The name Jesus

It seems to me that the name Jesus has a bit of a taboo around it for naming children in English, and yet Jesus seems to be an ordinary name for Spanish speakers.  (I don't speak Spanish, so I don't know if it is "ok" in some areas and not in others.)

Does anyone have a sense of how this came to be?  Why are English speakers fine with Mary and Joseph, but not Jesus?  Is anyone familiar with other languages that may or may not use Jesus?



February 21, 2018 8:45 PM

It's an interesting question. A brief google search came up with an explanation that the custom dates back to the Moorish occupation of Spain, and that Spanish Christians started naming their sons Jesus in response to the Moorish custom of naming their sons after Muhammad. I'm sure that some of the posters here will have a lot more information and details....but that's one hypothesiss at least.


By EVie
February 22, 2018 10:47 AM

I don't know the answer, but another angle on that explanation is that Jesus is also a prophet in Islam, and the Arabic version of his name (Isa) is used. If Moors in Spain were using Isa, that may have also helped to normalize it for Spanish Christians. (This is pure speculation). 

February 22, 2018 6:16 PM

Being an English-speaking Christian myself, I know that we hold Jesus as a counterpart to God, making him basically too holy even for a namesake. Mary and Joseph, while very holy as well, were mortals (and imperfect, unlike Jesus), and therefore appropriate for namesaking. 

I don't know why Spanish-speakers use the name, but that's basically why it's not a norm for us and Mary and Joseph are. Could it have something to do with the accented "e" in Jèsus?

February 24, 2018 12:36 PM

Except in Spanish it's Jesús.

I have no idea, but as an aside, I once had a teacher whose name was H@ys0ose. Yup. (Disguised because I just googled him and his name is unique.)

February 24, 2018 12:44 PM

That spelling tickles my multilinguist brain because in Hebrew, soos (סוס) means horse. And, well, what do horses eat...?

February 24, 2018 3:39 PM

It's not totally correct though that Christians think it's inappropriate to name a baby after Jesus -- think Emmanuel, Salvador/Salvator, and the Christ- names -- they refer specifically to Jesus. Given that, I've always wondered why Jesus seems to be mostly off limits for native English speakers, especially since it's used by Spanish speakers.

Also, Mary's name was not always considered appropriate for namesaking -- it was considered too holy for a long time in Ireland, for example. Even now, if I understand correctly, the Irish Gaelic variant Mhuire refers only to the Virgin Mary, while the variant Maire is for common use. 

Re: Spanish speakers, the comments at the behindthename entry say that Spanish speakers refer to Jesus as "Jesu Cristo" (I'm not familiar enough to know if this is true), while Jesús is used as a given name -- if so, this is similar to Mhuire/Maire above, where there's a variant that refers only to the holy person, and another bestowed in his/her honor.

I've done some research to try to answer this question and haven't come up with anything that really answers it -- I hope someone who knows weighs in!

February 24, 2018 5:19 PM

I know that it's not the point of your post, but I'm just going to point out that while many Christians may use the name Emmanuel as a reference to Jesus, that is not its only meaning/reference. The name Emmanuel is a Hebrew name meaning God is with us (eem=with; anu=us; el=God) and it was only after quite a long time of use that Christians interpreted the Biblical passages surrounding the name as a reference to Jesus. So, when you see all those many synagogues called Temple Emmanuel, they are not in any way a reference to Jesus.

Interesting info about the two forms of Mary!

February 24, 2018 6:32 PM

I apologize! I didn't realize that Emmanuel is used as a given name by non-Christians, thank you for the correction!

February 28, 2018 1:32 AM

Great question! I don't know how it came to be, but it's certainly fascinating. I even remember reading about a woman in Peru named Virgen Maria ("Virgin Mary") who had a son born on Christmas day named Jesus. Her husband was even a carpenter! Unfortunately the husband wasn't named Jose- that would've been too perfect.

I just wanted to mention that Joshua is etymologically related to Jesus, and that is obviously in very consistent use in the English speaking world. 

By EVie
February 28, 2018 2:31 PM

It's interesting when you think about it — Jesus wasn't even really his name. That's a Latinization of the Greek transliteration ( Ιησους/Iesous) of his name, which would have been the Aramaic version, Yeshu'a. 

Also interesting, for those who don't already know this: Christ isn't his name, either -- it's a title, meaning "anointed one" in Greek, used as a translation for the Hebrew word "Messiah." So people who don't believe Jesus is the Messiah properly should not refer to him as Jesus Christ, as that explicitly identifies him as such. "Jesus of Nazareth" is the appropriate identifier, or just Jesus. 

Riffing on that, it's really the Christ part that implies holiness, not the Jesus part -- that's just a personal name. I can think of at least one culture that uses Christ itself as a given name (Greek Christos) -- not sure if there are others. Christian, Christina etc. refer to followers of Christ, and Christopher is "bearing/carrying Christ."

February 28, 2018 5:50 PM

I mistakenly thought there might be a quick, easy answer.  Instead, I'm learning a lot.  But it is fascinating!

March 1, 2018 1:32 AM

Agreed-- this thread is terrific! Thanks everyone for sharing your expertise. 

As a relative outsider, it seems weirder to me not to use Jesus as a namesake than to use it, especially in light of the fact that the Christ part is the divine signifier that's unique to this particular Jesus. (Presumably he had lots of contemporaries with whom he shared his given name.) 

I have mostly heard Jesús Cristo in use as a whole unit in Spanish contexts to refer to the religious figure.

March 8, 2018 11:03 PM

Not an answer, but when I was in elementary school a class down the hallway always had different seasonal things with their names on them posted on their bulletin board. Always Jesus was in the middle. 

My religious upbringing made me think, "Aw, that's so sweet that their class always makes a special nametag for Jesus!"

It took me a few years to figure out that the nametag wasn't for Jesus Christ but for a Hispanic student named Jesus. 

March 22, 2018 4:32 PM

I've seen Christa used but Behind the Name says it's a diminutive of Christina.