... is famously ...

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

… a very common name in Mexico, and I assume in many Spanish-speaking countries, as well as among Hispanics in the U.S. But my sense is that it's very rare in most other Christian countries, and apparently even quite rare (from a cursory Internet search) in Portuguese-speaking countries.

Nor is it just a Catholic thing; there seem to be extremely few Irish and Polish Jesuses, and I think Italian ones as well. Isa (generally seen as the Arabic equivalent of Jesus) is apparently a not uncommon name in at least some Muslim countries; but my question here is focusing on Christian countries, since Jesus would presumably have a special role there.

(Note that the name "Joshua" is related to the name "Jesus"; Yeshua is apparently a variant of Yehoshua. But today, I think, Joshua isn't really seen as that closely linked to Jesus, just as Jacob isn't really seen as that closely linked to James, despite their historical link, except when we're using historical references, such as the Jacobean period or the Jacobite rebellion.)

So what's the scoop? Inquiring minds want to know.

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  1. Myself, I would think it highly egotistical to name your kid after the Son of God. Were there a lot of kids named Zues in ancient Rome? Methinks not. Evan Mohammed was only a prophet, so naming your kid Elijah would be equivalent.

    So the question then isn’t really why other places do not name their kids after God, but why Mexico has a culture, apart from Catholicism and Iberian influence, that feels that it is acceptable. It must be a feature shared with India, which has kids named Kali and Shiva, which is quite common.

    1. I don’t know, but as a first guess perhaps it is a cultural tradition from a pre-Christian polytheistic days. So it would be natural to do this.

      1. No, I don’t think Mesoamericans named their kids after gods. They were mostly named after plants and animals though aristocrats had the well-known calendar names as well, like Eight Deer, based on when they were born, where his full name was the badass Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw.

    2. Perhaps because Mexican Christians see Jesus as a secondary deity after Mary, their primary god.

      1. Bah, that’s Jack Chick tract bs. Reverence for Mary is not worship as a god. Next thing you’re gonna say is that the Catholic church is the whore of Babylon and the antichrist will come in the guise of a pope (and please don’t see that as defending this current schmuck).

      2. You have a terminal case of stupid. Mary is seen as a great intercessor, like in all of Catholicism. Mexicans just pull harder to that due to the Our Lady of Guadalupe story.

    3. ” Were there a lot of kids named Zues in ancient Rome? Methinks not.”

      Probably not, since Zeus was Greek.

      1. Pedantic. Jove or Jupiter, then, if you prefer, when it’s the same god and Romans spoke Greek throughout the empire as one of its official languages.

    4. Zeus wasn’t the son of a god, he was the son of a titan. Joshua is a common western name that derives from the name of the son of god (Yeshua). I’m told the reason Jesus became popular in Spanish culture was because of the Moorish occupation of Spain; either in acts of defiance or mimicry Spaniards began naming their children Jesus as Muslims named their children Mohammed. And that carried with Spanish colonialism. This does not explain its paucity in Portuguese colonized countries, although Brazil does have thousands of people named Jesus.

      For modern times I think these things just reach a tipping point, and it got reached in Mexico but not in many other places.

      1. I read some popular books on Portuguese history before visiting the country, and am not an expert. However, what I gleaned is that they weren’t subject to Islamic rule for very long, and were more preoccupied with fighting off the Castilians than fighting off Muslims.

    5. As already mentioned it would be weird to name a Roman after a Greek god, but no, they didn’t name their kids Jupiter. However, Marcus, a relatively common name, was derived from Mars, the second most important Roman god and emperors often took the name of the deified Caesar (which is not actually a title). Dionysius (which gave us Dennis) was a common Ancient Greek name and similarly constructed names weren’t uncommon (Appolonius, Demetrius, even Posidonius). Later, Christos (which is still common) was constructed the same way.

      In general, though, Romans didn’t name their kids like we do. They had one given name which mostly had to do with when or how they were born or it was a family name. There weren’t that many recorded given names, in any case, since the elites who could write kept close to their family identities and didn’t bother writing down the illiterate peasants’ names.

  2. Any Mexicans out there?

  3. Are we talking about the Messiah or my gardener?

  4. Totally spitballing here, but my guess is that this started among indigenous converts to Christianity who picked up on the notion that Jesus was an important and highly respected person, but didn’t have the cultural context of “… but it’s bad form to name your child after him.”

    Do we know if Jesus was a common name among Spanish catholics prior to the discovery of the New World?

    1. I know a few in Spain today.

  5. Only Greeks call their sons Christos…

    Here’s a Greek guy called Christos arguing with the German authorities, all the way up to the European Court of Justice, about how to render his name in Latin script:

    1. I had forgotten about all those Greek Christoses out there. “Jesus” is just a first name (though in His day, most people didn’t have anything but first names), “Christ” is a title, meaning “Messiah.” (No, He was not the son of Joe and Mary Christ.) Seems like a bigger deal than being named “Jesus.”

    2. The name “Christ” or “Christos” derives from Greek originally as “anointed one”, so it may not be the case that Greeks naming their child “Christos” envision them naming the child after Jesus Christ, but rather as one anointed by God.

  6. All I know is that nobody f***s with the Jesus.

  7. Well, while you’re correct that the connection between Jacob and James might not be all that clear in English-speaking countries, Jacobus is the name widely used in lieu of James in German-speaking countries.

  8. Last full paragraph reads “Joshua isn’t really seen as that closely linked to Joshua”. A typo, I think? Maybe you meant “Joshua isn’t really seen as that closely linked to Jesus”?

    1. Whoops, fixed, thanks!

  9. I’m sure RestoreWesternHegemony will have some insightful thoughts on this question!

    1. Hook,
      I don’t see how. Not sure how he could slip in a gay-butt-sex or liberals-destroying-America reference here, given the topic.
      But maybe I’ll be surprised . . . .

