Baby Name of the Day: Harper

by appellationmountain on June 3, 2008

Harp in a Dublin music shop doorway        Harp in a Dublin music shop doorway by Anna L Martin via Flickr

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on June 3, 2008 and revised and re-posted on June 18, 2012.  

Today’s choice originally came to us from Kayt.  In the past four years, this musical name has gone from #296 to #54, a meteoric rise fueled by plenty of high profile births.

Our Baby Name of the Day is the ever so stylish Harper.

Plenty of surname choices for girls have an upbeat, carefree feel, like PiperSawyer, or Parker.  

Harper manages to strike a slightly more serious note.  She’s been bestowed as a given name with some regularity over the past century or so, usually for boys.  But in recent years, her literary ties and the continuing interest in adopting surnames as given names have put Harper solidly on Team Pink.

Once upon a time, a Harper was someone who crafted or played musical instruments.  As a surname, it’s still rather common. The current Prime Minister of Canada is Stephen Harper; other notable bearers of the name include musician Ben Harper, abolitionist Frances Harper and plenty of others.

Four brothers also come to mind: James, John, Fletcher and Wesley. The quartet founded a publishing empire that would eventually become HarperCollins publishing and the glossy Harper’s Bazaar. Back in 1867, it was the first fashion magazine in the US. Today, it’s known for a mix of celeb profiles, pieces on haute couture and glimpses of the ever-so-wealthy. It is an indulgent read, and probably part of why the name Harper skews feminine, hinting at the glamorous life.

The Harper that really gives the name heft is a literary giant: Nelle Harper Lee, known as Harper Lee on her legendary work, To Kill a Mockingbird. A Pulitzer Prize winning novel and much-lauded film adaptation in the early 1960s, the book remains required reading for virtually every schoolchild in America. It also gave us Atticus and Scout.  My theory?  The One City One Book campaigns, which gained traction in the early 00s, played a part, as more and more parents rediscovered the tale.  Plenty of parents have cited Nelle Harper Lee as the reason they settled on the name.

As a masculine moniker, Harper appeared only rarely, failing to make the Top 1000 from 1907 until 2006, when it re-entered the charts at #958. In 2007, Harper had jumped to #880 for boys, and he’s still climbing, up to #607 in 2011.

The number of female Harpers supernova’d during the same time frame.  Some of the more famous Harpers include:

  • Musician Eddie Vedder’s daughter, Harper Moon, born in 2008.
  • One of Lisa Marie Presley’s daughters is Harper, twin sister to Finley.
  • Actress Tiffani Theissen welcomed Harper Renn in 2010.
  • Neil Patrick Harris has a daughter called Harper Grace.
  • Then came the game-changer: Victoria and David Beckham’s youngest, Harper Seven.

For the moment, the flurry of celebrity babies has only encouraged more parents to embrace Harper as an option for a daughter.  And why not?  Madison and Taylor have both made the US Top Ten.  Harper has more history than either of those possibilities, but she’s so very well used.  If you’re hoping for something distinctive, you’ll have to dig deeper.

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