Naming people after gods

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Carol Hills, from The World, wrote to ask about historical and cultural differences in the use of religious names. Why, for example, is Jesus widely used as a personal name in Spanish-speaking countries but not in other traditionally Catholic areas? Among Hindus, Carol observes, some names of gods seem to be widely used as personal names (Vishnu, Krishna) while others are not (Brahma, Shiva).

I don't know anything about this topic — at best I can add some additional questions, like why some of the gods of European paganism have survived as reasonably common modern names (especially Diana and Brigit, but also e.g.  Apollo, Minerva, Thor) while others apparently haven't (Baldur, Hermes, Hera, Mars, Odin, Poseidon,  Zeus, etc.)

So I'm appealing to readers for (pointers to sources of factual) information on this question.



193 Comments

  1. lee said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:28 am

    I know of Indians named Shiva or Siva as it was spelled by some. I worked with one and others appeared in the company directory. Add Venus to the names that survive as I have personally known two American women named Venus.

    I also know an American boy with the middle name of Kali, but that was not meant to be named after the goddess.

  2. Paul Frederick said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:47 am

    I have met more than one Indian named Shiva.
    According to an Indian friend, no one is named Brahma for the same reason that Brahma is not generally worshipped in India. There are more than one mythological explanation for why Brahma is not worshipped. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahma#Lack_of_Brahma_worship_in_India

  3. Paul D. said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:53 am

    "Why, for example, is Jesus widely used as a personal name in Spanish-speaking countries but not in other traditionally Catholic areas?"

    Jesus and Joshua are the same name. One is the Greek version, one is the Hebrew version. For some reason, anglophones prefer the Hebrew version of this name, and hispanophones the Greek.

    Other than that, names are a matter of linguistic tradition and inertia rather than rational choice. Diane just sounds like a normal name, while Poseidon sounds pompous and ridiculous.

  4. Lance said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:15 am

    What really puzzles me (he added, not especially helpfully) is how Artemis became a male name, e.g. the fictional character Artemis Fowl or the Brown University archaeologist/chancellor Artemis Joukowsky.

  5. dw said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:19 am

    @Paul D.

    While the names "Joshua" and "Jesus" ultimately derive from the same Hebrew original, they are distinct in the Latin Vulgate (Iesus vs. Iosue), and this distinction is preserved in most languages of Western Christianity.

    In Spanish and Portuguese, "Joshua" is "Josué", while "Jesus" is "Jesús". Both are found as personal names. So it is legitimate to ask why "Jesús" is widely used as a personal name in Spanish-speaking countries but its equivalent is not used in the same way in, say, French- or English-speaking countries.

  6. dw said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:20 am

    Whoops: omit "and Portuguese" from my previous comment.

  7. Amy Stoller said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:22 am

    For what it's worth, there was a famous American choreographer named Hermes Pan (his last name shortened from Panagiotopoulos).

  8. alex said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:24 am

    I suspect one reason Brigid/Brigit was an acceptable name for Christians is that she was syncretized in as a saint. In English we may not use "Jesus" as a name for people, but we're OK with Joshua (often taken to be a derivation of the same name) and Christian and Christopher.

    Sources you might find useful:
    Amir Harrak "Pagan Traces in Syriac Onomastica" deals in detail with with the persistence of pagan god-names in the Christian era. The author talks about various methods of rehabilitating god-names to make them acceptable, including shortening, developing false folk etymologies to re-analyze the morphemes,and changing names by swapping in "jesus" or "christ" for a morpheme representing a god.
    http://www.aina.org/articles/ptisco.pdf

    K.A. Girvilas "Pre-Christian Name-Giving in Lithuania." 1978 Lituanus 24:3
    Doesn't deal with god-names specifically as far as I can tell (the name lists might have them, but I don't know enough Lithuanian), but does talk in detail about how pagan names were changed to Christian ones.
    http://www.lituanus.org/1978/78_3_02.htm

    Thurston, Herbert. "Christian Names." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
    Says, on the topic of Christian names, that god-names appear frequently among people named in the Epistles (including Aphrodite, Mercury, Bacchus, and Hermes), among signatories to the Council of Nicea, and among martyrs. He goes on to say: "a rubric in the official "Rituale Romanum" enjoins that the priest ought to see that unbecoming or ridiculous names of deities or of godless pagans are not given in baptism (curet ne obscoena, fabulosa aut ridicula vel inanium deorum vel impiorum ethnicorum hominum nomina imponantur). Some of the seventeeth century French rituals have gone further than this. For example that of Bourges (1666) addressing parents and godparents urges: "Let them give to boys the names of male saints and to girls those of women saints as right order requires….'"
    http://www.home.newadvent.org/cathen/10673c.htm

    And, from a recent news story, Jesus Christ, formerly Dorothy Killingworth, showed up for jury duty in Birmingham, AL, but was asked to leave for being disruptive.
    http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2009/12/02/Jesus-Christ-shows-up-for-jury-duty/UPI-30771259792979/

  9. montgomery said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:33 am

    @Paul D

    "Jesus and Joshua are the same name. One is the Greek version, one is the Hebrew version. For some reason, anglophones prefer the Hebrew version of this name, and hispanophones the Greek."

    I doubt that's the whole story. Spanish has both the Hebrew and the Greek versions of Jesus, i.e., Josue and Jesus, and both are pretty common names.

    I have always thought this is some kind of cultural or theological difference between Spanish speakers and the rest of the historically Christian world. My feeling is that all the historically Christian countries other than the Spanish speaking ones traditionally *avoid* naming their sons Jesus because of something to do with taking the Lord's name in vain. (By "Jesus" I mean the identical name they use in their language in church for Jesus Christ; I don't mean other forms of the name such as Joshua which are less obviously related.)

    I have also heard that this is an American phenomenon. Meaning Spanish people don't name their sons Jesus, only Spanish-speaking Latin Americans, and that it reflects the pre-existing cultural traditions of the native Central and South Americans who had no prohibition against naming their children after gods, and who just continued doing so, using a different name, when they became Christians.

  10. Vance Maverick said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:38 am

    Joshua is also an Old Testament prophet, and there's a Protestant tradition of using OT names.

  11. Don Campbell said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:39 am

    Bridget (and variants) survived as a Catholic saint's name, although medieval times the Gaels considered it disrespectful to name a child after a major saint, so children were named Gille or Maol (saint's name), meaning servant or devotee of (saint's name), e.g. Gille Bridhghe, Gille Christ, Maol Columba.

  12. alex said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:40 am

    OK, a second try: I tried before and my comment got eaten by online gremlins. I suspect Brigit is an acceptable name in part because she was syncretized in as a saint.

    Sources you might consult:

    Harrak, Amir "Pagan Traces in Syriac Christian Onomastica"
    Deals in detail with pagan god-names surviving into the Christian era in Syria. An interesting section near the end talks about methods people used for making these names acceptable, including inventing false folk etymologies to re-analyze the morphemes, shortening names so they were no longer transparent, and swapping in "jesus" or "christ" for the god's name.
    http://www.aina.org/articles/ptisco.pdf

    Thurston, Herbert. "Christian Names." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
    He writes that god-names (including Hermes, Mercury, Aphrodite, and Bacchus) were common among people mentioned in the Epistles, signatories to the Nicean Council proceedings, and martyrs. He also says: "A rubric in the official "Rituale Romanum" enjoins that the priest ought to see that unbecoming or ridiculous names of deities or of godless pagans are not given in baptism (curet ne obscoena, fabulosa aut ridicula vel inanium deorum vel impiorum ethnicorum hominum nomina imponantur). Some of the seventeeth century French rituals have gone further than this. For example that of Bourges (1666) addressing parents and godparents urges: "Let them give to boys the names of male saints and to girls those of women saints as right order requires….'"
    http://www.home.newadvent.org/cathen/10673c.htm

    K.A. Girvilus 1978 "Pre-Christian Name-Giving in Lithuania." Lituanus 24:3
    Doesn't discuss god-names specifically, though there may be some on the name lists for those who can read Lithuanian. But does talk in detail about how and why people took Christian names.
    http://www.lituanus.org/1978/78_3_02.htm

    And, from a recent news story, Jesus Christ, formerly Dorothy Killingworth, showed up for jury duty in Birmingham, AL, but was asked to leave for being disruptive.
    http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2009/12/02/Jesus-Christ-shows-up-for-jury-duty/UPI-30771259792979/

  13. Alan Farahani said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:51 am

    For what it's worth, the following link has a small (and admittedly, non-scholarly) interpretation of some names: http://www.slate.com/id/2179082/

    I would suspect that the presence and absence of theophoric names is largely conditioned by culturally specific taboos and related historical contingency (i.e. the results of the meeting of a synod, elders, etc.) and seems to be well established in Indo-European languages (INDO-EUROPEAN THEOPHORIC PERSONAL NAMES AND SOCIAL-STRUCTURE, The Journal of Indo-European studies,1981, 9: 227 -243).

    To follow up on your comment, Lance, with an analogy from another god from a similar Indo-European pantheon, in modern Persian the name "Mithra" is almost exclusively a female name. The original deity Mithra is a male figure and the god of oaths, contracts, etc. Unlike other Zoroastrian theophoric names that have percolated through time to present-day Persian speakers (e.g. Bahman, Mehrdad, Hooman), however, the bare form "Mithra" did not survive (it did survive in compounds though, as in Mehrdad, where 'dad' signifies given, and Mehr is the modern evolution of the name Mithra). As a result of the "modernization" campaign initiated by Reza Shah Pahlavi in the 30's, many ancient Persian names that were previously unknown or unused suddenly gained circulation. Mithra was one of these names, but because of the influence of European languages, the -a ending was interpreted as feminine (modern Persian has no overt morphological realization of gender, even in pronouns). Hence it is now exclusively a female name in the form "Mithra".

  14. peter said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:07 am

    "Other than that, names are a matter of linguistic tradition and inertia rather than rational choice."

    And law. In many European countries, for example, there are legal constraints over what forenames may be given to newly-born children. This contrasts with (say) Southern Bantu custom, where individual children may be given or acquire scores of names over the course of their life.

  15. Molly said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:08 am

    @montgomery
    I know a few Spaniards named Jesús, so unfortunately the Spain vs. Latin America distinction doesn't pan out.

    But I wonder if there is a regional connection within Europe with respect to using religious names. I can offer nothing but speculation on that point, so I'll cut myself off.

  16. Nathan Myers said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:10 am

    Speaking of "culturally specific taboos and related historical contingency", I like that many Jews are named for the principal Babylonian gods: Mordecai/Marduk, and Esther/Ishtar. I wanted to name my son Mordecai, despite being neither Jewish nor Babylonian. Didn't happen.

    The only theophoric car name that comes to mind is Mazda.

  17. AJD said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:11 am

    Apropos of which, the winner of today's episode of Jeopardy! was named "Jove".

  18. Steve said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:24 am

    The names of the ancient gods and heroes are still very common in Greece: I know lots of people named Aphrodite, Dimitra, Dionysios, Athina, Iraklis and Artemis – the latter a female name. In Albania and Bulgaria you find the name Aferdita, obviously related to Aphrodite. Still, there are limits. I don't yet know a Zeus, a Hermes or a Gaia.

  19. Londubh said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:32 am

    @Lance:
    I would suggest that it might be a misspelling of an older Italian name, Artemas (of which there is at least one [male] saint).

  20. Alex Dodge said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:41 am

    I know an American Mars. I believe his parents are hippies and not Greek. That is all.

  21. Alex Dodge said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:42 am

    Wait, Roman. *facepalm*

  22. Spinoza said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:44 am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahma_Chellaney

  23. alex said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:08 am

    Sources you might consult:

    Harrak, Amir "Pagan Traces in Syriac Christian Onomastica"
    Deals in detail with pagan god-names surviving into the Christian era in Syria. An interesting section near the end talks about methods people used for making these names acceptable, including inventing false folk etymologies to re-analyze the morphemes, shortening names so they were no longer transparent, and swapping in "jesus" or "christ" for the god's name.
    http://www.aina.org/articles/ptisco.pdf

    Thurston, Herbert. "Christian Names." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
    He writes that god-names (including Hermes, Mercury, Aphrodite, and Bacchus) were common among people mentioned in the Epistles, signatories to the Nicean Council proceedings, and martyrs. He also says: "A rubric in the official "Rituale Romanum" enjoins that the priest ought to see that unbecoming or ridiculous names of deities or of godless pagans are not given in baptism (curet ne obscoena, fabulosa aut ridicula vel inanium deorum vel impiorum ethnicorum hominum nomina imponantur). Some of the seventeeth century French rituals have gone further than this. For example that of Bourges (1666) addressing parents and godparents urges: "Let them give to boys the names of male saints and to girls those of women saints as right order requires….'"
    http://www.home.newadvent.org/cathen/10673c.htm

    K.A. Girvilus 1978 "Pre-Christian Name-Giving in Lithuania." Lituanus 24:3
    Doesn't discuss god-names specifically, though there may be some on the name lists for those who can read Lithuanian. But does talk in detail about how and why people took Christian names.
    http://www.lituanus.org/1978/78_3_02.htm

    And, from a recent news story, Jesus Christ, formerly Dorothy Killingworth, showed up for jury duty in Birmingham, AL, but was asked to leave for being disruptive.
    http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2009/12/02/Jesus-Christ-shows-up-for-jury-duty/UPI-30771259792979/

  24. artful dodger said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:10 am

    Writing from rome here — no priest would ever let you christen your baby with a name that has no saint associated with it. As for Jesus, I guess there can only be one..

    Otoh I've met some people named after hindu gods of war — and they were appropriately crazy.

  25. xyzzyva said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:29 am

    Mars is the ultimate root of the names Marcia/Marsha, Mark, and perhaps Marcus.

    [(myl) The connection is pretty indirect — it wasn't transparent even in classical times, and (I gather) may have been a folk etymology even then, perhaps mediated through the Latin name of the month of March, which in turn was originally named for Mars. And for the past couple of thousand years, names like Marcus and Marc simply reference the fact that Marcus was the third-most-common Roman praenomen after Lucius and Gaius.]

    I recently heard somewhere that Mary* was taboo in (some?) European cultures until the late Middle Ages.

    *I know, not a god, but the line is fuzzy in some groups

  26. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:35 am

    Since Mark mentions a few Norse gods, it should be noted that Freya is an extremely common name in Scandinavia. Also, Baldur is pretty common there too (especially in Iceland, in my experience).

  27. Joaquim said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:00 am

    I have a greek colleague named "Aris" (modern greek version of the god whose name I'd spell "Ares," equivalent to "Mars")

  28. Alon Lischinsky said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:01 am

    @ montgomery: actually, my experience (as a native Latin American who's spent quite a long time in Spain) is exactly opposite to your description: Jesús is hardly ever used as a name, except in Spain.

    The Spanish National Institute of Statistics supports this intuitive assessment: Of the 299.933 Spanish residents named Jesús, 299.090 are Spanish nationals, yielding an average of almost 15 Jesús per mille. Much lower absolute figures make the rates for other nationalities less trustworthy, but it seems that only Equatorial Guinea, Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia and the Philippines use the name in a significant manner. [Data here: http://www.ine.es/tnombres/formGeneralresult.do?L=0&vista=4&orig=ine&cmb2=99&cmb6=Jes%FAs&cmb7=1&x=9&y=14. Moreover, it seems to be predominantly Castilian and Aragonese, with much lower rates in Catalonia, València, the Balearic and Canary Islands and, to a certain extent, the Basque country and Andalusia. [Data here: http://www.ine.es/tnombres/formGeneralresult.do?L=0&vista=3&orig=ine&cmb4=99&cmb10=0000&cmb6=jes%FAs&cmb7=1&x=5&y=6#

    Widespread use of the name seems to be quite a recent development, as well. I can't vouch for their credentials, but a 2006 paper by Juan Carlos Galende Díaz & Consuelo García Gallarín, discussing the increasing use of Marian names for girls in the 17th century, states that "Una costumbre semejante no prosperó entre los varones, pues entonces era inusitado poner el nombre de Jesús; en los libros consultados no figura ningún niño llamado así, pero sí aparecen dos niñas llamadas María de Jesus" (p. 173) [Paper here: http://www.ucm.es/centros/cont/descargas/documento11376.pdf.

  29. Derry said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:18 am

    Doris is the name of a sea-goddess, but who thinks of those connections now?

    My thoughts went "A goddess named Doris!" not "You have a goddess's name!"

  30. John Swindle said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:34 am

    Baldur: There was Baldur von Shirach, head of the Hitler Youth and one of the defendants in the Nuremberg trials. I didn't realize he had a Norse god's name.

    Venus: I hope those who have this name and a bilabial "v" will not be offended if I suggest here that, in speaking English, it would be well to either retain the original pronunciation in its entirety or anglicize the consonant as well as the vowels. The compromise "BEE-niss" sounds odd for a girl's name.

  31. Daan said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:48 am

    I recently heard somewhere that Mary* was taboo in (some?) European cultures until the late Middle Ages.

    Not sure about that, but certainly in the 20th century, María was also a very popular name in Spain and Portugal. I wouldn't know whether this is still the case.

  32. Poseidon Jones said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:51 am

    > Poseidon sounds pompous and ridiculous

    Damn it.

  33. mattghg said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:54 am

    Joaquim,

    Are you sure your Greek colleague's name isn't, rather, a contraction of 'Aristotle'?

  34. mollymooly said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:13 am

    "I recently heard somewhere that Mary* was taboo in (some?) European cultures until the late Middle Ages." In Irish, Muire is used for the Virgin Mary, Máire for other Marys. As Don Campbell says, Maol Mhuire is another derived name, but it's male.

    Spanish also has "Salvador" as a name, which seems even more presumptious.

    Some names from Irish mythology survive as saint's names; others were revived during the Celtic revival. Most are heroes/heroines rather than gods/goddesses, but the distinction is vague.

    "The only theophoric car name that comes to mind is Mazda." GM isn't shutting down Saturn till 2010.

  35. Michael said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:17 am

    Might be interesting to look into the development of these names in Greek because of the flip from paganism to christianity and the extensive written records throughout. I can't think of any people named after olympian gods either in ancient Greece or in Byzantine times- though now plenty are called Aphrodite, Athena, Hera, Demetra, Artemis- but not Estia; and for men Ares- but not Zeus, Poseidon, Hephestus (wait- there's Hephestion from Macedon) Pluto and Apollo. Apollo and Ares curiously are the name of many greek football teams, though none of the others.

  36. Lugubert said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:40 am

    Mazda: According to German Wikipedia, the name of the company founder, Jujiro Matsuda, is pronounced 'Mazda'.

  37. David said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:41 am

    Can't give any (English-language) sources, but I would mention that at least for Sweden, the generally accepted story is that giving children names of old Norse gods is the result of a 19th century national romantic revival of old names encountered in the Icelandic sagas and on the runestones. But it would have been unthinkable to name someone Thor in the Viking Age – or give them the name of any other god, for instance. So the 6345 Swedish men (approx. 0,15% of all Swedish males) named Tor or Thor are not so named as the result of an unbroken tradition.

    What we do find in the Viking Age, however, is that some people are given dithematic names with Thor as the first element: Thorsteinn (modSw Torsten), Thorgeirr (modSw Torger) and so on. I think that there are more such names featuring Thor than Odin, which might explain the popularity of Thor and the absence of Odin in the 19th century revival.

    There are actually 316 Swedish men named Oden or Odin, so the name's not entirely absent. One can also find 329 Idun, 179 Balder/Baldur, 20 Njord and even 1 Forsete (ON Forseti), among others.

  38. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:43 am

    @dw: Whoops: omit "and Portuguese" from my previous comment.

    I’m a native Brazilian. Both Josué and Jesus (with these diacritics) are common names, though not nearly as often as in Spanish. In my mind at least Josué refers to the Moses’ successor, not to Jesus.

  39. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:49 am

    Oh and we pronounce Jesus /ʒe'zus/, with stress on the second syllable =) quite different than the English version!

  40. Cecily said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:00 am

    You can gather stats on people with names relating to gods and mythology, but except for the really well known ones such as Jesus, it's impossible to know whether the parents realise the origin of the name, which makes the debate somewhat spurious.

    The other week, there was a report of a UK family with 13 children, mostly with unusual names, and it gave the parents' reasons for choosing each. They included:

    Echo – after a group of eco-campaigners who the father met during a job at work
    Morpheus – a character in film, The Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves
    Artemis – book character, Artemis Fowl, an obnoxious teenage criminal

  41. Carl said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:09 am

    I know y'all are kidding, but for the record, Mazda is a version of the Japanese family name 松田 matsu-da pine-field. No relation to the on going war against primordial evil and darkness.

    Although a connection between Freddy Mercury and the American car company can't be ruled out…

  42. Carl said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:10 am

    Oops, don't leave the window open, read something else, then come back and comment without refreshing, I guess.

  43. Jonny Rain said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:24 am

    Some ultra-orthodox Jews are so concerned about desecrating the sacred name of god, that they will chose not to pronounce the portion of a person's name containing "ya" replacing it with "ka". So "Carmiya" becomes "Carmika."

  44. David said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:34 am

    There are 150 people in Sweden named "Odin". (Although the god is usually referred to as "Oden").
    Source: http://www.svenskanamn.se/statistik/sverige

  45. Violet said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 8:09 am

    @ Spinoza,

    I suspect Chellaney's first name is a contraction of "Brahmaanandam" (meaning Divine bliss, a common name in southern India) and not referring to the god Brahma.

  46. ajay said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 8:17 am

    "why some of the gods of European paganism have survived as reasonably common modern names (especially Diana and Brigit, but also e.g. Apollo, Minerva, Thor)"

    Minerva and Apollo are reasonably common modern names? In which country?

    "Writing from rome here — no priest would ever let you christen your baby with a name that has no saint associated with it."

    Mind you, there are so many saints in the Catholic church that that doesn't actually restrict your choice very much.

    ""The only theophoric car name that comes to mind is Mazda." GM isn't shutting down Saturn till 2010."

    Saturn – what a great name for a family car. (Room for six kids inside!)

  47. Saint-Esprit said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 8:46 am

    As pointed out, Mazda is just the Japanese surname Matsuda. A properly theophoric car brand would be Saturn, which is a rather odd name for a car brand if you consider all the mythological implications. Oh, and Mercury, which makes a lot more sense for cars.

    Re: Jesus and Maria in western Europe and America:
    Maria is still one of the most popular second names (or middle names), even for boys. Jesus, while less so, are found more often as second names than first names. On the other hand, I've known quite a lot of people with Jesus/Maria as their first names, but actually go by their second or third name. Their families call them by their second names as well, so it's probably not a case of using second name in public out of necessity of distinction.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine and her two sisters are all first-named Eden. They all go by Eden in public, but at home they call each other by their second names. An interesting reversal of the above, since Eden is certainly rarer than their second names: Joy, Grace and a third that I forgot.

    I myself have Saint-Esprit as my fourth name, which is possibly the most obscure Christian theophoric name. Even more obscure, my sister is named Sacré-Cœur, which isn't even gramatically female. Does it count as theophoric if it only contains part of a deity's body?

  48. Dimitri said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    Ancient Greek theophoric names are never the same as the god's name, but are strictly speaking adjectives formed off of theonyms, so Demetrios from Demeter, Apollonios from Apollo, Dionysios from Dionysos, Poseidonios from Poseidon, etc. Note the -ios ending in each case. Theophorics are very popular names in Classical Antiquity. In some cases these are also names of martyrs who were canonized, like Demetrios, hence the continuity. Other non-Christian ancient Greek names (like Leonidas) are, I think, a recent phenomenon. A nice summary can be found here, at the website of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names: http://www.lgpn.ox.ac.uk/names/index.html

  49. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:21 am

    Dennis (and thus the feminine Denise) ultimately derives via French from Dionysius, on account of several pagans by that name becoming Christians and being subsequently recognized as saints (one was an early bishop of Paris). This of course pushes the question back to which names of gods in a given pagan society were and were not frequently used to name ones children, since in many instances the names of the first generation of Christian saints from a given language community simply reflect a semi-random selection of whatever names were in common use.

    David Hackett Fischer's book Albion's Seed has some discussion of different naming conventions in different parts of the 13 Colonies, often reflecting religious differences. So it's well-known that the New England Puritans were fond of "Old Testament" names, but Fischer says they specifically avoided Biblical names like Michael and Gabriel, on the basis that it was presumptuous to name ones son after an angel. Ditto for Emmanuel (which otherwise seems not to suffer from the "Jesus" taboo insofar as it's found outside Hispanophone cultures). Non-puritan Virginia, by contrast, was fine with Michael/Gabriel/Emmanuel (as well as post-Biblical saints of uncertain historicity such as Christopher), but not so into the Old Testament names.

  50. Mark P said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:36 am

    Wikipedia says that Brahma is not widely worshipped (or at least does not have nearly as many temples) as other Hindu gods in India. Could the avoidance of Brahma as a name be a reflection of that?

  51. jfruh said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:42 am

    Even within the subcategory of Biblical names it's interesting to see which names get used in which cultures and which don't. My name is Joshua, and when I lived in Germany for a bit, a lot of Germans had a hard time getting their heads around it — a couple asked me what its origins were. When I told them it was a biblical name, they generally got it, but it was like "Jotham" or "Ahaz" to English speakers — something you sort of recognize from the Bible, but not a name you'd actually use in real life.

    On the note of Greeks with names after pagan gods, I'm willing to bet that, as in the Swedish example cited above, this is a product of the Greek nationalist revival in the 19th century (which is also when the Greeks stopped calling themselves Romans and started calling themselves Hellenes, a name that had previously denoted pagans).

  52. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:51 am

    Even though Jesus and Joshua might be versions of the same Hebrew name, ordinary people cannot be expected to know that, and the persons referred to by these names in Bible-based religious traditions are quite different. In French, Jésus is never used as a personal name, and I don't think that Josué is very common except perhaps among Jews. Old Testament names have never been very popular except for a very few such as Elisabeth, Rachel, Abel or David, used mostly in Protestant families, and the names of the archangels (who are considered saints) Michel, Gabriel and less commonly Raphaël (and those names have all been given corresponding feminine forms).

    Most traditional French names are names of Catholic saints, as in other predominantly Catholic countries. It used to be that children were named according to one of the saints assigned to their birth day in the Caholic calendar, in order to place the child under the protection of that saint (if you buy a calendar in one of the Catholic countries, one of those saints is indicated for each day which does not have another function in the liturgy of that year, such as Easter). But Jesus is not a saint! A child born on December 25 is never named Jesus, but could be named Noël (or Noëlle if a girl). Children were also often given more than one name (the higher the social class, the more names), thus increasing the number of saintly protectors. In some traditions the name Marie was included, even in boys' names, in order to add the Virgin Mary (who is the greatest possible saint) to the list of one's saints. For girls, instead of listing Marie among other names, it became common to place it first, and since there would be far too many Maries, the next name was usually associated with it, as in the case of my own name. Jean (= John), the saint next closest to Jesus after the Virgin Mary, played the same role in naming boys, hence Jean-Jacques, Jean-Paul, etc. These double names seem to be out of fashion in France nowadays, as few younger people have them, and if they do, the first name is likely to be other than Marie or Jean.

    These traditions are similar to those of other Catholic countries, but in Spain the apparent decline of the name Maria probably coincided with the rise of names denoting references or connotations associated with the name: thus Carmen is short for Maria del Carmen, Concepcion for Maria de la Concepcion, Dolores for Maria de los Dolores, etc.

    Names from Greek or Latin mythology or history were common among noble French families in previous centuries, but only a few have passed into general use, such as Diane or Hector.

  53. Joaquim said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:54 am

    @ mattghg: No, it is not Aristotle. In greek he spells APH&Sigma and in latin characters, Aris. See the Wikipedia article on the vowel eta.

  54. Joaquim said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:55 am

    Oh, and also the Wikipedia on Ares

  55. mk said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:59 am

    Greeks still name their children after gods like Aphrodite (my sister's name) and Athena (my childhood neighbor's name), as well as after philosophers (Aristotle, Platonas), famous characters (Iphigenia, Helen-hi mom and daughter!), etc. Perhaps it depends on the culture's identification with its defining historical moment?

  56. Ted S. said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:00 am

    I'm surprised nobody's mentioned God Shammgod yet.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Shammgod

    There's also the Slavic names derived from the word for "god", such as Bohumil, Bogdan, and the like.

  57. R said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:02 am

    @Steve – Gaia is found in Italy – not *very* common, but not too weird either. As is Gea – though that is a bit less common.

  58. eye5600 said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:09 am

    Car: I believe that Subaru is the Japanese name for the constellation called the Pleiades, which is not quite the same as saying that Subaru is the Japanese name for the Seven Daughters of Atlas.

    For another planetary god name, look up Jupiter Hammon. His father was Opium.

  59. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:16 am

    Presumably the Catholic tradition of naming children after saints must be relatively modern, else how did the saints get their names?

  60. Theophylact said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:23 am

    Isn't Ford still making the Mercury?

    The late Shiva Naipaul (Vidia's younger brother) was pretty well known, as was Thor Heyerdahl.

    I had Greek-born neighbors whose names were actually Aphrodite and Dionysos, but who (as Jehovah's Witnesses) used less pagan ones.

    Ercole is a not-uncommon name in Italy.

  61. Julia said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:23 am

    I knew I spotted someone named Zeus in the credits of a TV show within the last few days, but I forgot which show it was, so I went to IMDB to check, and found there are quite a few people named Zeus working in the entertainment industry: http://www.imdb.com/find?s=all&q=zeus (Scroll down to the section of 'names', which starts with Zeus Ianiro.)

    PS – the show was apparently SpongeBob (my son's favorite), and the guy was Zeus Cervas.

  62. KCinDC said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:24 am

    Aren't the Indian names like Krishna and Vishnu usually short for a longer name?

  63. Bridget said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    On the sitcom Full House, we learned in one episode that "Uncle Jesse" was really named Hermes, for what it's worth. I don't know about the statistics of real live folks bearing that name.

  64. D Sky Onosson said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:41 am

    @Steve: My (Canadian-born) cousin is named Gaea. As you can see from my own name, we have a family tradition of unusual names – Joshua is one of my less unusually-named cousins!

  65. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    Presumably the Catholic tradition of naming children after saints must be relatively modern, else how did the saints get their names?

    Ha ha. Saints are made, not born. Many saints of the early Christian area were not born Christians, and in early times baptism did not involve (re)naming.

  66. Bill Walderman said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    "many Jews are named for the principal Babylonian gods: Mordecai/Marduk, and Esther/Ishtar."

    Isidore ("gift of Isis") has been a common Jewish name since antiquity, and is also the name of an (ironically notoriously anti-semitic) Spanish bishop in late antiquity who wrote an encyclopedia known as the "Etymologies."

    There are many saints' names that are based on names of pagan gods: Apollonius, Aphrodisius, Artemius, Athenodorus, Demetrius, Diodorus ("gift of Zeus"), Diana, Dionysius (Denis), Hermes, Hermogenes, Heliodorus, Heraclius, Jovinus, Martin, Palladius, Phoebe, etc. For the most part, though, these seem to be formed from adjectives based on the divine names, not the divine names themselves. As someone noted, they are largely names that happened to be common in late antiquity and probably ceased to be associated with the pagan gods.

    Source: http://www.catholic.org/saints/stindex.php?lst=A

  67. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:45 am

    (I mean "the early Christian era").

  68. Dan T. said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:46 am

    Hermes is the name of a bureaucrat on the Futurama series. This show takes place around the year 3000, and he's from Jamaica.

  69. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    By the way, in Brazil some archangel names are extremely common: especially Rafael, Miguel, Gabriel. Most of the classrooms I studied in had some three to five Rafaels. (I realize it’s anecdotal evidence, but…)

    I subverted these christian traditions by naming my son Samael. It’s close enough to the common name Samuel that it doesn’t sound too alien or hippie (I hope), but if you dig on the etymology, you find out it’s the name of a controversial, maybe-good-maybe-evil figure.

  70. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:55 am

    "Many saints of the early Christian area were not born Christians, and in early times baptism did not involve (re)naming."

    Of course. But the tradtion must have started at some point, and presumably long after many of the saints were canonised.

  71. kip said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the muslim world, where "Mohammed" is an extremely popular name. Of course, Mohammed was a prophet not a god. I don't think any muslim would name their child "Allah".

  72. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    Ginger Yellow: as a universal custom, to the extent that it is one, it's certainly quite modern – names like William and Robert weren't saints' names when they were first introduced. On the other hand, people were being called after saints from an early date – e.g. John Chrysostom, 4th century, persumably called after either John the Baptist or John the Evangelist; and indeed Augustine of Canterbury (6th century) was presumably called after Augustine of Hippo (4th-5th century).

    Regarding Jesus/Josue: the Latin Old Testament (translated from the Hebrew) refers to the prophet as Josue, but the New Terstament (translated from the Greek) calls him Jesus. So indeed do older versions of the English New Testament; there is an incredibly confusing passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews which says 'If Jesus had given them [the ancient Israelites] rest…', which makes no sense unless you know that 'Jesus' in this passage is the person better known asa Joshua.

  73. Licia said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    In Italy the name Gesù (Jesus) is not used, not only because it would be perceived as blasphemous but also because, as mentioned by peter above, until recently there were legal constraints over names that were described as "ridiculous, shameful, against public morality, public order, national sentiment or religious sentiment" or were geographical names like Asia. Nowadays the restrictions are limited to "ridiculous or shameful" names (as in a recent case of a couple who were not allowed to name their baby boy Venerdì, i.e. Friday).
    Some Greek god names like Eros and Ermes (Hermes) are not uncommon in Italy.

  74. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    some archangel names are extremely common: especially Rafael, Miguel, Gabriel.

    As far as I know, these are the only three archangels. Regular angels do not seem to have names.

  75. Richard Hershberger said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:58 am

    jfruh: In English, most Old Testament names are the product of the Reformation. Only a small handful of such names (e.g. David) were used prior to that. Puritans tended to disfavor saints names, and turned to the Old Testament for an unsullied source. Pretty much everything there was fair game. I would be astonished if your examples of Jotham and Ahaz were not used somewhere along the line. Most eventually disappeared again, but there is a substantial list of survivors which in English are completely unremarkable today.

  76. Phil Jennings said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:06 am

    Spain was dominated in post-Visigothic times by Arabs and Moors who commonly used Mohammed as a first name; it seems natural that as the Christian kingdoms spread they would imitate this practice tit-for-tat by naming boys Jesus.

    To make this argument fully convincing I suppose one might look for Sicilians named Jesus, but history doesn't have to be wholly consistent.

  77. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    Ok, some data: according to this ranking from name registration agencies, Gabriel is #5, Rafael #12. The most common female name is Maria (Mary) and the male João (John), as any Brazilian could tell you. Almost all top-ranking names are Biblical or Catholic (you can see some French influence in #8 Luiz and Latin in #19 Julia). God-related names are rare; #22 Larissa is a nymph, but I doubt parents know that.

    The ranking uses a measly 23 agencies, mostly in the São Paulo region. The website doesn’t mention the start of data collection.

  78. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:19 am

    @marie-lucie: yes, bad wording on my part. There is however a plethora of named angels from various sources which I’ve seen featured in popular prayers, such as Uriel, Azrael, Zarachiel and so on, but who aren’t normally used for names.

    My own (fallen?) angel Samael is also not an usual name. I’ve seen sources that he’s considered a Power by the Church, but I’m not sure it’s true, and none of my Catholic friends ever heard of it. (My Jewish friends, OTOH, understood my game immediately).

  79. Thomas Westgard said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:30 am

    My son's name is Loki. The reasons we chose it are complex, but what seems most difficult for people to understand is the lack of direct relationship between characters from the Christian mythos and characters from the Norse mythos.

    I have been amazed to see how much people struggle with a name that doesn't flatter their religious prejudices. I honestly didn't expect people to react as much as they have. People are happy to think of Baldur as Jesus, or Thor as Sampson, even though Jesus is a far more complex and interesting character than Baldur, and the lessons of Thor's actions are completely different from those of Sampson. But name a kid Loki and people's assumption that every religion says the same thing suddenly have to learn and think past their immediate experience.

    Loki is an essential character who acts as the agent of necessary change toward the desired end result. People often don't like it when he upsets the apple cart, but without him life wouldn't progress. He is the firebringer, inventor of fishnets, and mother of Sleipnir – all very good and necessary things.

    I write all this because it's a great area of study. People do place a lot of weight on their beliefs about a name, far more than I expected. Actually naming a person Loki forces people to review their assumptions, an event the original Loki would enjoy tremendously.

  80. Karen said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:30 am

    @ marie-lucie: Regular angels do not have names (except in the Sylvia Brown school of thought), but there are more than three archangels in other traditions besides Catholic (which used to have seven, including Uriel Phanuel (Orfiel) Zarachiel Simiel. In Orthodox tradition, there are seven: Michael Gabriel Raphael Uriel Sealtiel Jegudiel Barachiel Jeremiel. In Islam, there are four: Gabriel (or Jibraaiyl or Jibril or Jibrail in Arabic) Michael (Mikhail or Mikaaiyl) Raphael (Israfil or Israafiyl) Azrael. Judaism recognizes from zero to a bunch, depending, including such names as Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Sariel, Raguel, Remiel, Zadkiel, Jophiel, Haniel and Chamuel, as well as Metatron. Many Protestants only recognize Michael, some add Gabriel, and some think Michael and Jesus are the same.

    It's confusing…

  81. Carrie S. said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:31 am

    As far as I know, these are the only three archangels.

    There's also Uriel, at least if you're doing ceremonial magic involving the Archangels as patrons of the elements/directions. The Wikipedia article on the subject has a whole scrum of named archangels, though R, M and G seem to be the only consistent ones.

  82. Greg said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    @Carl, about the 松田 > Mazda thing: I'm sure it's not sheer coincidence that the normally clumsy "Matsuda" or "Matuda" transliterations (Hepburn and Kunreishiki systems, respectively) were cast aside in favor of a more divine name already in existence.

  83. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:46 am

    Thank you, well-informed commenters, for those lists of other archangels. I had no idea there were so many! The only name I recognize is Azrael, but I don't remember the context in which I encountered it. Of course it makes sense that there should be seven archangels, because of the importance of the number seven.

  84. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    I recognize Uriel too, but that is because of the name of the linguist Uriel Weinreich.

  85. Baal-Zebub Smith said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:56 am

    Still waiting for anyone to explain where exactly Apollo or Minerva are regarded as reasonably common names…

  86. Peter Taylor said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

    @Karen, what do you mean by "some add Gabriel"? Are you trying to imply that most Protestants classify Gabriel as an angel rather than an arch-angel? Given the nativity appearances I would expect Gabriel to be the first (and possibly only) angel most Protestants would list.

  87. Spell Me Jeff said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

    I have lived and taught in Utah for 17.5 years, where I have observed that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a long tradition of taking names from the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, as well as historical figures important to the church. One therefore finds a lot of Aarons, Ephraims, Nephis, and Josephs. These are also common as place names. Curiosity drove me to Google, which turns up an occasional Moroni, named for the angel who (according to doctrine) led church founder Joseph Smith to the golden plates on which the Book of Mormon was inscribed. Not a god, but an angel, so pretty close. Google suggests that the name was given primarily in the 1800s, and typically as a middle name. I've never heard of anyone named Jesus. (Utah also has its fair share of Brittneys and Madisons; LDS parents are not required to participate in the scriptural naming tradition, which only makes sense since many Mormons are converts.)

  88. Mark N. said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    For what it's worth, Christos is a common modern Greek name, spelled and pronounced identically to the word for Christ, except for the stress being on the other syllable (the theological role accents the 2nd syllable; the name accents the 1st).

  89. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

    The name Artemis used for a male made a bunch of novel readers unhappy, as author Jayne Ann Krentz recounts. The name was changed to Artemas for the paperback edition of "Wicked Widow."

    http://www.runningwithquills.com/2009/10/jayne-and-boy-named-sue.html

  90. Ellie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

    I do know of parents who, rather than naming their baby after a god as described in this posting, named their son "God (Firstname) Allah (Middle)."

  91. Acilius said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

    "LDS parents are not required to participate in the scriptural naming tradition, which only makes sense since many Mormons are converts." And so many Mormon families have one of just a few last names that it would be difficult for them to sustain a rule that limited the number of first names available. It's hard enough when you have six men named Michael in a group, if you have three named Michael Young and three named Michael Card it would be very confusing.

  92. Boris said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

    The Russian word for Joshua the successor of Moses is the same as that for Jesus ("Iisus") which is quite annoying to Jews who may talk a lot about the former, but don't generally like to mention the latter. Oh, and it is not used as a personal name as I know (Though Joshua's name is rendered fully as "Iisus Navin" as if "son of Nun" was his last name, making it somewhat Russified and sound even odder).

  93. Anton Dantan said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    Sure, there are that not many boys around who are named Brahma. But if you look to the western side of India, you'll find many with names like Abraham or Ibrahim. The fact is that they all stem from the same original meaning : "father". Now I know that not everybody will like that idea for these names belong to different religions that do not get along very well.

  94. Kai Jones said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    My grandchildren are named Odin and Freya. I asked my son whether he was giving up Judaism to become Asatru and he said no, but he liked their ethical system and their myths. Obviously this is a known, intentional naming after non-Christian gods.

  95. Spell Me Jeff said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

    In case anyone was wondering about fun-poking here, Acilius speaks the truth. There are innumerable descendants of Hyrum Smith and Brigham Young. Another cause is the large number of Scandinavians who emigrated to Utah in the 1800s. So there are countless Johnsons, Jeppesons, Christiansons, and so on, all with variant spellings and pronunciations.

  96. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    "Hermes" is a very famous French manufacturer of dressage (and showjumping) saddles.

  97. Karen said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

    @Peter: Gabriel is not explicitly called an archangel, but "the angel Gabriel", so for some Protestants (e.g., Billy Graham) he's not an archangel. I suppose this means that for some Protestants, (some) regular angels have names.

  98. Colinski said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

    @kip I am also surprised that there has been so little mention of Mohammed as a first name thus far. When that British teacher was charged with blasphemy in Sudan for allowing her class to name a teddy bear Mohammed, I recall hearing discussion of how odd it was that it was blasphemous to name an inanimate object Mohammed but not to name one's child the same. I also recall it mentioned that the only Islamic culture in which Mohammed is frowned upon as a boy's name is Turkey, where parents instead opt for the Turkish version, "Mehmet". I can't say for certain how accurate this is.

  99. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

    Is the term 'archangel' actually used in the Bible at all? I've just checked the obvious passages were Michael and Gabriel are mentioned, and it doesn't seem to be. (Raphael only features in the Apocrypha, which I don't have to hand.)

    It's not, in any case, surprising that Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, being the only angels named in the Bible, are the most widely used when giving names. (Though Uriel is also used. Though he's not in any generally accepted scripture, I believe he's quite important in Jewish tradition, and does feature in the book of Enoch.)

  100. Stephen Jones said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    I have also heard that this is an American phenomenon. Meaning Spanish people don't name their sons Jesus, only Spanish-speaking Latin Americans

    You've heard wrong; Jesus, is a very common first name in Spain.

  101. wally said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    My grandfather went by the nickname Zeus to close friends and family, and I have a friend – the daughter of an astronaut – who I believe has the given name of Mars, tho she goes by Marcia.

  102. empty said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

    I encountered "Minerva" as a given name before I knew that it was a deity's name. I don't know how common it ever was, but I think that my grandmother (born in rural Vermont 110+ years ago) had a sister Minerva.

  103. Aron said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

    "Cynthia" as an epithet of Artemis comes to mind, thought that's probably in the same category as "Doris". For what it's worth, I know a woman who named her daughter Luna and her son Apollo. I'm not sure that makes those names any more common, but there you are.

    "Saturn – what a great name for a family car. (Room for six kids inside!)"
    LOL

  104. Jerome said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

    One reason Jesus may be popular as a Spanish name may be this. A sizable proportion of the Spanish population is descended from forcibly converted or secret Jews — probably a larger proportion than in any European country. Despite converting, these people were periodically oppressed and discriminated against for hundreds of years afterward. They compensated, and tried to protect themselves, by using last names like De Santos (of the Saints) and so on. Maybe they also compensated by naming all their kids Jesus and Maria.

  105. Ray Girvan said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    Carl: I know y'all are kidding, but for the record, Mazda is a version of the Japanese family name 松田 matsu-da pine-field. No relation to the on going war against primordial evil and darkness.

    Mazda themselves say they chose it for the twin allusions:

    The name Mazda stems from Ahura Mazda, the highest Zoroastrian God of reason who granted wisdom and united man, nature and the other gods.

    It also closely resembles the sound of the company founder's name, Mr Jujiro Matsuda.

  106. (Baldur-Poseidon) Laxman Sivaramakrishnan said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    That should cover it. Baldur-Poseidon I made up, the rest is a real
    Indian cricketer and commentator.

    South Indian names are often all given, no family name

    Laxman — Father's given name, used as disambiguator

    Sivaramakrishnan — own given name, including splendid trifecta of
    south Indian gods.

  107. nacbrie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

    For what it's worth, I was at school with an Áine, two Cliodhnas, a Fodhla (from 'Fódla'), an Étáin and a Maeve (from 'Medb'), and I've friends called Aengus, Olwyn, etc. Many Irish names are taken from the wider mythology (e.g. Aoife, Emer, Sadhbh, etc.)

    My question is when did 'Ailbhe' (a fifth centure bishop of a decidedly male persuasion) become a girl's name?

  108. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    Another example where the original pagan-God-etymology should not necessarily be presumed to be motivating the naming choice: whoever gave Tuesday Weld her nickname (wikipedia says a young cousin couldn't articulate "Susan" and substituted "Tu-Tu") may not have intended to honor the Anglo-Saxon deity Tiw. And I believe the more common girls' names April, May, and June all have some Roman goddess or other hiding in the etymology although I haven't taken time to double-check.

    You can perhaps get some insight into how the religious origin or associations of certain names are perceived by looking at the naming practices of non-Christian groups in U.S. society who may have assimilated to the point of wanting their kids to have "American-sounding" names that don't specifically identify them with their ethnic group, but are inclined to avoid names perceived as too explicitly "Christian."

    So as example one, I have heard it claimed from several sources (and it fits my own perhaps-confirmation-bias-tainted anecdotal impression), that even comparatively assimilated U.S. Ashkenazim tend (as a statistical matter, compared to the level of usage of the same names by their goyische neighbors) to avoid the names Peter, James (as opposed to Jacob) and John (as opposed to Jon/Jonathan) for their sons. But they don't disproportionately avoid (so goes the same claim, which may or may not be supported by published empirical research) some of the names borne by other of Christ's Apostles, such as Matthew, Philip, or Thomas. (Outside the New Testament, Philip was a preexisting pagan name, e.g. Alexander the Great's dad, but I don't think you can say that for the others.) Perhaps for whatever reason, not necessarily based on any objective historical facts, the two groups of names are simply not perceived as carrying the same degree of explicitly Christian baggage. And of course it's a self-fulfilling prophecy because once enough people know a sufficient critical mass of non-Christian Matts, Phils, and Toms the New Testament background will become irrelevant to popular perception.

    Example two is naming patterns by assimilated/assimilating Asian-Americans. I saw a list a few years back that had top 10 names given to boys and girls broken down by racial categories, and one of the top Asian-American boy names was Kevin. I found this a bit odd in a funny-you-don't-look-Irish sense, since I can think of exactly one white Kevin I've known in my life with an unequivocally non-Irish surname (and I think his mother's maiden name may have been Irish). But it presumably sounds authentically "American," and the acta of St. Kevin (there must have been one, right? – the Irish had hundreds if not thousands of saints not particularly well-known in the wider Church) are probably known only to specialists in Celtic ecclesiastical history, so there's likely no perceived religious baggage.

  109. mitchell said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

    kip: Based on my knowledge, naming something Allah is extremely blasphemous and is never done.

    However, as the secondary part of a name, it's more common – Allah is present in the stereotypical Arab name Abdullah, of which the Arabic form is "`abdu l-llah", or "servant of God". This is what's known as an idafa phrase, in which the first part of the phrase receives the definite case-marking but without the definite article, and the second part of the phrase recieves the definite article and definite case-marking (and in formal Arabic, is placed in the genitive). The vowel of the definite article (al) elides with the final vowel of the first word, so "Abdul" is really a non-word meaning "Servant of the…".

    A common Arabic naming formation is "`abd" + one of the 99 names of God – al-Jabbar, al-Karim, ar-Rahman (in Arabic sandhi, certain initial consonants cause the l of the definite article to elide), etc. Additionally, Arabs may be given one of these names, albeit only without the definite article.

  110. Kimberly said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

    As an earlier poster said, Christos is a common name in modern Greece. Something I find interesting though is that in Greek culture, it is considered to be acceptable to name a child Christos. It is considered to be a very "lucky" name. In other Orthodox Christian countries (notably Russia), even the name of the mother of Christ, Mary, is considered too sacred to give to a child. Children named Mary there are said to be named after other Biblical Marys or Saint Marys

  111. Trond Engen said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

    The Scandinavian custom of using the names of Germanic gods stems from 19th century National Romanticism. I suspect the Greek situation to be parallel.

    The ancient Scandinavian tradition was to use names of (some) gods as name elements, Þórlákr, Ingvild, and in (what originally were) nicknames, Þórir, Inga. Some of both groups survived along with the Christian names, some were lost and revived, and some survived with regular developments and were revived in a more original-looking form with modern reading pronunciation.

  112. Jongseong Park said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

    Licia: until recently there were legal constraints over names that were described as "ridiculous, shameful, against public morality, public order, national sentiment or religious sentiment" or were geographical names like Asia.

    This made me google Asia Argento, and it turns out when she was born (1975), the city registry office in Rome refused to acknowledge Asia as an official name, and instead inscribed her name as Aria. Interesting.

