The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Last month, I asked why Jesus is common in some Spanish-speaking countries (as well as among Hispanics in the U.S.), but apparently very rare in other Christian countries, whether Catholic or otherwise.
Fortunately, Prof. Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde (Penn, Economics) offered an explanation:
"Jesús" became a relatively common name in Spain in the late [19th century], at the time when there was a strong revival of militant Catholicism as a reaction to secularization forces from the left-wing. It was linked with a steep increase in the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ and the Christ the King movement: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_Heart
From Spain, as far as my understanding goes, the strong devotion to the Sacred Heart and Christ the King movement jumped to Mexico ….
The naming use never moved out of Spain (and to a small degree Portugal) to other Catholic European countries. My hypothesis (100% personal) is that in Spain and Mexico we usually say "Jesucristo" to refer to Christ, not "Jesús" (K12 + Catholic College gives me 20 years of education in Catholic institutions, and I would say 95% of times it was "Jesucristo"). Thus, "Jesús" sounds less odd as a first name.
Also, let me point out that a very common name for girls in Spain is "María Jesús" which is even odder for an English-speaker.
When I was a kid in Spain, in a class of 40 students or so, there would be 2 or 3 "Jesuses." Today, I would say 1 at most, as the country has become more secular.
"Jesus" was not used in Spain during the Middle Ages at all for boys (thus, the argument that this has something to do with the Muslim presence in Spain and a reaction against the "Mohameds" is 100% false). [EV adds: This source supports the view that Jesus was not common in 16th-century Spain.]
To the best of my understanding, Jesuits started in the 16th century to promote adding "de Jesus" to names to make a point against Protestants in Northern Europe (i.e., you were "Luis de Jesus" or "Isabel de Jesus") and to honor the Holy Family….
[The article at] https://ojsng.colmex.mx/index.php/nrfh/article/download/437/437 about first names in Mexico … states (page 22, footnote) that, in Mexico, the first documented use of "Jesus" as the main name is from 1852…. [I]n novels and other sources of literature in Spanish before around 1850, one never ever encounters a character named "Jesus."
Armed with this, I searched through the Spanish baptismal records database on FamilySearch.org, and found Jesus as the first name appearing 5 times in 1800-1820 and 576 times in 1880-1900. Nor did it stem from an increase in database coverage over time; the database appears to 1.1 million total entries in 1800-1820 and 650,000 in 1880-1900. Searches through the Mexico records reveal the same pattern.