? It still holds a special place in my heart and I’ll always love it. It’s just beautiful!
Actually, there really is no alternate spelling for the name Leah. It is what it is. L-e-a-h. Those other names are names, nice name, however, not alternative versions of the name Leah. No one offered Rachel’s sister alternatives and no Leah since then received offers either. Reading the comments that say it is such a common name is funny to me. When I was a child, I was sure I was the only person on the planet with parents mean enough to name their offspring Leah. I absolutely hated the name and constantly pleaded with them to let me legally change it, alas, they told me I would have to wait until I was 18. I had no personalized key chains, mini license plates, mugs or pencils. Aging made the name pleasing. I went on to spend some time enjoying my unique moniker. Sadly, it was when I began seeing Leah novelty items; I felt the decline to common. Woe.
Amen! As another Leah, I would like to repeat everything you have just said.
I far prefer the “Lia” spelling to the original
Leah feels very dull and tired to me, like Emma.
Leah is nice. But in a Claire, Sinead and Roisin sort of way. It’s just a normal everyday sort of name, not unexpected and I think I’d rather something more unusual when I have a kid.
I’m not gonna even start on Leigha…!
Oh, and I haven’t seen it yet so any chance of suggesting Lorcan for NotD please?
Leah is…okay. I think it’s pretty, but with all its usage, it does feel a little tired. At least it did when I was a child and knew 3 Leahs. I was totally unexpected to see it suggested so often on the Y!A name boards. I guess it’s having a resurgence of some sort.
I’m decidedly more fond of Lia and Lea.
OOH, when I was in grade school, Leah was my FAVORITE name. However the Gosselin and Twilight connections taint it for me and I probably wouldn’t use it anytime soon. It’s still on my maybe list though because its so Pan-European and would work most anywhere.
Leah doesn’t excite me too much. I can agree that the Leah spelling is the more desirable one, but only Leigha really is an issue in my eyes (it kind of looks like it would be said “LEE guh” spelled like that).