Why Isn't Jesus Used As a Given Name In English?

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I read an intriguing post over on the Baby Name Wizard recently that asked the question: Why isn’t Jesus used as a given name in English?

I’m sure there are some instances of Jesus as a given name in English, and the SSA data shows that 3065 boys (and 8 girls [?]) were named Jesus in the U.S. in 2016, but their data doesn’t include accent marks, so I’m confident that most, if not all, of those are Jesús (or Jesus said the same way as Jesús — I only just learned that the accent isn’t always used in Spanish, even though the Spanish pronunciation is intended), which brings up the most interesting part of this question: Jesus isn’t well used in English, but Jesús is in Spanish.

"Why isn't Jesus used as a given name in English?" by Kate Towne (CatholicMom.com)

Jesús Navas. By GabrielcorbachobermejoOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I tried to find an official (or as close to as possible) Church stance on the usage of Jesus/Jesús as a given name, but didn’t come up with anything. Joshua and Jesus are variants of the same name, and Joshua is well used; the Christ- names are well used, certainly, including Christ itself (especially as Christos); Emmanuel has good usage; even Messiah has been bestowed on babies, so I admit I’m a bit baffled as to why Jesus isn’t used in English.

I did have the thought when I bowed my head at the name of Jesus recently that if there were little ones running around named Jesus, I’d be constantly bowing my head out of cultivated habit! I don’t do so when I hear Jesús, though I should — it doesn’t trigger that automatic bow that hearing Jesus does.

A couple of the comments left on the BNW post suggest that the Muslim presence in Spain might have encouraged the use of Jesús as a given name, which is interesting to consider. When I posed the question on my blog, my readers came through with some good information: One reader suggested that Jesús might also be a transference of the surname “de Jesús” to a first name, and another, who studies 18th century Mexico, said, “I think the migration from last name to first name in Hispanic countries makes sense … I don’t come across men with the first name of [Jesús] very often [in my studies].” Another offered this article, which explains:

In observation of the commandment against misusing God’s name, English and American Protestants have historically taken a more conservative view on religious names and reserved the name Jesus for the son of God … On the other hand, Jesus has been a common first and last name in Iberian countries since at least the 14th or 15th century. For many Catholics from Spanish and Portuguese cultures, naming a child is considered a way to honor God rather than a violation of a commandment.”

Given that our country has such a strong Protestant history, it makes sense to me that the prevailing English-speaking American idea might be that Jesus is considered too holy for common usage. The name of Mary has a similar history of being considered too holy for common usage in Ireland, for example — it was a temporary and culture-specific consideration. Perhaps for today’s American Catholics without Spanish-speaking ancestry, naming a baby Jesus is foreign to Christian sensibility, as the Code of Canon Law puts it?

What do you think? Do you have more information about why Jesus isn’t used as a given name in English?


Copyright 2018 Katherine Morna Towne

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About Author

Kate is a writer, wife to a really good man, and mama to their six boys ages 4 to 13; she expects her seventh baby in September 2018. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina.

2 Comments

  1. That’s very interesting. I’ve wondered the same myself. Like naming a daughter Chastity, I feel like naming a son Jesus would be a lot to live up to! LOL There is a character on The Walking Dead called Jesus, and it sure makes for a lot of double-entendres and interesting conversations. (Though I don’t think the it is the character’s real name, but a nickname given because of his appearance.)

  2. It would be interesting to find out whether in other languages that use Jesus as a given name, they use the same form to actually refer to Jesus.
    I was once told that in Spanish, they don’t simply use Jesus when speaking of the Lord, like we do, they say Jesuchristo. I forget who tole me this, and don’t know whether it is the case across the board for all hispanic cultures, but it is definitely worth a look. If this is the case, the given name Jesus gives a “nod to God” without actually being the same name used when speaking of him. Whereas in English, we most commonly say Jesus when referring to Jesus.

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