Christopher traces back to the Greek Χριστοφορος (Christophoros) meaning “bearer of Christ,” composed of the Greek elements Christo (Christ) and phero (to bear, carry). The name was bestowed metaphorically among early Christians “carrying Christ in their hearts.”
However, it would be a 3rd century citizen of the Eastern Roman Empire who would almost single-handedly promote use of this name: Saint Christopher. His story is largely based on legend rather than historical fact, yet he remains one of the most invoked saints of all time.
According to legend, after St. Christopher converted to Christianity in the 3rd century, he looked for a useful way to serve the Lord. A man of great stature and height, St. Christopher decided to help people cross a dangerous river, by carrying and delivering them safely to the other side. One day, a small boy asked the giant man to carry him across the river. St. Christopher hoisted the child upon his shoulders and began to swim the rough rapids. At the river’s midway point, the child suddenly became very heavy so that Christopher could barely manage the crossing. Once to the other side, he inquired of the child, “Who are you?” To which the young boy replied: “I am the Lord whom you serve. You have carried the weight of mankind upon your shoulders.” In other words, as the name Christopher suggests, he literally “carried Christ” across the river.
It is for this reason that St. Christopher would become the patron saint of travelers, invoked especially in times of inclement weather. In more modern times, Christopher has become a guardian of mariners (including surfers), motorists and airline passengers who often carry his emblem for comfort and protection while traveling whilst reciting “Carry me safely to my destined place, like you carried Christ in your close embrace.”
Though this story may seem implausible to us today, let me assure you, medieval folks believed such legends with absolute gusto. He was also a favorite subject among artists of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Due to the lack of historical evidence to support Christ’s famous piggy-back ride, the Catholic Church “demoted” Christopher from sainthood in 1969 (under the reformist atmosphere of Vatican II). Undeterred, Catholics around the world continue to invoke the gentle giant; remarkably, his popularity today remains nearly as strong as it was in the Middle Ages. You can read about Christopher here.
As a given name, Christopher can be found throughout the Western World in various ethno-linguistic forms: Christoffel (Dutch), Christopher (English), Christophe (French), Christoph (German), Christie (Irish), Cristoforo (Italian), Christophoros (Greek), Christophorus (Latin), Krzysztof (Polish), Cristóvão (Portuguese), Kester (Scottish), Cristóbal (Spanish), Kristoffer (Scandinavian), Kryštof (Slavic). Diminutives and pet forms include: Chip, Chris, Kit, Kris and Topher.
Among English speakers, Christopher has been in regular use since the 13th century. The name soared in popularity in the mid-20th century and remains a perennial favorite today.
The “Christopher” collection of names (Christopher, Christian, Christine, Christy, Crissy, Kristen, Kirsten, Kiersten, etc., etc.) became so fashionable by the 1960s and 70s, trendiness trumps holiness today. Regardless, one does not have to be Catholic (or even religious) to appreciate the beauty of Christopher’s etymological origins and noteworthy story – and we can pretty much thank the 3rd century “Christ-carrying” saint for the name’s survival.
Notable name bearers include Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), English playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), acclaimed English architect Christopher Wren (1632-1723), American trailblazer Christopher "Kit" Carson (1809-1868) and the beloved fictional character Christopher Robin from A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh series of children’s books.