Carsten: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on April 18, 2013

CarstenCarter, Carson, and Christian are solidly established in the US Top 100.  Why not this name?

Thanks to Katherine for suggesting Carsten as our Baby Name of the Day.

Carsten sounds like he might be invented, or maybe a borrowed surname.

Not so.

It comes from Christianus - literally, a Christian, in medieval Latin.  We know the name as Christian, and it was once used as a gender neutral name.  I can’t tell how it was perceived – was it the twelfth century equivalent of Nevaeh?  Or was it as ordinary as Christopher is today?

In any case, Christian was in use from the 1100s on.

Christian become Carsten via Middle Low German, the language spoken around the North Sea and Baltic Sea in the twelfth to sixteenth centuries.  Remember the Hanseatic League?  They were  a merchant guild, a cooperative formed to facilitate trading across vast distances.  Lübeck was a major port, the Hanseatic League’s boomtown.  From the port city, the merchants traded with Scandinavia, Russia, England, Belgium, and others.  It’s the kind of linguistic connection that can make for interesting names.

Christian became Carsten and Karsten more than 500 years ago.

He arrived in Scandinavia a few years later, and Carsten was big in Denmark.  The first Danish king to wear the name was born back in 1426.  The first Carsten was founder of the University of Copenhagen.  Nine Danish monarchs have worn some form of the name since, and there’s a Christian in the current succession.  Today the royals are usually referred to as Christian, but Carsten remains in heavy use among Danes.

He appears as a surname, too.  I stumbled across a Swedish opera singer named Christoffer Christian Karsten.  He was a big deal in the late 1700s/early 1800s.

And while most notable bearers are German or Danish, the name is worn in the Netherlands, throughout Scandinavia, and in the English-speaking world, too.

Famous Carstens include:

  • Carsten Niebuhr, a German mathematician whose worked supported cartography and exploration.
  • Carsten Borchgrevnik, a polar explorer and pioneer of Antarctic travel.
  • Karsten Solheim was a Norwegian-born golf club designer whose designs became the foundation of the brand PING.

Besides all this history, there’s also Carsten’s sound.  With Carter ranked #41 and Carson at #85, Carsten fits right in.

While he’s still rare in US, he’s been on the upswing in the last decade.  126 boys received the name in 2011.

Overall, Carsten is a great compromise name for parents stuck between modern inventions and traditional choices.  He’s a nickname-free possibility that is a little bit unexpected, but completely wearable.  And he might even be a way to honor a Christopher or Christina, Caroline or Carl on your family tree.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

DeAnna October 23, 2013 at 8:13 PM

My son’s name is Karsten. I love it! I’m obviously biased.

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Julie April 19, 2013 at 3:31 PM

I’ve think I’ve seen the name used locally a few times, but this is one of those names that’s so “on trend”, it really feels like it should be popular. I’m honestly surprised it isn’t in the top 1000.

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Katybug April 19, 2013 at 8:39 PM

Me too! I’ve heard it and thought it was a made up name piggybacking off of trends. Knowing its history now, I would be thrilled to meet one.

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Patricia April 18, 2013 at 6:59 PM

The name has a nice history and would seem a good choice, especially for parents with some German or Scandinavian ancestry, except for it’s possible gender ambiguity for Americans. Karsten with a K looks more female to me, reminding me of Kirsten and Karin (pronounced “CAR – in”); Carsten with a C looks more male to me.

In an online response to a mother asking for opinions about the name: “Sorry no offence. But to me Karsten/Carsten sounds terribly dated. I am German and knew quite a few when I grew up -in the 70ies. It is one of the names that nobody uses in Germany these day.” So that’s something else to consider.

I think the name may work best in the U.S. as Carsten because of it’s similar look to the popular Carter and Carson and also to the traditional English spelling of Christian.

Looking for the name online, I came across a very handsome baby boy named Carsten, whose mother’s name is Christina. I wouldn’t have recognized the connection between the two names before reading this profile of the name Carsten.

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Kristin April 18, 2013 at 2:24 PM

We have a neighbor boy named Karsten… I had no idea it had such a great history.

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Rocketpop April 18, 2013 at 6:22 AM

We have a kindergartner at my school with the name Carsten. I wondered where his mom got the name…

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