      1. Mexicans plus low IQ, spice with Mestizos to taste.

  10. My understanding is that the name Jesús was not used in Spanish until perhaps the 16th Century. Then, parallel with the Counter-Reformation, there was a religious movement in Spain to emphasize the figure and name of Jesus. Many religious started to choose the name of Jesús as their ordination name, or sometimes added it to another name normally with the particle ‘de’ (‘of’) (Teresa de Jesús, for example). Over time, this custom spread to the population at large, either as a first baptismal name or as part of a compound name – Luis Jesús, or Luis de Jesús, for example.

    Women can also be named Jesús, but normally as a second baptismal name: María Jesús, for example.

    I’m writing from memory because I can’t immediately locate the reference I read once upon a time. If I find it I’ll post it.

  11. Nobody knows, but here are some vaguely plausible guesses, and Freddy’s suggestion of it being signaling in the Counter-Reformation seems to fit.

  12. According to one of those internet name sites, the name Jesús is number 39 in popularity in Spain, still ahead of Mohammed (53).

    For now.

  13. No sane Polish person would even think of naming their child Jezus. You don’t insult the King of Poland like that. That would just be total hurt every day until their eventual suicide or emigration.

  14. My recollection is that this was a response to the Spanish Inquisition. It was a good way to demonstrate ones loyalty in Catholic Spain that had recently reconquered Muslim lands and expelled its Jewish population. Cruz (cross) as a surname is a similar phenomenon.

  15. Jesus was the least of the Alous.

    Still hit .300 at least once, though.

  16. How many Hispanic males named Jesus have the middle initial H?

  17. At least in TX most guys going by “Jesse” or “Chuy” are really named Jesus. Jesse isn’t a biblical equivalent for Jesus but it seems to be close enough for everyday work.

    1. You beat me to it. Choy is a nickname for Jesus.

    2. Jesse a totally is a biblical version of jesus from etymology.

  18. I only note that the University of Oxford has a Jesus College.
    Cambridge also has a college nicknamed Jesus, but that is not its formal name.

  19. A quick Google search gives a potential option.

    The naming of children Jesus in the Iberian countries was in response to the Islamic occupation in the early second millennium. Many Islamic men were named Mohammed, so the use of Jesus by the Iberians was in response, and as a way to keep onto their religious/cultural identity.

  20. “Jesus saves…
    But Gretzky scores on the rebound!!!…”

  21. The name “Jesus” for the Christ isn’t accidental— it, and the Hebrew version Joshua, mean “God saves”, and Joshua of the book of Joshua was the conqueror of Canaan.

  22. Jesus? I thought the name was hey-suz! Well, I admit to not being Mexican.

  23. Like most (all?) people here, my background isn’t Mexican, but I apparently feel prerogative to offer my two cents.

    I’ve usually assumed that Spanish-speakers distinguish “Jesus” from “Jesucristo,” the latter being the son of god and the former being something like “Joshua.”

    (About the Greek “Christos” thing mentioned above, I know even less. Maybe they have another name for Jesus Christ? We in English have Christopher, which doesn’t seem to have any specific religious connotation, at least not in the way that “Jesus” for an English-speaker would.)

    1. I haven’t noticed much difference but it’s been a while since I had anything to do with Spanish-speaking religious services. I felt that Jesucristo is more formal/ritualistic, kind of like using Lord/Adonai instead of God in prayer.

      It could be different, though. I know that Gaelic uses Moire for the Virgin Mary and Màiri for the given name.

      Greeks don’t have another name for Jesus Christ – it’s just Iisous Christos.

    2. We in English have Christopher, which doesn’t seem to have any specific religious connotation
      Even Christian is rather secular. Names are mostly given for how they sound.

  24. The English names Joshua and Jesus derive from the same Hebrew word Yeshua.

    Joshua is a direct translation from the Hebrew Yeshua.
    Jesus took a more circuitous route through Latin and Greek becoming Iesus which was then translated into English as Jesus.

  25. I know that Isa (Jesus) is a fairly normal Arabic name but I don’t know how common it is among Christian Arabs. Obviously naming kids after prophets is extremely common in Islam in any case.

  26. In California one could up the ante to have fun.

    A person named Jesus, chooses Messiah as his personal pronoun preference.

  27. there seem to be extremely few Irish and Polish Jesuses

    There has to be a few good jokes to be had there. (And I’m Polish on my biological father’s side.)

  28. I’m of Italian background and never met an Italian – here in North America or in Italy – named Hey-Zeus.

  29. When Jesus Alou joined the San Francisco Giants baseball team the announcers were in a quandary about how to refer to him. They tried “Jay” but that didn’t work but eventually they figured out that he pronounced it Haysus and that turned out to be acceptable to the announcers.

    1. I followed the Alous closely. One was my favorite player for several seasons. For me, Jesus was just a name, no more noteworthy than Felipe or Mateo. A Spanish teacher refused to let me choose Mateo as a classroom name because it ‘wasn’t a real Spanish name.’ Perhaps I should have insisted on Jesus.

      A major league outfield of three brothers might be the closest thing to a miracle that has occurred during my lifetime.

  30. When Jesus Alou joined the San Francisco Giants baseball team the announcers were in a quandary about how to refer to him. They tried “Jay” but that didn’t work but eventually they figured out that he pronounced it Haysus and that turned out to be acceptable to the announcers.

    1. Around the same time, a Mexican character on the TV western show RAWHIDE (featuring a young Clint Eastwood) was listed in the credits as being called “Hey Soos”, presumably to avoid either confusing or offending viewers.

  31. They’re all hoping he becomes a great bowler someday.

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