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Name Story
Yesterday was Epiphany, which commemorates the Adoration of the Magi in western Christianity. According to The Gospel of Matthew, the magi were learned men from the East who followed a mysterious star to kneel before the baby Jesus, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Although the Bible does not specify a number, it is usually assumed there were three, because there were three gifts. The Magi were Zoroastrian priests from Persia, and the word magi has been traditionally translated as “wise men”, although modern translations of the Bible use the word “astrologers”, as Zoroastrians studied the stars.

Christian legend sometimes calls them the “three kings”, due to a Psalm which says May all kings fall before him. In some countries, January 6 is known as the Feast of Kings, and it is most famous from the Epiphany carol, We Three Kings of Orient Are.

The date of January 6 is purely symbolic – the Magi are supposed to have arrived some time in the two years after the birth of Jesus, and although they are often included in Nativity scenes, the Bible says they visited Mary at her house, not in the stable. Tradition says that after the Magi returned home, they became Christians and were martyred: they are thus regarded as saints.

The Bible being so short on details, legend has filled in the blanks with imaginative flair. The Magi are given names, usually said to be Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Gaspar is identified as a middle-aged brown-skinned Indian who brings the frankincense; Melchior as an elderly white-skinned Persian who carries the gold; and Balthasar as a young black-skinned Arabian who bears the gift of myrrh.

Perhaps you think it is far-fetched that a group of men would cross the desert (a difficult journey of many months) in order to worship a foreigner of a religion that isn’t even theirs. However, history records that it did happen, at least once.

King Tiridates of Armenia, a Zoroastrian priest of Armenian, Greek, and Persian ancestry, travelled to Rome in 66 AD on a visit to the Emperor Nero with a huge retinue of followers, including his magi. As his tribute king, Tiridates knelt before Nero, proclaiming that he worshipped him as a god (this was mere diplomacy; Tiribates was apparently disgusted by Nero). Unlike the Bible story, it was Nero who gave gifts to Tiridates, and paid for all his travel expenses.

It has been suggested that this state visit may have provided the inspiration for the Adoration of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew. However, it’s also evidence that the journey of the Magi as described in the Bible has some degree of plausibility.

Epiphany is the traditional date for the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and in the past, its eve was celebrated as Twelfth Night, with much feasting and tomfoolery. William Shakespeare wrote his comedy Twelfth Night as an entertainment for the end of the Christmas season: its theme of cross-dressing is appropriate, for it was the rule that everything had to be topsy-turvy. If you went to a Christmas pantomime, you’ll know this tradition continues.

Most people say your Christmas decorations have to come down by Epiphany, and many people will go back to work by this date. I’m not back at work yet – but I am back at blogging! Hope you had a great Christmas and New Year.

Name Meaning, History and Popularity
Jasper is the English form of Gaspar, derived from the ancient Chaldean word gizbar, meaning “treasurer”; the modern Hebrew word for treasurer is still gizbar. These days the word treasurer doesn’t sound too glamorous (if you’ve ever been treasurer of your local tennis club or something, you’ll know it’s essentially a boring, thankless job), so the name is sometimes translated as “master of the treasure house”.

The traditional names for the three Magi date back to at least the 6th century, and Gaspar is the only one whose name may be inspired by a real person. The apocryphal Acts of Thomas mentions a Zoroastrian king named Gudnaphar, and Gondophares was a traditional name and title in the House of Suren – they were kings of Iranian background who ruled in the area around northern India.

According to tradition, Saint Thomas the Apostle travelled to India as a missionary. Gondophares was identified in medieval texts as the Indian king who brought incense to the baby Jesus as one of the Magi, and was converted to Christianity by Saint Thomas. Gondophares is the Greek form of the Pashto name Gandapur, meaning “may he find glory”.

Jasper is also the word for a gemstone which is usually red, yellow, brown or green in colour. The word comes from the Old French for “spotted stone, speckled stone”, and may be Semitic in origin. It was a favourite gemstone in ancient times, especially the green variety, although the ancients probably called many different minerals “jasper”; it is mentioned in the Bible. Because of the gemstone, Jasper has occasionally been used as a name for girls.

Jasper has been used as an English name since the Middle Ages, in honour of the saint, although it was never highly popular. It has also been used as a slang term – in England, it is an old country term for a wasp (because it sounds a bit similar), and in America, it has been used as slang for a simpleton or hick (perhaps because it sounded a backwoodsy sort of name there).

There is a Lake Jasper in south-west Western Australia; it has very clear fresh water and is popular for picnics. It’s named in honour of Jasper Bussell, who died in infacy, and was the brother of the famous Grace Bussell, who we met earlier. Its use by the wealthy and prominent Bussells suggests a rather upper class image in the 19th century.

There is also a small village in the mountains of New South Wales named Wee Jasper, where Banjo Paterson once had a country home. Folklore relates the village got its name due a Scottish settler who came home with a “wee jasper” in his pocket, the gemstone found in some stream amongst the hills.

Jasper has ranked in Australia since the 1990s, when it debuted at #237. It joined the Top 100 in 2009, at #98, and since then has remained around the bottom of the Top 100. Currently it is #82 nationally, #87 in New South Wales, #77 in Victoria, #87 in Queensland, #22 in Tasmania, and #80 in the Australian Capital Territory.

In the English-speaking world, Jasper is most popular in Australia, as it is not yet Top 100 in the US or UK, although rising, and has just joined the New Zealand Top 100 at #85. It isn’t popular in many other countries, but ranks highest in Belgium, at #55.

Jasper is a handsome and sophisticated choice related to gifts, gems, and treasure that will please many parents for not being overused. It isn’t highly popular anywhere in the world, and in Australia has never been higher than the bottom quarter of the Top 100; nor does it show signs of rising alarmingly. The name has its detractors, due to some image problems from popular culture, but no doubt that’s one of the factors keeping use down. I think it helps make Jasper seem a bit quirkier.

And the name commemorates one of the most beautiful Christmas stories – who could resist the magic of a star guiding your way?

Jasper received an excellent approval rating of 89%, making it the most highly-rated boy’s name in the Famous Name category for 2015. People saw the name Jasper as hip and quirky (29%), handsome or cute (22%), and cool and sophisticated (19%). However, 3% thought the name seemed creepy and evil. Only one person thought Jasper was too old-fashioned, and just one thought it was too posh.

(Picture shows The Adoration of the Magi, an 1890 tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones)