Spotlight On: Balthazar


Balthazar Getty

In honor of the holiday season, this week’s spotlight name is festive in an unconventional way. Many parents welcoming a December baby boy may naturally gravitate towards Nicholas. The more daring might want to consider the traditional name of one of the Three Wise Men, Balthazar (also spelled Balthasar).

For the time being, both Balthazar and Balthasar are rare. Last year there were 13 boys named Balthazar and fewer than five, if any, named Balthasar. Compare that to 8,517 boys named Nicholas which ranked in the top 50 at #42 last year.

But according to Pamela Redmond Satran from nameberry, Balthazar is among the unusual names destined to become more popular in coming years. That seems like a possibility now that parents are becoming more adventurous in naming. For example, thirty years ago Archer was considered unusual, given to only 5 newborn boys in 1982. Fast-forward to 2011 and Archer was given to 600 newborn boys, ranked at #447, and appears to be on the upswing.

But even in these adventurous times there are still parents who avoid names that stand-out too much and who tend to wait until a name becomes established before considering it. These parents most likely live in rural and blue-collar areas. Therefore, I feel a few years will pass before I meet a little Balthazar in my western Massachusetts mill town (where names like Keegan seem very popular). However, there is a Cornelius in my daughter’s Kindergarten class so perhaps a baby Balthazar is not out-of-the question.

Yet Cornelius, which may sound unusual, is still more popular than Balthazar. Cornelius was given to 153 baby boys last year and had never let the top 1000 until 2009. Based on the numbers, Balthazar which has never been in the top 1000, is even more unusual than Cornelius.

Balthazar’s origins are intriguing. While attributed as one of the Three Wise Men, no names are given for the Three Wise Men in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew. Balthazar was chosen by the Western church in the 8th century based on its original meaning. Balthazar is a variant of Belshazzar, meaning “Ba’al protect the king” and the name of the last king of Babylon according to the Old Testament Book of Daniel.

If there was ever a time for Balthazar to break out, now is the time. Besides the name’s cultural origins, it has a fashionable letter, Z. The Z is found mostly in fashionable girl names such as Eliza and Zoe, but is also found in at least one fashionable boy name: Ezra. Ezra has been rising in popularity these past 10-15 years and ranked at #204 last year—its highest rank ever.

Something else working in Balthazar’s favor is celebrity clout. Balthazar Getty (whose full name is Paul Balthazar Getty) is a film actor and great-grandson to Getty Oil Company founder Jean Paul Getty.

Balthazar was also apparently a favorite of Shakespeare who used the name in four of his plays: The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Much Abo About Nothing, and The Comedy of Errors.

For the gutsy, Balthazar is a trend-setting holiday-inspired choice. Or if Balthazar is not your style, the other Wise Men are known as  Melchior and Caspar.

Readers: Would you use Balthazar for a Christmas baby?


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