Baby Name of the Day: Harper

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.


  1. Alfreda O'Brien Kavanagh says

    Hi there
    Just thought I’d let you know that the harp picture was made by my Italian Grandfather that came to Dublin in the 30s there’s two of these harps something he replicated often in his designs throughout Ireland, nice to see it here too

  2. Merry says

    I have a friend with a lovely toddler named Harper. She calls her daughter Harpy. I think my friend might not know what “harpy” means and I don’t want to be the first one to tell her…

    Harper has always brought to my mind both “harpy” and “harping” (as in complaining), so it’s a hard name for me to get behind. I like the visual imagery of the harp and I have a general fondness for both H names and for occupational names, but “harpy” and “harping” are used regularly where I live so there’s just no way for me to break the negative association.

    • appellationmountain says

      I think that’s the danger with parents who think they want nickname-proof names until their little one is actually here. It is easy to say, in theory, that you don’t like nicknames. But what we often mean is that we dislike our adult nicknames – we prefer William to Billy, or James to Jim. But when you’re confronted with a bitsy baby or a chubby toddler, it can be easy to see that their formal adult name isn’t going to fly for at least a few more years … and then the kids have a way of inventing their own names, too. My 3 y.o. daughter has a classmate named Zoe who answers to Zo-Zo, thanks to some of the other kids in her class back when they were learning to talk!

  3. Liz says

    Hesper!!!! Or Hedda, Helle, Harley, Honor, Hawthorn, Heliabel, Herla, Hermione, Hester… I am reading from the H section of the llewelyn’s book.

    • appellationmountain says

      Hesper – I really like that one! And my love for the fusty Hester is long-standing …

  4. JB says

    Ok, so if this name is totally cool but now a little too popular to use – what is a name that is just as cool that also starts with “H”?

  5. Emily says

    I like Harper for a boy. I can see the appeal for a girl, but to me it’s a boy’s name. Seeing as the name is rising for boys as well as for girls, I think it is a valid option for either sex.

    • says

      I’ve seen Harper on both boys and girls and in almost equal numbers, but the stats tell me that it’s WAY more popular for girls. However, the number of boy sightings does suggest that it’s rising as a boy name too – would love to see this Top 100 for BOTH names (currently is only for girls).

  6. Barry Gross says

    Well we named our Daughter Harper after Miss Lee….14 years ago, we thought the name was awesome befor it became trendy.

    • says

      Oh, that is the worst feeling, I’m sure. You’ve landed on the perfect name, and then you get Beckham’d. Or Jolie-Pitt’d. Or insert-celeb-family here. If the new Garner-Affleck baby is called Clio, I’ll hit the roof. :)

  7. neschria (@neschria) says

    Harper is my maiden name, so it always feels weird to me when people have it as a first name… But while Piper seems like a girl name, Harper sounds like a boy’s name to me. On the other hand, in a world where I’ve heard a bunch of different little girls being called Logan and at least one named Emerson, all bets are off on what surname goes with which sex.

    (I think Logan on girls may be a local trend, though, since I heard it mainly on boys when I was living elsewhere.)

  8. Juliet says

    Harper is unisex to me. I had seen it mentioned often in the beginning of the year on Yahoo Answers . I actually have a guilty spot for this name. I love it, but the possible connotation of someone who ‘harps’ over problems puts me off. I knew a Mona who was a Moaner, so, I do take this type of thing seriously. However, the musical connotation is lovely

    I do adore the sound of the name, though.

    • appellationmountain says

      Since I’ve recently met a boy called Harper, I find myself thinking that this one wears better on a boy than I initially thought. I just keep thinking of To Kill A Mockingbird … but then, that wasn’t her given name, either.

  9. appellationmountain says

    If I weren’t a nickname fiend, I think Harper would be among my faves, too, Natalie. Trouble is, what do you call your daughter for short? Harpy? That brings to mind the ravenous half-bird women of myth. So this name is clearly meant for those who can write the name on the birth certificate and be content to call their child the full name. Or, you know, dumpling or tater tot or whatever.

    And, Kate, I know! I thought Harper would turn out to be just like Piper – never used as a given name until the 20th century. I’m guessing that those few male Harpers were wearing their mother’s maiden names. If I met a Harper today, I’d expect her to be a … well, a *her* and, of course, probably young.

  10. coolteamblt says

    It’s funny. I never would have guessed Harper was a male name. It sounds so very feminine to me. Maybe it’s because of Harper Lee; I’m not sure.

  11. Natalie says

    Great name!!
    I was actually going to suggest this one, it is quickly climbing up my fave girl names list :)


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