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