Editor’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
Noel Boyd says
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.
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.
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.
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.
I asked about Balthazar on the Nameberry forums the other day. I’ve been loving it as a middle name lately. The greatest pitfall of Balthazar seems to be the lack of obvious nicknames, but I don’t think that’s important. Any guy cool enough to pull off Balthazar probably doesn’t want/need a nickname.
Waltzing More Than Matilda says
This name is just too fantabulous – I would LOVE to see a baby Balthazar! It’s uber posh and eccentric, and the -zar ending ties in with popular girl Zara.
I think I’d kind of like Zar as the nickname.
I think that Balthazar Getty is nicknamed, “Balty.”
I named my son Balthazar . Its easier to say than Dan.
I really like this name lately. He reminds me of Gideon and Ezekiel, two of my favorite names. While Ezekiel obviously has Zeke and Gideon could maybe pull off Dean or Ian, Balthasar seems the most difficult to nn. I thought Bart the most intuitive until I saw the suggestion of Baz. I too prefer the z. Baz is very tied to the director in my mind. I looked him up to find that his full name is Mark Anthony!
Balthasar is a bit over the top, but it fits right in line w/ the trend of more ornate masculine names. I continue to question how Sebastian can be so impossibly high on the SSA. Balthasar doesn’t seem very far off to me at all.
Aww, thanks, Katherine! 🙂 For what it’s worth, I know that -az sound is downbmarket in the UK but on this side of the pond (and in New England, to boot!) Baz would sound amost posh but not too much so. and If he ever went to good old England (or Scotland where half the family originates) He could simply be Balthazar in full. Three syllables isn’t that hard to manage, I think. 🙂 Nice to see Bathazar/Balthasar gets some love & respect, Huzzah! 😀
Wow Balthazar thats a name and a half! You would have to be quite a vibrant guy to pull that off! I dislike the idea of Bart as a nickname simply because of the intrinsic link to the Simpsons (which while not bad is certainly unavoidable) and I’m sorry to say that I dislike the idea of Baz as a nickname too. I think thats because it doesn’t sound fresh to me (whereas it might across the pond, I don’t know) and also because nicknames with the ‘az’ sound are well known in the UK and (dare I say it) viewed as a bit downmarket (think Caz, Jazz, Maz, Daz, Chaz, Shazzer – although in Baz’s defence it’s far nicer than any of them!)…
I hope I don’t sound too negative because overall Balthazar is fabulous! And Lola, I love the idea of Edward Balthazar George or Balthazar Edward George…
Balthazar is on my list too. I used to consider it unusable because I already have a B, but lately I’m thinking nothing bucks the current trend more than matching letter siblings. Baz is also the nick we’d use. Thanks for highlighting him today.
BAZ! I forgot Baz!
*Knocks head on table.* I take it back, I take it back! There is a fabulous nickname choice for Balthazar! Ignore that whole paragraph. 😉
Ooh thanks! I love seeing my Great Grandpa’s name! He was Balthasar but I prefer Balthazar. It’s very strong and quite handsome, I think. And Baz (works for this Yank), is a nice, easy nickname. You missed Baz! 🙂
And Balthasar Bekker is something of a hero to this Wiccan. I like his Shakespearian link and Constantine is one of my favorite movies. Gavin Rossdale makes a lovely Balthazar! (I suppose it’s because Constantin was Balthazar’s oldest boy in my family)
My only hesitationin use is because of (Paul) Balthazar Getty. That whole family, by history, is odd in the extreme and while he seems fairly normal, comparitively, the jury’s still out for me. I have him in the mddle (Edward Balthazar George) and as a first (Balthazar Edward George) in my #6 spot. And there he stays, for now. I think Balthazar rocks!