My March CatholicMom column is up, and a question I need help with!

My March column posted today over at To Mary Through Three March Saints!


(In case you were wondering what happened to February, it was the first time since starting to write for CatholicMom three years ago that I couldn’t get a piece done in time for my monthly slot, I was just not feeling well enough. So glad to be back at it!)

Also, I read an intriguing post over on the Baby Name Wizard recently, and though some of the comments on that post make some sense (my handle there is traleerose), and I’ve researched it a little to verify those comments and find more certain answers, I haven’t been satisfied with what I’ve found, and I wondered if you know the answer to 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, which brings up the most interesting part of this question: Jesus isn’t well used in English, but Jesús is in Spanish.

I tried to find an official (or as close to as possible) Church stance on this, but didn’t come up with anything. The comments left on the BNW post suggest that the Muslim presence in Spain encouraged the use of Jesús as a given name, which I haven’t yet verified, but is interesting to consider. Joshua and Jesus are variants of the same name, and Joshua is well used; the Christ- names are well used, certainly, including Christ itself; 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.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the answer is simply that Jesus is considered too holy for common usage by those who speak English (at least here in the U.S.). The name of Mary has a history of being considered too holy for common usage in Ireland, for example — it was a temporary and culture-specific consideration — so perhaps it’s the same with Jesus? Perhaps for today, in English-speaking families, naming a baby Jesus is foreign to Christian sensibility, as the Code of Canon Law puts it?

If any of you have any info about this — any sources you can point me to that explain this — please share them! My ideal would be anything from the Church, but I’d be happy to read anything authoritative on this topic. Thank you for your help!


15 thoughts on “My March CatholicMom column is up, and a question I need help with!

  1. Hi! I think for the US, it’s more of a Puritan thing that we inherited. There’s a slate article on it here:

    My guess would be that Britain had their own tradition against it, which spread to Canada and Australia, and we had ours, and it just became taboo as English has developed.

    Also, names are just absorbed or not absorbed as language develops. In english, we’ll use the name Alexander, but not Atilla. We’ll name a child Ivy, but not kudzu. We almost never use names like Lucifer or Zeus or Bahualla, or plenty of others that are associated with religion. It’s just how our language evolved.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am confident the Putitan explanation above is probably spot on. In that vein, I think that generally parents don’t want to saddle their children with a name that will induce hardship.

    I’ve always wondered what point a parent of a Jesus trying to make? Hopefully love.

    I suspect Jesús is a shortening of the “de Jesús” surname that became normal to use in first names because of family naming traditions. Personally, I find it startling; not bad, just startling.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I think the migration from last name to first name in Hispanic countries makes sense. I study 18th century Mexico and I don’t come across men with the first name of José very often — José, Pedro, Andrés are much more common.
        Historically, Spain has tried to force a lot of people living within its empire (Jews, Muslims, natives) to convert to Catholicism. Often the people who did so chose “super-Catholic” names, as a defense against accusations of heresy. (“No, really, my grandfather wasn’t Jewish! Look his name was Santiago [= San Iago, St. James] de Jesús! How much more Catholic could we be?”) That’s where you get a lot of people with the last name “de los Santos” (literally, “all the saints”) or “de Jesús” or Domingo/Dominga as a first name.
        (Note: I love being Catholic and I think that Spanish Catholics did a lot of good things, so I’m not trying to add to the “Black Legend” about evil oppressive Spaniards. But there are some problems that occur when state power and church power get so closely intertwined.)

        Liked by 1 person

    • My husband’s boss is named Jesús and living in the western US amongst a lot of Spanish speakers, I’ve heard it a lot—it nevervstruck me as startling, but I can see why you might find it so. I think it just depends on what you’re accustomed to.


  3. In New Zealand the office of Internal Affairs (a govt department ) actually has the power to veto the use of certain names so I’m fairly certain that Jesus would be -they certainly rejected the use of Messiah last year.

    From their website:-
    baby’s name must:

    include a last name and one or more first names, unless your religious or cultural beliefs require the baby to only have one name
    not be:
    longer than 100 characters, including spaces
    an official title or rank, or resemble one (eg Justice, King, Prince or Princess, Royal) unless you can justify why your baby should be allowed that name
    spelled with numbers or symbols (eg V8).

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is definitely something Americans are not so familiar with — I was telling someone recently that many (most?) other countries have rules about which names can and can’t be used and she was shocked!


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