Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Lea
Lea is the German, Dutch, Scandinavian and Slavic spelling of Leah. It is also the French form, rendered with an accent mark: Léa. Biblical in origin, Leah means “languid, weary” from the Hebrew “le'ah” (לֵאָה). Borne from the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament, we are introduced to Leah in the book of Genesis as Jacob’s first wife. She is also remembered as Rachel’s older sister. The Biblical story reads as follows: Jacob falls in love with Rachel, Leah’s younger (and more beautiful) sister. In exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage, Jacob must first avail himself to seven years of servitude to Laban (Leah and Rachel’s father). At the end of the obligatory seven years, however, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah by switching the sisters at the altar. As Laban explained: “It is not our custom to give the younger before the firstborn” (Genesis 29:26). All’s well that ends well, however, when Jacob finally weds Rachel after another seven years of labor (in Biblical times, having more than one wife was socially acceptable). The only physical description of Leah we get from the Bible is in Genesis 29:17: “Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.” While the Bible contrasts the beautiful Rachel with the “weak-eyed” Leah, the Lord blesses Leah with more children (which really bothered her barren sister, Rachel). Like Rachel, Leah has always been a popular choice in the Jewish naming tradition; she is seen as a symbol of a fruitful marriage building up the tribes of Israel. The Puritans adopted the name Leah during the Reformation and it has since become just as widespread among Christians everywhere. In the Bible, Leah played second-fiddle to her more beautiful sister Rachel so the Puritans liked the name for its humility and modesty. Most English speaking parents opt for the Hebrew/Biblical spelling of Leah. The Dutch, French, Germans, Scandinavians and Slavs use Lea without the “h” on the end. Leia is the Biblical Greek form and Lia is the Biblical Latin form (as well as Italian, Portuguese and Spanish). Léa is the #2 name in France right now (second only to Emma) and #3 in Belgium. It is currently the 5th most popular name in Germany and a Top 10 in Austria. Lea is quite common in Scandinavia, as well, where it’s ranked relatively high in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. You will also find Lea on the charts of Croatia and Slovenia. Interestingly, throughout the entire Western World, Lea(h) out-performs Rachel by a long shot. So maybe Jacob liked the pretty Rachel best, but Western parents prefer Lea(h)!