baby name LeoThe baby name Leo combines antique charm and ferocious spirit.

Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


The baby name Leo has never left the US Top 1000, dating back to 1880, the first year data is reported. As of 2022, it stands at #22.

Long before that, Leo was popular in the ancient world. Famous figures the include fifth century pope, Saint Leo the Great, as well as monarchs and military commanders dotting history books across the ages.


One reason for the name’s appeal? The image of the fierce and proud lion makes Leo a name with plenty of spirit and strength.

The Greek word for lion is Leon. The Latin word is Leo.

As meanings go, it doesn’t get much more straightforward.


No question that Leo refers to the lion, as well as the constellation in the night sky associated with July and August.

But it has long been used as a synonym for brave, too, dating back to the Middle Ages. Think of King Richard the Lionheart.

It might also suggest ruthlessness, but most of the time, being compared to a lion is a compliment.


Leo has always been a stand-alone name. But it’s also part of many longer names, from the obscure to the familiar. There’s a long list of formal choices here.

Some, like the Italian Leonardo, are nearly as popular in the US as Leo, appearing in the US Top 100.

Other Leo names in the current US Top 1000 include:

  • Leon
  • Leonel
  • Leonidas
  • Leonard

So well known were Leo names that something interested happened. Leopold isn’t a Leo name at all. Instead, it comes from the German root liut – meaning people – combined with bald – brave. “Brave people” seems like a solid meaning. But instead of Liutbald, the influence of Leo changed the spelling over time.

Other Leo names, like Leander, fly under the radar because their spelling moved away from the more familiar l-e-o. In Leander’s case, it comes from the Greek words for lion and man. The name survives in the tragic love story of Hero and Leander.

Similar names in other languages include the Polish Lew and Russian Lev; but short and straightforward Leo is unchanged in dozens of languages, from Finnish to Croatian to Dutch and beyond.


Pope Saint Leo the Great held office in the 400s. He looms large in history, not only for his approach to theology and church administration, but for the way he convinced Attila the Hun to spare Rome. No one knows exactly how he accomplished this feat, but it remains a dazzling achievement.

A dozen future popes would adopt the name, most recently in the 1800s.

Leo was also popular among monarchs, especially with Byzantine emperors and Armenian kings.

Among the best known Leos are:

  • The MGM lion has started countless films since 1924. The original cat was actually named Slats; not until 1957 did they employ a spokeslion named Leo. He’s been roaring ever since.
  • The creative force of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy lends the name a literary air.
  • The name picks up rock star cool thanks to guitar innovator Leo Fender – born Clarence Leonidas.
  • Children’s author and illustrator Leo Lionni takes the name in a different direction.
  • Leo is undeniably a throwback, so you’ll find characters like Jerry Seinfeld’s eccentric Uncle Leo.
  • Speaking of television, the West Wing gave us veteran Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer as part of the long-running political drama.
  • More recently, there’s a child character on Grey’s Anatomy by the name.

Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio is often referred to as Leo.

Several high profile birth announcements have featured the baby name Leo, including chef Mario Batali; actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem; actress Kim Raver; and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, to name just a few.


And, of course, those are people who are named Leo – or some variation.

People born under the Zodiac Sign are far too plentiful to count.


Not only is the baby name Leo popular throughout the English-speaking world, it ranks in the Top 100s of Switzerland and Slovenia, Armenia and Poland. The French name is the nearly identical Léo. Most languages pronounce it lee-o; doubtless you’ll hear the occasional leh-o and lay-o, too.

In the US, Leo was given to 8,250 boys born in 2022 – an all-time high in terms of births. But if we look at popularity rankings, Leo’s current #22 position is, by far, the highest the name has ever ranked.

In other words? Leo might sound a little bit antique, but it’s never been more in-demand than in the twenty-first century.


The baby name Leo is brief and complete. It has history to spare and plenty of antique charm, but it’s mostly all about the name’s mix of approachable style blended with a ferocious spirit.

One downside? Leonard could be Leo – or Lenny or Len – but Leo is impossible to reduce with nicknames.

If you’re hoping your son will share the spirit of a little lion, Leo will likely appeal to you.

When it comes to baby boy names, if you’re a minimalist at heart with a love for great meanings, it’s hard to top Leo.

What do you think of the baby name Leo?

Originally published on October 20, 2008, this post was revised and republished on October 15, 2012 and again on July 20, 2023.

baby name Leo baby name Leo

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. I adore the name. It seems a bit insubstantial on its own for me, but it doesn’t feel as incomplete as a lot of names. I just prefer longer given names, like Leonard and Theodore instead of Leo and Theo. I still would love to meet a Leo no matter if it’s short for something or not. Lola, your sons are just a couple of months older than me!

  2. Surprisingly enough, I really like Leo! I’m generally not a fan of the ends-in-O names (and I know I’m a minority on this). I don’t know what it is — perhaps they seem too Italian to me? And I feel I don’t have any business using them since I’m not at all Italian? Leo is the exception, though, maybe because it is a word thrown about in English with some regularity, at least among the horoscope readers. Anyway, I AM a Leo, and I like the name quite a lot. Good choice, Lola!

  3. Oh, Thank You! 😀 Leo *is* pretty awesome all by himself, no? It’s been my favorite boy name since I was very little and the Uncle it was attached to was a doll. He died when I was 12 and I still miss him.

    I find Leo strong. Handsome, warm, sweet, simple, happy and overall perfect too. It was a trying thing to come up with a name I loved equally for his twin! I think the thing that awes me most about those three little letters is that 13 Popes have used it. 13, my lucky number (I was born on the day as was my brother, my nearly Irish twin [we’re 18 months apart to the day])
    Leo is powerfully grand for such a little thing. And that’s kind of what makes him just perfect. Funnily enough, my boys were due mid August but showed up on 5 July, just a bit more than a week before my 20th birthday. He was clearly a Leo from the moment he was born. Had he been a January, May or October baby, Leo he would have been. And I can say it ages really well too. Little Leo turned 22 this past July and my, what a handsome man he’s turned into! )