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A look at the name “Jesus” across cultures and time

Pieta Michała Anioła w bazylice św. Piotra

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Daniel Esparza - published on 01/05/24

Though never officially banned by the Church, using the name “Jesus” has been deemed borderline taboo in most Christian countries, except for one.

Though never officially banned by the Church, using the name Jesus has been deemed borderline taboo in most Christian countries (even strongly Catholic ones such as Italy or Poland) until modern times. This, primarily, for reasons that have to do with reverence and respect. But that is far from being the case in Spain, and by extension, in Hispanic countries.

The Hebrew-Aramaic “Jehosua” (meaning either “God saves” or “The Lord helps”) was a common name among first-century Jews when the Angel told Mary to give it to her Son. Its later Christian implications naturally changed the use of the name forever, so “Jesus” went well beyond its everyday origins.

The history of the name is far from straightforward. As explained in the article published in, the Latinized form of the Hebrew Jehosua, Joshua, is used in the Hebrew Bible as the name of the courageous successor to Moses who led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Interestingly, the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Biblealso referred to Joshua as “Jesus.” But it wasn’t until Jerome’s influential Latin Vulgate translation that a clear distinction was made between Joshua and Jesus.

In many Christian cultures, reverence for the name “Jesus” has often led to its limited use. The name is treated with the utmost respect, considered as not fit for “civil” use. But throughout Spain and Latin America, “Jesus” is quite a popular choice for newborns. Theories abound to explain this.

Some attribute it to the intense Marian devotion prevalent in 14th and 15th century Spain, where “Jesus” was inseparable from the veneration of his mother, the Virgin Mary –in a typically Counter-Reform fashion. Others refer to the common practice (at least in Spain) of naming abandoned children found in convents “Jesus,” giving the name connotations of compassion and second chances. Still others suggest that Spanish Christians living alongside Muslim communities were influenced by the Islamic tradition of honoring the Prophet Muhammad by naming their sons.

Whatever the explanation, the name “Jesus” has transcended its religious roots to become a global phenomenon. It carries the echoes of the historical figure who bridged the gap between the human and the divine, offering a message of salvation that continues to resonate with millions across continents and cultures.

BibleJesus Christ
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