About A Name: Casper

November 20, 2011 § 4 Comments

(c) Jeffrey Mayer/JTM; The name of Jason Lee's three-year-old daughter was finally announced earlier this month.

It’s the least surprising, most surprising name trend of the year.

Much was made while I was in Japan of the announcement – finally – of actor Jason Lee’s daughter’s name, three years after she was born. (Further rumours state that her middle name is probably Alice, as per You Can’t Call It ‘It’.) Lee’s eight-year-old son with actress Beth Riesgraf is Pilot Inspektor, a much-maligned celeb baby name given as an homage to the 2000 song “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” by indie rock band Grandaddy.

Seems fitting that his daughter’s name, kept out of the spotlight for three years probably because of the attention paid to his son’s name, is just as dubious. Casper is not only traditionally a male name, it’s primary association is with Casper the Friendly Ghost, a – male – 20th Century cartoon figure. The Friendly Ghost has made the name nearly untouchable for modern baby boys, let alone girls.

Yet what’s almost ironic is that public reaction to Casper Alice Lee is far different than reaction to Pilot (which isn’t so awful – my cousin’s son is named Wolfgang Pilot; he’s adorable, and I’m on board), perhaps because the nickname Cassie is so easy to take from the name. It might have something to do with the general trend towards girls’ names that sound a lot like it. There’s Harper, for one, while Vesper (like the Bond Girl, Vesper Lynd) is another that’s gaining steam, and on the YCCII post, Anna at Waltzing More Than Matilda commented that she had been waiting for a little girl named Jasper, but this one popped up first. (I have to agree with Anna – we live in a world where female Jaspers are not that far off!) It’s even similar to Aspen, which in some cases avoids it’s pole dancer tendencies to sound free-spirited or upper class.

Casper is a Dutch male name, a form of Persian name Jasper, which means “treasurer,” from genash (treasure) + ber (master). The name is still popular in The Netherlands, and thrived in the US until the 20th Century among North America’s Dutch American settlers. American actor Casper Van Dien is a descendent of one of those families. He grew up on Van Dien Avenue in Ridgewood, New Jersey – the street was named for his great-great-grandfather. His father was named Casper, and so is his oldest child and only son, Casper Robert “Cappy” Van Dien III, with Carrie Mitchum – daughter of actor Robert. In addition to Cappy, nicknames for Casper include Cap, or Cas, or even Case.

Casper fell out of the US Top 1000 in the 1930s, and Casper the Friendly Ghost was introduced by children’s book in 1939. An animated TV series followed in the 1960s. Casper was the ghost of a young, friendly boy whose uncles haunted the mansion in which he tried to make friends (though Harvey Comics will tell you that Casper is a ghost because his parents were already ghosts by the time they were married).

Caspar, sometimes known as Gaspar or Jasper, was one of the Three Kings who  brought gifts to baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The Three Kings, or Magi, were said to be Zoroastrians, and particularly interested in astrology. They were said to follow the stars to the manger where Jesus lay. And Christmas comes up for the second day in a row. The term magi, because of the Zoroastrians preoccupation with the stars, came to be associated with the occult, which derived the word magic. Kasper, too, is said to mean “keeper of the treasure.” The other Kings (or Wise Men) were said to be called Balthasar and Melchior, but their names are not mentioned in the Bible, and believed to have been assigned in the 11th Century in the midst of the Crusades.

Jasper is on trend for boys, a leftover from the Twilight trend with a bit more hipster cred to keep it going, yet while Casper is actually an unsurprising choice for both boys and girls, it’s still held back by the cartoon. Many can’t reconcile the Friendly Ghost affiliation, and more still will be unable to reconcile its male status to accept it as a name for girls. But in addition to the similarity with Harper, Jasper, and Vesper, it rings in with Cassidy or Cassandra, both big name selections for girls.

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§ 4 Responses to About A Name: Casper

  • As you say, Casper for a girl is so on-trend, you wonder why this is the first notable example we’ve seen!

    I don’t really mind it, but the middle name Alice is sweet.

    • I agree. Casper is one of those names you just can’t help feeling that it feels exactly like it should catch on, given the popularity of Harper at the moment. Personally, I’d prefer to use Jasper, but it’s a great name never-the-less.

  • I grew up with the last name Kasper in the 50’s, 60’s, and it was always associated with Casper the ghost. Someone once even told me that I was spelling my name wrong. That it was supposed to be spelled with a “c.”

    I now have a business called Kasper Organics where I sell organic cotton clothing online. And whenever I am dealing with vendors that are not real familiar, I have to tell them it’s Kasper with a “k” because they automatically think it is spelled with a “c.”

    Anyway, I think it is a pretty cool name however it is spelled. I would have named my son Kasper, except that I didn’t think it sounded good with our last name. I don’t like the sound of both names ending with “er.”

  • Sue says:

    I just named my baby son Caspar. The name carries meaning for my husband and me and we love the sound of it. It crosses cultures and time periods, and has an interesting variety of namesakes. It’s both traditional and avant-garde (at least for now). Others have reacted well to its ‘originality’ and also seem to enjoy saying it. I find the ghost association pretty arbitrary given that Oscar, Felix, Sebastian, even Grover, seem to have shed their cartoon/puppet associations. I frankly wish that name experts would be more out front with helping to break the association in order to make a lovely name more usable again rather than affirming or habitually reminding us of the ghost reference.

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