Name of the Day: Jasper

by appellationmountain on July 5, 2008

Today’s Name of the Day comes to us from Elisabeth of You Can’t Call It It, and we’re quite pleased she made the suggestion.

He’s never been out of the US Top 1000, but for many years, choosing this moniker for your son would have been almost outlandish. Today, though, he’s the versatile, fashionable successor to wildly popular choices like Henry and Oliver, with artistic and nature overtones, too. We turn our attention to Jasper.

At the close of the 19th century, Jasper ranked solidly in the Top 200 names for boys. He was about as popular as Simon, Elijah and Noah, and a few places ahead of Max, Owen, Christopher and Nicholas. But Jasper’s star fell with every passing decade, and by 1994, he ranked a mere 729 – not obscurity, exactly, but certainly underused.

But then Jasper reversed direction and started to climb again, along with many of the Granny Chic and Grandpa Cool names that we hear today. But that’s not all Jasper has in his favor.

Just like many popular names for boys, he’s a mere two syllables. And while most of the hotties end in -en, a significant group close with an -r, including Hunter, Tyler, Connor and Xavier. Throw in Carter, Archer, Oscar, Parker, Spencer and Cooper and all of a sudden Jasper sounds like an obvious choice.

Jasper has plenty of history on his side. It’s a variant of the Persian Casper, which has also become Jesper, Gaspar, Gaspare and Gaspard to list just a few. The original Persian was yashp; in Old French, it became jaspe and then changed a bit more to the Anglo-French jaspre.

Casper means treasurer, and along with Melchior and Balthasar, was one of the three wise men who bearing gifts traversed afar (how does the old carroll go again?) for the infant Jesus. While Melchior hasn’t endured and Balthasar is uncommon, the third wise man has inspired children’s names for generations.

There are plenty of Jaspers in real life. Jasper Tudor was a military expert and uncle to King Henry VII, who made him Duke of Bedford for his services. In the 20th century, there’s artist Jasper Johns, author Jasper Fforde and comedian Jasper Carrott.

It’s not clear if the gemstone or the man bore the name first. What is certain is that the mineral was quite popular in the ancient world, be it red, yellow, brown or the very rare green form. It’s been found in early civilizations, like the ruins of Knossos on Crete, dating to nearly 2000 years BC. Jasper is also mentioned in the Bible, giving it not only a nature name link, but a religious one, too.

The name is quite popular in Belgium, and heard in the UK, Australia and Canada. Variants Jesper and Casper are Top 100 choices in Norway and Sweden.

For many years, Jasper had a bit of the evil henchman about him. Cruella de Vil’s puppy-snatching ally in 101 Dalmations was called Jasper; in The Holiday, Kate Winslet’s two-timing love interest also wore the name.

But today, Jasper is likely to be the small son of fashionable and artistic-minded parents. Ranking #471 in 2007, he’s certainly more popular than in decades past, but still pleasingly underused – for now.

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