Spotlight on: Aletha

Aletha is a name with a past. In this 1913 photo called, “Suffragetts at the capital”. Mrs. Aletha Taft is among them.

Greek names and L-dominant names beginning with vowels have liberally appeared in the top 500. These shared qualities make Aletha  the uncommon name that perfectly fits in. The similar Athena (#313 in 2011) is one of several Greek girl names on the rise. L-dominant vowel names in the top 500 include Elena, Alana, and Alina.

Aletha makes a perfect addition to this list. This name may seem like a variation of Aretha (like Aretha Franklin), or perhaps some modern hybrid of Athena and Alice, but in reality Aletha is a toned down variation of Alethea (pronounced al-uh-thee-uh). Both names are derived from the Greek aletheia, which means “truth”.

The Greek word aletheia, is a philosophical term used to describe the understanding of truth and was used in Greek mythology as truth personified. Its Roman counterpart is veritas, which is related to another name. Can you guess the name? That’s right – Verity.

Aletha and Verity would make a good shared meaning twin-set.

Only given to 10 newborn girls in 2011, Aletha is certifiable rare, and has a history of being uncommon, but was not always obscure. Aletha had spent a bit of time at the bottom of the top 1000 from 1881 (1880 is the earliest year data is available) until 1939. This history classifies Aletha as a “vintage rare” name based on Upswing Baby Name’s classification system. Aletha peaked in 1923 at #600. It charted a few more times since 1939, but left the top 1000 for good after 1955.

Besides the historical trends, Aletha has a bit of a vintage sound, yet shares an adventurous style similar to modern names, making it an old name that seems new. She may not have the same depth as her mother Alethea (which has some fascinating historical and pop-cultural associations mentioned in this Appellation Mountain post from 2008), but with one less syllable, Aletha has an easier pronunciation, and natural nickname, Letha. Where Alethea sounds a bit flowery, Aletha is the streamlined alternative.

According to our unscientific poll of our “different shades of rare” baby names, Aletha is in third place. This places Aletha after Paloma in first place, and Callum at a close second, and way ahead of last place America. To see the poll and vote, go here.

Aletha was chosen for today’s spotlight over Paloma and Callum because it seems appealing enough, but doesn’t appeal to everyone. These are the kinds of names perfect for Upswing Baby Names, which aims to help parents find names that fit their unique style, but may not necessarily have mass appeal.

To get a non-name person’s perspective, when I told my husband I was writing about Aletha, he asked, “Is that like Alicia with a t?”

“Alicia with a t” might be a good way to describe Aletha to the uninitiated, but I don’t feel Aletha needs any clarification. The spelling and pronunciation are perfectly phonetic. Aletha might seem out-of-place on a 30-something, but would wear well on a modern child without sacrificing the surprise element.

Readers: What do you think of Aletha?

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  1. I prefer Alethea actually.

  2. Not sure that I like Aletha personally, but it could be an intriguing choice for someone else’s daughter. Aletha does remind me of a rare gem I discovered on my family tree: Talitha (like Tabitha with an “L”). My ancestor Talitha went by Lithie, which I think is sweet.

    • Talitha is intriguing. But I wouldn’t pronounce it like Tabitha with an L (Tal-itha). I would say Tal-ee-tha

      • I knew a Talitha growing up and she pronounced it Ta-LEE-tha, emphasis on the middle syllable. It was totally out of step in the 1980s but I really like it now.

  3. Verity and Aletha would make a fantastic set of twins! Lovely symmetry, with the same meaning, number of letters and number of syllables. I’ve now wasted entirely too much time trying to think of another pairing like this, maybe Lucinda and Eleanor?

    • Thanks! I don’t know the meanings of Lucinda and Eleanor, but I agree they would make lovely twins too. I didn’t even notice Verity and Aletha had the same number of letters.

      • I thought they both meant light, but I just looked it up and Eleanor is not derived from Helen, whoops. Lucille and Clarice would work instead–they both mean light or bright, but are both from Latin. Still can’t think of a Greek/Latin pair.

  4. I’ve grown up with this name and have only met one other Aletha. Though you would think phonetically it would be an easy name for people to grasp, I have spent my entire life explaining to people how to say it. I even had teachers in elementary school assume my name was Alicia, but I had a speech impediment. Now I use that when I explain it to people. I just tell them to pretend it’s Alicia but you have a lisp.

    • Agree. People have trouble saying Aletha. It’s just so uncommon, and I think people expect names to be challenging so they always try to put a spin on it and say something weird.

  5. It’s funny the article specifically mentions only 10 newborns in 2011 were named Aletha. I am one of the parents who actually named my daughter, who was born in 2011, the name Aletha. I named her after my grandmother who was born in the 1920s.


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