Leslie Dunkling was born on May 10, 1935 in west London in 1935. As a mature student he qualified as a teacher in 1961, then gained a BA (Hons) degree in English at University College London. This was followed by an MA in Linguistics from Stockholm University, Sweden, where he taught English language and literature. He subsequently became a producer of educational radio and television programmes for the BBC, remaining there for 20 years. In 1970 he developed a spare time interest in onomatology, the study of proper names. He was co-founder of the Names Society and for many years was its president. He also published several reference books about names of various kinds, not only proper names but also, as his interest in toponymy grew, places, followed by other related areas.
He has lived since 1971 in Thames Ditton, Surrey, with his French wife, Nicole. Their three adult children and families live nearby.