In Herbert's first book of DUNE, the first child, a son of Paul and Chani né Leto II, is murdered as a toddler. Paul announces this presciently/psychically when the Sardaukar raid and kill a sietch of women and children. These are tragic tropes, "They tried to take the life my son!" and "Our son is dead," echoing at opposite ends of the book from Leto I to Paul and Leto II.

This is not the same Leto II as the GOD EMPEROR. Why isn't he called "Leto III?" Is there anywhere that Herbert addresses this name overlap, or is it implied that this is a common nomenclature outcome in feudal societies such as this future?

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    Possibly because he never ruled? Leto I was Leto I because he was the first Leto to rule Arrakis. Leto II (murdered) never ruled, and so his name doesn't get "counted" so to speak. That's my best guess, anyway. Apr 9, 2013 at 2:48
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    It's a historical convention, at least in European monarchies and Papacy. The reign name is assumed upon ascension to the throne, not birth, as @Adele said. Apr 9, 2013 at 4:00
  • So we can lay the convention on monarchism and/or feudalism? I was hoping there might have been one line of Frank Herbert's that might have been edited out along the lines of how this was a common practice among nobility/Houses.
    – livresque
    Apr 9, 2013 at 4:57
  • @AdeleC Wasn't Leto I moreover the first Leto to rule Caladan?
    – livresque
    Apr 9, 2013 at 4:58
  • @livresque- Coulnd't tell you. Apr 9, 2013 at 13:23

1 Answer 1


The opening paragraph of Dune reads

A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows. To begin your study of the life of Muad'Dib, then, take care that you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV.
-- from "Manual of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan

For this statement to work, for it to clearly define the year of Muad'Dib's birth, the reference to Emperor Shaddam IV has to uniquely identify exactly one person. This falls down if Shaddam IV refers to multiple people, or if it references someone not significant enough to be remembered by history.

Near the end of Children of Dune another quote reads:

"I do not have to be what my father was. I do not have to obey my father's rules or even believe everything he believed. It is my strength as a human that I can make my own choices of what to believe and what not to believe, of what to be and what not to be."
-- Leto Atreides II, The Harq al-Ada Biography

In Appendix IV of Dune, Selected Excerpts of the Nobel Houses, we read:

The Padishah Emperor, 81st of his line (House Corrino) to occupy the Golden Lion Throne, reigned from 10,156 (date his father Elrood IX, succumbed to chaumurky) ...

From these we can readily see the fact that Frank Herbert himself only "counted" rulers, and I suggest we're supposed to accept that this approach was common throughout the imperium. Elrood IX was an Emperor, as was Shaddam IV; Leto I was a Duke; Leto II the God Emperor.

(Aside: it's interesting that houses Corrino and Atreides address their rulers by their first name; house Harkonnen uses the house name instead - Baron Harkonnen vs Duke Leto.)

Paul Muad'Dib's first son, Leto, clearly didn't influence the pecking order. We can surmise that FH was influenced by our "real world" rules, and that this was because Muad'Dib's first son never ascended to rule, but (like most great authors) FH leaves much more unsaid that said.

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    Also, even to put it in more common terms - say you were named John Smith and your son John Jr. died as an infant. If you still wanted to use the name John for your next son, it would again be John Smith Jr., not John Smith III. Confusing, yes, but that's the way it works in such rare cases.
    – Omegacron
    Oct 9, 2014 at 2:26
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    "Aside: it's interesting that houses Corrino and Atreides address their rulers by their first name; house Harkonnen uses the house name instead - Baron Harkonnen vs Duke Leto."; that's a rank thing, in English at least, different ranks get called by their first vs. last names. Kings princesses go by their first names too.
    – swbarnes2
    Oct 2, 2015 at 21:53
  • Ingenious answer. Dec 15, 2015 at 18:31
  • In real life, there are some exceptions to the rule that only rulers are counted. For example, in the German dynasty of Reuss, every single male has been named Heinrich/Henry since the reign of Emperor Henry VI. And in modern centuries every male has been given a number in order of birth until and unless the numbers are reset for some reason. Jan 1, 2019 at 18:13

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