Gaspar: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on June 13, 2013

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, ... Photo credit: Wikipedia

We’ve talked about Casper and Jasper.  How ’bout this version of the name?

Thanks to Carmen for suggesting Gaspar as our Baby Name of the Day.

Gaspar is the Spanish version of this ancient name, traditionally given to one of the three wise men in the Nativity Story.

He sounds handsome in Spanish – listen to him here – with the emphasis on the second syllable: gas PAHR.  But in English, we say Jasper and Casper with the emphasis on the first syllable, and that leaves dashing Gaspar sounding a little bit like gasper - one who gasps, maybe.

Gaspar is also the Portuguese spelling.  Add a few accents, and he’s the Hungarian version.  Stick a ‘d’ on the end and he’s Gaspard, the French form of the name.  While Jasper is having his day in the sun in the US right now, none of the forms of the name have ever been very popular in the English-speaking world.  But travel the Western world, and there are plenty of variants of the name in use.

There are two possible origins for Gaspar.  Let’s start with the one everyone knows.

Gaspar is close to  gizbar, a Chaldean word meaning treasurer or treasure-keeper.  The Chaldean language was Semitic.  Modern Hebrew still uses the word to mean treasurer.  Another theory gives it roots in Old Persian.

The Magi occupy an interesting place in the Nativity.  Only the Gospel of Matthew mentions them, and he’s mum about many key details, saying only that they came from the east bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Legend has supplied the rest of the story, including their names: Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar.  Some accounts give them fuller biographies.  Gaspar is a scholar from India in those accounts, or sometimes a king.

And here’s where Gaspar’s story gets really interesting, and gives us a possible second origin.

Sometime around 20 BC, a ruler named Gondophares established a new dynasty in Central Asia, covering parts of modern-day India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Ever heard of Kandahar?  It may have been founded by Gondaphares I as Gundopharron.  Or maybe not.  It’s one of several competing theories.

Gondophares probably comes from a phrase meaning “may he find glory.”  The name became Gundaparnah and Gastaphar and Gandapur, and lives on in the historical record.  There was also almost certainly more than one Gondophares.  Some accounts say that Saint Thomas the Apostle preached to Gondaphares, and there’s a stained glass window in the cathedral of Troyes depicting the event.  Timing means that it wasn’t the Gondophares who established the dynasty, but one of his successors.

Some connect the first Gondophares with the Biblical Magi.  It’s all impossible to know, of course.

All of it makes Gaspar an intriguing name, far more ancient than many an appellation, but surprisingly wearable, too.  He’s been given to two or three dozen boys most years since the 1990s.

If you’re after a handsome rarity and don’t mind possible pronunciation challenges, there’s lots to like about Gaspar.

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