Thanks to Urban Angel for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Close your eyes and picture a bridge.
It’s a structure of some kind, crossing a river. Or maybe a busy road.
The word comes from the Middle English brigge, ultimately from an Old English word brycg. It originally referred to a log or a beam. Laying one down across a body of water would’ve been the original way to cross a river without getting (very) wet.
Once upon a time, Bridger – along with Bridge or Bridges – referred to a person who lived near a bridge or earned his living as a bridge keeper, collecting tolls in the days before EZPass.
Tolls made bridges big business throughout much of history. One of the oldest surviving bridges dates back to the thirteenth century BC. Visit Argolis, Greece and you can still cross the Arkadiko, just like the ancient chariots once did.
Feudal lords were often required to build and maintain bridges. After all, bridges and roads were essential to move armies in case of conflict.
It became a common occupation, and therefore, a common family-name.
General Joseph Bridger arrived in Virginia back in 1654, and owned acres and acres of property back in the day. His descendants still gather regularly.
But there’s another figure who looms large in American history and folklore.
Virginia-born Jim Bridger became the quite the legend as an explorer, trapper, and all-around mountain man from the 1820s into the 1850s. He may be related to the famous family, but then again, maybe not.
What we do know is that Jim Bridger went to Missouri as one of William Ashley’s Hundred, young men who set out to work as fur trappers. Bridger went on to play a pivotal role in the history of the West, mediating disputes with Native Americans, establishing safer and shorter routes and founding a trading post of his own. He was hearty – he walked the length of the Rockies – and sharp, learning several languages. By the time he died in 1881, he known for his trailblazing, and for his telling of tall tales.
The West is dotted with places named in his honor:
- There was a fort in Wyoming. It’s now gone, but the surrounding the surrounding town, still called Fort Bridger, remains.
- There’s a city in Montana, as well as a mountain.
- There’s also another mountain, a pass, and Bridger-Teton National Forest, all in Wyoming.
He’s become something of a legend. A fictional version of Jim appeared in a 1961 episode of NBC’s Western Wagon Train.
Brad Pitt’s character in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds – named Aldo Raine – told his recruits “Now, I am the direct descendant of the mountain man Jim Bridger.”
BIG IN THE WEST
Bridger has dipped in and out of the US Top 1000 since 1999, and ranked #738 in 2022. But those numbers are deceptive. In Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, the name has cracked the Top 100. The name currently ranks #10 in Wyoming in 2022 and #50 in Montana. It’s #92 in Idaho, too.
And while handful of boys named Bridger appear in other states – Michigan and Maryland, Nebraska and Iowa – most of the 350-ish newborn boys given the name were born in the American West. It’s quite rare everywhere else.
This tracks with the places Jim Bridger lived, and the places named in his honor. So while the meaning of the name Bridger is “dweller near a bridge” or “worker at a bridge,” it’s clear the legendary scout has contributed to the name’s image. For many parents, it means rugged American pioneer and adventurer.
Even without the larger-than-life figure, it’s easy to imagine the baby name Bridger fitting right in with -r ending favorites. Some, like Parker and Carter, feel a little more polished and preppy. But Bridger is a brother for Ryder or Hunter. Many a surname feels like a mainstream favorite now; there’s no reason Bridger wouldn’t fit.
It’s not just choices ending with -r. Like surname favorite Jackson, it’s a popular place name, too, and that helps.
The baby name Bridger feels distinctive and capable. While it’s probably heard sparingly in Australia, England, and elsewhere in the English-speaking world, Jim Bridger’s legacy makes it specifically American.
It’s an alternative to Top 100 picks like Maverick or Wyatt. And it feels fresher than Ryder or Sawyer.
If you’re looking for a fits-in/stands-out kind of name that can be found on the map across several American states? It doesn’t get better than Bridger.
What do you think of the baby name Bridger?
This post was originally published on July 19, 2010. It was substantially revised and re-posted on September 16, 2015 and again on August 5, 2023.