It’s one of the many names attached to big guy in the red suit.
Thanks to Molly for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: the seasonal Claus.
When the clock is striking twelve, children all over the world will tucked snug in their beds with visions of sugarplums … you know the rest. In the US, a great many of those children will answer to Nicholas, as well as Colin and Cole and even Nico, but almost none will answer to Claus.
But Claus is a short form of Nicholas, used in Germany where Claus sounds more like house than loss or claws. Nicolaus and Nikolaus are equally valid German spellings; and so you’ll also find the spelling Klaus in use.
The original Saint Nicholas was a third century Greek bishop, a second-generation Christian destined for the religious life from a young age. Many a miracle was attributed to the saint, but the stories that endure tend to do with children and gift-giving. In one tale, it is said that he brought three murdered boys back to life; in another, that he gave dowry gifts to poor girls who could not otherwise marry. Over the centuries, the saint evolved into our modern Santa Claus.
It’s probably one of the chief reasons Claus has never caught on as a mainstream name for boys in the US, but there’s something else to consider. Other than Kris Kringle, many a famous Claus is vaguely sinister.
Klaus Barbie was a thoroughly despicable Nazi war criminal. Tom Cruise donned a Nazi officer’s uniform to play Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the leaders of failed a 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. The 2008 big screen adaptation – Valkyrie – wasn’t a hit, but it added to the sense that Claus wears jackboots, not crib shoes.
There’s also Claus von Bülow, the socialite who may or may not have attempted to kill his wife Sunny in 1980. And speaking of film adaptations, Jeremy Irons won a Best Actor Oscar for playing von Bülow in 1990’s Reversal of Fortune.
And yet in Europe there are probably plenty of perfectly nice men answering to Claus. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands was married to the late Prince Claus. Prince Claus’ father was Claus Felix von Amsberg; one of his great-grandsons, the school-aged count Claus-Casimir, keeps the name in the royal family.
There’s also Klaus Baudelaire, one of the Baudelaire orphans in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. More than anything, this Klaus – capable and smart – makes it possible to imagine the name on a modern child.
But the Lemony Snicket books are filled with names chosen for other reasons. Klaus’ sisters are Violet – and Sunny! This brings to mind two other men called Klaus I can’t resist mentioning is the Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Flouride, born Geoffrey Lyall, and Klaus Märtens, the German army doctor who designed what the world would come to know as Doc Martens.
I’ve written favorably about so many single-syllable names for boys, even ones like Clark that felt stuck in fashion limbo just a few short years ago. So I hesitate to declare Claus unwearable for an American boy circa 2011. But he’s certainly not the most likely choice.