Monday, March 17, 2014


Often these days we hear a lot of people complaining about how boys names have been hijacked by girls. You might find it surprising then than Leto is actually a name that has - for now at least - gone the other way.

The name Leto has it's origins in Greek mythology. Leto is the daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, and sister of Asteria. She herself is the mother of twins Apollo and Artemis - the Letoides - with Zeus. Zeus' wife Hera was so enraged to hear of Leto's pregnancy that she hunted her across the Earth and banned her from giving birth on land. Leto sought sanctuary on the island of  Delos to give birth because it wasn't attached to the ocean floor. 

Leto is often depicted with her children, and is known as the goddess of motherhood, a protector of the young. It's also thought she may be a symbol of modesty and womanly demure as she is usually depicted in Greek vase painting as a woman lifting her veil in a gesture of modesty.

The origin and meaning of the name Leto isn't precisely known. One theory is that it has it's origins in the word "lethô" meaning 'to move unseen', which is suggestive of the modesty associated with Leto. Expanding on this is the idea that it's related to "lethe" meaning 'oblivion' and "lotus", the fruit that brings oblivion to those who eat it; hence meaning 'the hidden one'. This seems to be the generally accepted meaning. A third alternative is that it is of the same Lycian origin and "Leda", meaning 'woman or wife'. 

It's kind of surprising then that this name has only ever charted in the U.S for boys. It's Roman counterpart Latona charted regularly for girls from 1956 to 1991, albeit in small numbers each year. Conversely, Leto charted for the first time for boys in 2006 when it was given to just 5 boys, and has only charted a total of four years.

To see why Leto is skewing male, we only have to look to the two best known current examples of the name Leto in use.

The first is Jared Leto (pictured above). You may heave heard that he recently won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in the Matthew McConaughey movie 'Dallas Buyers Club'. He started acting in 1992 when he was 21, and is also the frontman of rock band '30 Seconds to Mars' with his brother Shannon Leto. Jared Leto definitely gives this name some serious cool points.

If rock star actors don't get you excited though, how about some science fiction cred, courtesy of the world of 'Dune'? Written by Frank Herbert,  'Dune' is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction novels of our time. It was adapted to a movie in 1984, which didn't do so well at the box office but has become a cult favourite. The story is set in the far future, when character Duke Leto Atreides and his family are sent to a sand world to obtain a spice that is essential for interstellar travel. However it is part of a plot to destroy the Duke (played by Jürgen Prochnow) and his family. His son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) escapes and seeks revenge. 
James McAvoy in 'Children of Dune'
'Dune' was also adapted to a TV mini-series in 2000, with William Hurt playing Duke Leto Atreides, followed by another mini-series based on sequel book 'Children of Dune' in 2003. In this follow up the Duke's son Paul now has twin children - daughter Ghanima and son Leto Atreides II. This young Leto is played by the handsome James McAvoy, which I'm sure helps add to the attraction of the name. Leto continues to be a major character in many of the book sequels. 

While I have to confess to not having read the 'Dune' books, I can see how this character is likely one of the main reasons Leto seems suited for a boy. Dare I say it, it also looks a little more masculine - probably because overwhelmingly, names ending in "O" tend to be male. The pronunciation would probably cause a few problems - some sources say it is LEE-toe, some say LEH-toe. Either is pretty cool though. He's a little less heavy than Cato, a little edgier than Arlo. I could easily see him as a brother to Kaius and Altair; Lux and Nova.

It sometimes surprises me how often it is that when I look into names with a futuristic sci-fi feel, they prove to be ancient gems that have been lying almost dormant until someone re-purposes them and brings them to light. To find out that a modern sounding crush actually has a history and is not necessarily a newly invented name often gives me a little thrill. Leto is one such name. 


  1. I've only seen this name once in real life, and it was on a little girl.

    I can see how people think it sounds masculine though - like Leo with a T in it.

    1. Leto somewhat reminds me of the Dragon Age series. Fenris, one of the main characters in the second installment, was once called Leto. And since it was my first introduction to the name, Leto has always skewed male for me. So imagine my surprise when I find out the origin is feminine. =]

  2. My son is called Leto (pronounced 'Lay- toe') after Duke Leto Atreides. I have never met or heard of another and I completely love it. :)

  3. Thanks for you descriptive analysis of the name. When I named my son Leto there was not alot of info on the name apart from it being a greek ancient feminine name, and of course Dune! I like the meaning - hidden one, wonder if the name will influence him!?