St. Harper? St. Carter?

Okay, here we are, back in the land of naming your kid with somebody’s last name. This is a traditional practice in some families, particularly in the South, where one might name a child after the last name of the child’s mother or of another relative. But in recent years, a lot of people just give kids surnames for their given names, either in honor of a famous person or just because it sounds nice.

If you want to name your child after a saint, you can slide with naming the child by the saint’s surname. That’s where all the Xaviers come from. (Or you can go with first and last name of the saint as given names, and that’s nice too.)

If you’re looking for an English-sounding surname name, you want to look at the English and other UK martyrs, usually.

Carter is a very popular boy’s name, this year. It’s probably being given to most kids because of President Carter, or the (female) character of Major Sam Carter on Stargate. It is a profession-based surname, and it just means “man who drives a cart.”

But Blessed William Carter was one of the English martyrs. He was a printer who bravely published Catholic books at a time when they were outlawed. He was imprisoned for four years, tortured on the rack, and finally executed in 1584 by being hung, drawn, and quartered. (Jan. 11; May 4 as part of his martyr group.)

Now a newly popular name for girls is “Harper.” That’s probably because of the author Harper Lee, unless there’s some celebrity or soap opera character of whom I’m unaware.

But there is a St. Harper Road in Ellaville, Georgia, which indicates some kind of Catholic connection. So who could Saint Harper be??

Well, at first it seems it might be referring to one of the New Orleans Saints, or it’s a joke about Harper Lee. But then I found out that there are people out there with the surname “Saint Arbor.” Could “Saint Harper” be a mangled version of Saint Arbor? Well, it turns out that “saint arbre” is one of the French names for the Holy Tree, the Cross. And there are indeed French people with the surname Saint Arbre. So I guess you could take the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14) as your name saint feastday.

I’m not totally satisfied with this solution as a basis for name saints, though! Thus I went and looked for saints named after harps, citharas, sambucas, etc. and didn’t find any. It also turned out that the Lyra in Nicholas of Lyra (not a saint but an influential bible commentator) was actually the River Risle (aka Lire, aka Liricina). So no joy, surprisingly!

There are saints who were harpists, of course. The most prominent one would be St. David, king and prophet, psalmist, and kinnor player. (His feast is Dec. 24, just like Ss. Adam and Eve.) St. Philip Evans, S.J. was a skilled harp player, and played joyful tunes while in chains and right before his martyrdom. (Jul. 23; May 4 with all the beatified and canonized UK martyrs of his time) So that would be another way to go.

UPDATE: I forgot another option – saintly titles and nicknames!

St. Ephrem of Syria, Doctor of the Church, is known as the Harp of the Spirit (Kenārâ d-Rûḥâ) for his beautiful songs and poems. (Okay, so really he’s a Kinnor of the Spirit.) His feastday is June 9. So there’s another name-saint option!


Filed under Saint Names

2 responses to “St. Harper? St. Carter?

  1. Joy

    This is OT, but I thought you’d like to know, if you didn’t already, that there’s a new broadside ballad digital archive:

  2. Sweet! And ballads are never off-topic!

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