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Sydney was recently named the second most expensive city in the world, after Tokyo; luckily it was also revealed that Australians are now the richest people in the world, so we can afford it! The most expensive suburb in Sydney is Point Piper, where the median house value is $7.38 million, and the most expensive privately owned house in Australia, costing $70 million to build, is located here. Point Piper’s Wolsley Road is the tenth most expensive street in the world, with 16% of Australia’s priciest houses on this 1 km stretch.

Point Piper is a little piece of land which juts into Sydney Harbour, a small enclave of just eleven streets and 148 houses. As Sydney’s most exclusive suburb, it is only 4 km from the CBD and offers views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Despite its size, it has two beaches and two yacht clubs. The suburb is named after Captain John Piper, a Scottish-born military officer of Cornish parentage and German descent who arrived in the colony in 1792 and became an immediate social success.

Piper’s career got off to an interesting start when he asked to be posted to the penal settlement in Norfolk Island after a scandalous love affair which ended with an illegitimate daughter in his care. Later he became acting commandment of Norfolk, and ruled it so kindly that even one of the convicts wrote home to say how outstandingly nice he was. While on Norfolk, he took as his mistress a teenage girl who was the daughter of convicts; they eventually married, but not before she had borne him four children (they had nine more).

He became very rich by collecting custom duties and excises, and after being granted land by the governor, built a mansion on the point which is now named after him in 1816 at a cost of £10,000 (about $11 million in today’s money). He continued gathering wealth, real estate and respectability, until he ran into financial difficulties in the 1820s, and was suspended from his position after mismanagement of funds was discovered.

Piper tried to drown himself in Sydney Harbour, but was rescued. He had to sell everything he owned to settle his debts, and moved to Bathurst, where he ran a farm and became a figure of local importance. When he ran into problems there as well, his friends bailed him out and bought him a riverside property, where he and his wife and numerous children could be comfortable. He was just so nice, you see – blithe, unsinkable, amiable, and eminently forgiveable for his lack of business acumen.

Piper is an English surname which refers to someone who played the bagpipes. Although we think of bagpipes as being uniquely Scottish, their origins go back to the ancient world; it’s said that the Roman emperor Nero could play them. Their use spread through Europe in the Middle Ages, with their first explicit mention in Britain being in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. However, it was in Scotland that bagpipe music became most sophisticated and highly developed.

The piper was a well-paid and highly-respected professional, who would have been employed by a great lord or chief; it was often a hereditary position. The piper’s job was to entertain his lord at home and while travelling; this sometimes included military service. While traditions of pipers rallying the troops before battle go back centuries, the first documented case is 1549, when they were played by the troops of the Earl of Argyll. Later, pipers could be employed by a town to play each day, as well as at fairs and other events.

There is a myth that in times of old only men were pipers, and one ancient saw is that a woman found playing the bagpipes would have her fingers cut off in punishment, but this simply isn’t true. There are many documented cases of women pipers, and they were employed as teachers in a famous piping school on the Isle of Skye. Today women pipers are still out-numbered by the men, but there are plenty of them, and they are equally good.

The surname Piper goes back to the 13th century, and seems to have historically been most common in Sussex in England. However, the personal name may predate the surname, for the name Pipere has been found in an Anglo-Saxon charter from Sussex, which could make Piper one of the oldest English names – and another possible source for the surname.

Piper, with the modern spelling, comes directly from the surname, and dates to the 18th century, when it was nearly always given to boys (although as a middle name, much more evenly divided between the sexes). The name became seen as a girl’s name when a teenager from Detroit changed her name from Rosetta Jacobs to Piper Laurie and got a contract in Hollywood.

Although Ms Laurie says in her autobiography that she had to change her name because it sounded “too Jewish”, she gives no clues as to where she got the name Piper Laurie from. It almost sounds like a girl’s name – Laurie Piper – backwards.

Piper Laurie was in The Hustler and Carrie, but would have become well-known here for her role in the miniseries The Thorn Birds, based on the best-selling novel by Australian author Colleen McCullough. The Thorn Birds was originally broadcast in 1983, and the name Piper first charts in Australia the same decade.

The name skyrocketed in the 1990s to reach #128 by the early 2000s; I can’t help feeling this has a lot to do with the character of Piper Halliwell in the TV show Charmed. The actress who played Piper, Holly Marie Combs, confessed to having a large and inexplicable fan base in Australia.

Piper made the Top 100 in 2009, and is currently #70 and rising. Although we think of this as an American-style name, it’s only been on the US Top 1000 since 1999, and is still not Top 100, although not far off at #110, so Piper has charted in Australia longer than in the US and is more popular here. Australian parents do seem quick to pick up on Hollywood names.

I saw someone on a name blog say Piper is a name which will please everyone, which seemed going a bit far. However, I do think it has a lot to recommend it. It references luxury real estate, an ancient form of music, a Hollywood star with an Aussie connection, and an appealing namesake with a history unusually free of tragedy.

It’s a very old Anglo-Saxon name, but seems bright and modern. It’s a surname name for girls that doesn’t have any “son of” or male-only occupation issues, or significant prior use as a male name. It’s a vocabulary word which everyone can spell, pronounce and understand, and it’s a popular but not too popular name that still has room for growth.

So while Piper may perhaps not please all people, if Piper pleases you, then you may be pleased enough with Piper to pick it!

(Photo of Point Piper from the Sydney Morning Herald)

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