Balthazar on Spring StreetEditor’s note: This post was originally published on August 7, 2008.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on June 17, 2012.

He’s been worn by an actor and an assassin; fictional servants and demons, but the best known bearer is famous for following a star.

Thanks to Lola for suggesting today’s Baby Name of the Day: the exotic Balthasar.

Along with Caspar or Gaspar and Melchior, Balthasar was one of the Magi who set out to shower the newborn Jesus with gifts. Balthasar brought frankincense, a resin from the Boswellia tree, used to make perfumes back in the day. It’s worth noting that those three names do not appear in the Bible – the Western church settled on them sometime in the 700s. Ethiopian, Armenian and Syrian Christians have their own traditional names for the trio.

The name is derived from the ancient Babylonian phrase balat-shar-usur – save the life of the king. Some sources suggest that it incorporates Ba’al, a Semitic word referring to several ancient gods, but also used as a title equivalent to lord or master.

Suffice to say that Balthasar is a deeply ancient name, long known, but with relatively few bearers in the history books. In English, Balthazar and Balthasar appear almost interchangeably.

A few noteworthy bearers of the name include:

  • Two 17th century Jesuits – spiritual teacher Father Balthazar Alvarez of France, and the Spanish-born Balthasar de Torres, martyred in Nagasaki along with many of his fellow missionaries.
  • Balthasar Bekker, a 17th century Dutch philosopher whose writings helped usher in the beginning of the Enlightenment, and end witchcraft persecutions in Europe.
  • Four Shakespearean characters: Servants in Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice; a merchant in The Comedy of Errors and a musician in Much Ado About Nothing.
  • Demons appearing on sci fi TV shows Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and in the movie Constantine.
  • Balthasar Gérard, the assassin of William I of Orange, motivated by the French King Philip II’s promised reward – a hero in France and a villain in the Netherlands;
  • Balthasar Oomkens von Esens, a 16th century Frisian nobleman I mention mostly because his brothers were Melchior and Caspar.
  • The 17th century Spanish Baroque writer Baltasar Gracián, best known for The Art of Worldly Wisdom, which has been a bestseller as recently as 1992;
  • The actor Balthazar Getty, of the ABC drama Brothers and Sisters and great-grandson of oil magnate J. Paul Getty. Balthazar is actually his middle name; his given name is Paul.

It’s a mixed picture – a little bit evil, a little bit pious; part-noble and part-humble; artistic and dramatic, but thoughtful, too.

There’s a celebrated restaurant in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood called Balthazar, a French brasserie established by chef Keith McNally in 1997.  It’s a steady favorite.

Balthasar’s shortcoming appears to be the lack of an easy nickname. A few have worn other starts-with-B names like Bobby or Bart. Balto might work, save that it’s attached to the heroic sled dog who pulled a shipment of life-saving diptheria vaccine to Nome, Alaska back in 1925.  Baz and Bash are other possibilities.

So Balthasar emerges as a tempting choice, and yet one quite challenging to wear.  You could tuck it in the middle spot and hope that, just like actor Paul B. Getty, your kiddo grows into the exotic appellation.  But with names like Jeremiah, Sebastian, and Nathaniel in the US Top 100, why not Balthasar?  The – z spelling was given to just 9 boys last year, and the -s spelling to fewer than five.  It’s a daring, unusual choice – but one with history aplenty.

Photo credit: ralph and jenny via Flickr

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. Well, here we go. My grandson has just been named,’Balthazar Yves Finch-Hatton Boyd’. His brother is Cassius Raphael Boyd, and they now live in Ibiza.

  2. I’ve always adored Balthazar. Like Bartholomew, I’ve never fully understood why, I just do.

    Getty did sour the name for me a bit, but only slightly [I crushed on him as a child, like any other my age, but his actions as an adult have turned me off].

    Baz is a cute nickname, though I do think of Luhrmann.

  3. Oh and I just remembered that I crossed Baz off because our daughter Bayard goes by “Bay”. We’d need something substantially different to make another B name work.

  4. I love Balthazar. Have been trying for years to find the perfect nickname but I haven’t found it. I do like Baz and maybe Balto/ Balty for a little boy but I’d still like to find something better. Our first boy will be Wolf (family name) but if we have more than one, I’ll definitely be trying to convince my husband that Balthazar is usable.