Three Kings Day

Three Kings Day

It's the Twelfth Day of Christmas, also called Epiphany or Three Kings Day!

In the European tradition, the Three Kings are named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.


"Melchior" is apparently Hebrew מלכיאור melek-i-ʾór: "King of Light". Or possibly an Akkadian or Aramaic name king of something else. (See also Word Family - MLK.)


"Caspar" is from Old Medean *ganzabarah: "treasurer", which was borrowed into Achamenid Persian, with descendants such as Persian گنجور ganjur, Akkadian 𒃶𒍝𒁀𒊒 gan-za-ba-ru, Aramaic 𐡂𐡍𐡆𐡁𐡓 gnzbr. The name is from Biblical Aramaic; other variants include Casper, Gaspard, Gizbar, Jasper, and Gazzabray.

Etymologically, *ganzabarah: "treasurer" is "treasurer-bearer", with *-barah: "-bearer, -bearing", from the same root as English "-bearer" ("ringbearer", etc.), Latin "-fer" (Lucifer, conifer, crucifer, etc.), and Greek -φόρος -phoros (Christopher, metaphor, phosphorus, etc.)—all from Proto-Indo-European *bʰer-: "to bear, to carry".

Medean *ganza: "treasure" has cognates mostly in languages in the northerly and easterly Iranian languages, such as Ossetian гъӕздӕ ǧæzdæ: "weath". Presumably it comes from a substrate in the northeastern Iranian regions, since it doesn't seem to have cognates outside Iranian.

It was then borrowed towards the south and west, such as the borrowing into Old Persian, and also borrowings into Arabic as كنز kanz: "treasure" (whence Spanish alcancía: "cashbox") and خزينة khazīna: "treasury".

The cities of Ganja, Azerbaijan and Ghazni, Afghanistan are from this root.


Balthazar, like Belshazzar, is a version of the Akkadian name 𒂗𒈗𒋀, pronounced [Bêl-šarra-uṣṣur]. 𒂗𒈗𒋀 is written primarily in Sumerograms with 𒂗 EN: "lord" (as in the divine names Enki and Enlil) to stand for Akkadian bel(um): "lord". bel-: "lord" is of course Semitic *baʕl-: "master, lord, husband" also seen in Baal and Beelzebub as well as the Arabic and Hebrew words for "husband": بعل baʿl and בעל bá'al.

𒈗 LUGAL: "king" (lit. "big-man" in Sumerian) for Akkadian šar(rum). span class='transliteration'>šar-: "king" is cognate to Hebrew שר sár: "chief, prince, captain, ruler". The feminine שרה sará: "lady, princess" is the origin of the name "Sarah".

The use of 𒋀 for [uṣṣur] seems to be playing on two different Sumerian phonetic readings: URU and ŠEŠ (but I am not an expert in Akkadian cuneiform). [uṣṣur] is a form of Akkadian naṣāru[m]: "to watch over, to protect" from Semitic n-ṱ-r, which also gives Arabic نظر naẓara: "to look at, to watch, to consider, to wait for" and Hebrew נצר natsár: "to guard, to save, to maintain". "Nazareth" may or may not be from natsár; or possibly nétser: "branch, stem".

Syrian Tradition

In the Syrian tradition, all three are given Persian names: - "Larvandad" meaning "from Lar". - Gushnasap, a Persian name also found on the Xi'an Stele, perhaps meaning "Praiseworthy Horse" (compare Tahmasp, "Brave Horse"). - And Hormisdas from the Persian name Hormoz, which is the same name as the Zoroastrian divinity Ahura Mazda: "Lord Wisdom" (Mazda: "Wisdom" is from the PIE compound *men-(s)-dʰh₁-, "mind-do", which also gives the "-metheus" in "Prometheus": "Fore-Thought").