    Kimberly: In other Orthodox Christian countries (notably Russia), even the name of the mother of Christ, Mary, is considered too sacred to give to a child.

    Hristo (Христо) seems common enough in Bulgaria, though.

  113. Alec said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

    My impression is that Spanish speakers usually refer to the second person of the Trinity as “Jesucristo” rather than “Jesús”. Am I correct?

  114. Army1987 said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    In Italy, as far as I know, Gesù (Jesus) is never used as a person name, but Giosuè (Joshua) is. (It is very rare nowadays, but Giosuè Carducci was a famous 19th-century poet who won a Nobel Prize in Literature.)
    The middle name of my sister (born 1991) is Tabata, after a character in the "Bewitched" TV series. So much for "ridiculous, shameful, against public morality, public order, national sentiment or religious sentiment" names…

  115. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

    @Aron: Was your friend a Sailor Moon fan by any chance?

  116. Kaja said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:15 pm

    @Ted S.

    The Slavic names you mention don't fall into quite the same category, I don't think. They include "God" ("bóg" in Polish, which is the language I'm most familiar with), but are actually compounds that usually refer to the name-owner's relationship to God. So:

    Bogusław/Bogusłlawa = "one who glorifies God"
    Boguchwał/Boguchwała = "one who praises God"
    Bugumił/Bogumiła = "one who loves God"
    Bogdan/Bogdana = "gift of God"
    …and so forth.

    The tradition in Poland, at least, is to name baptised children after saints (and an overwhelming majority of Poles are baptised). Variations on "Mary" are very common ("Marja" or "Maria" for women, "Marian" for men), but nobody gets "Jesus". Some pagan ones do get in, though (e.g. "Brigida") on account of the sheer amount of saints, many of whom have pagan origins.

  117. Kaja said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

    Yikes. Please ignore awkward phrasing and typos (there is no "l" in Bogusława) in the above comment.

  118. Peter Taylor said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    @Alec, yes; I suspect this is to disambiguate.

  119. Tom Vinson said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    A quick look at the online Landnámabók yielded these names. Each occurred only once or twice unless otherwise indicated. (These are in modern Icelandic spelling.)
    Þór- compounds (very common, but always as a prefix)
    Ás- compounds (common)
    Freygerður
    Vilbaldur
    Tyrfingur (? should be long y vowel)
    Yngvar
    Yngvildur (18)
    Bragi
    Þorbjörn loki ("loki" is not the actual name)
    Iðunn (3)

    (I have no idea where the extra line break before Iðunn is coming from.)
    This book is the closest to a history/chronicle of early Iceland that we have. In modern Icelandic names Þór- and Ás- are still widely used as prefixes. Guð- (the Christian form of "god") is also very common.
    For modern usage the Icelandic telephone book would be a good source. At least in the 1970's there was one book for the entire country, in order by given name.

  120. mollymooly said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

    @Kaja: The Slavic names you mention … are actually compounds that usually refer to the name-owner's relationship to God.
    Praise-God Barebone is quite a well-known English historical figure. His original name was Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned, which I'm guessing the Italian and French authorities might have nixed.

    @nacbrie: My question is when did 'Ailbhe' (a fifth centure bishop of a decidedly male persuasion) become a girl's name?
    "When" I dunno, but "why" is probably by conflation with Alva. Daire used to be a girl's name but seems to have been conflated with the boy's name (Mac)Dara.

  121. Bill Walderman said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

    According to the Social Security Administration, Jesus was the 79th most popular name for male babies born in the US in 2008 for whom applications for Social Security cards were submitted. Thor, Apollo and Zeus didn't make the top 100. This suggests that Christianity is edging out Paganism in the US.

    http://www.socialsecurity.gov/cgi-bin/babyname.cgi

  122. Bill Walderman said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

    'Bogdan/Bogdana = "gift of God"'

    This is a loan-translation of Theodore, isn't it? I think the Hebrew names Jonathan and Nathaniel might have been the original "gift of God" names. Perhaps some of the other Slavic Bogo- names also have parallels in Greek and/or Hebrew.

  123. Lugubert said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

    Theophylact wrote: "Isn't Ford still making the Mercury?"
    Question is, is it a reference to the god or to the metal?

  124. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

    Spanish speakers usually refer to the second person of the Trinity as “Jesucristo” rather than “Jesús”

    In French, both "Jésus" and "Jésus-Christ" are used to refer to him. The second form is more likely in a religious context, while just "Jésus" would be used with children, for instance, with reference to the Christ Child, "l'Enfant Jésus" or more colloquially "le petit Jésus". But it could also be used in a historical work which was not specifically religious, for instance in a biography ("Vie de Jésus") or a study of the period.

    The word "Christ" is never used by itself, as it is not a name in French. If not preceded by the name "Jésus", it is pronounced [krist] in the phrase "le Christ", but in "Jésus-Christ" it is normally pronounced [kri].

  125. Amy Stoller said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

    Ajay: According to a couple of baby-names sites I checked, MInerva was a fairly popular name for baby girls in the USA, from the beginning of the 20th century until about the 1970s, when its use suddenly dropped dramatically. My guess is it was even more popular in the 19th century, but the sites don't seem to have statistics from before the 20th. One of the sites says it's a very popular name in Catalonia in the present day.

    Can't help you with Apollo, I'm afraid; except for Apollo Ohno, I don't know of any.

  126. Jonathan Badger said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

    I know two people named Minerva. I'm not sure if that means it is common here, though. I live in California — besides the general oddness that is California, there is the fact that Minerva features on the State Seal of California (the symbolism being just as Minerva was born full grown, California became a US state without going through the usual probation as a territory).

  127. Jonny Rain said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

    A very useful tool:

    http://www.babynamewizard.com/voyager

  128. David said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

    One counterexample to the non-use of Jesus in English-speaking places is James Jesus Angleton, uber-WASP CIA chief.

  129. Sol said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    Not that it's not an interesting question, but I think this might be a case of cherrypicking. There are lots of theophoric names that are used commonly today, and lots that aren't, but have been in the past. There are also lots of non-theophoric names that are used commonly today, and lots that aren't. I would be willing to bet that, for the most part, it's the same process that makes non-theophoric names go out of a style that does the same for theophoric names.

  130. Craig said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    To riff on @Acilius and @Spell Me Jeff's points: the LDS also tend to use middle and first initials a lot more to distinguish themselves from their namesakes, patterning such after past leaders' names like Joseph Fielding Smith and Joseph F. Smith, who used the extra names to distinguish themselves from founder Joseph Smith.

    Back when I was a Mormon (convert), I used my first initial and middle name, but now I only go by my middle name and never bring up the initial. I reserve use of my first name for legal documents and such.

  131. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

    @Boris: "Navin" looks odd for "son of Nun". If I had to guess, I'd guess that it's a Russianized Hellenized form of Hebrew navi' (or however anyone wants to transliterate it), meaning "prophet". Joshua may not have prophesied, but he's in the part of the Bible known to Jews as "Prophets" (nvi'im), and I could imagine "prophet" as a general term for "venerable Old Testament figure".

    @artful dodger: In America it's common for Catholics to give their children non-saintly first names and saint's names as middle names. And no priest would knowingly violate the requirement of having a saint's name in there. I was at the Catholic christening of a girl named Ashley—her middle name is a saint's name—and the priest asked "St. Ashley" to protect her. I'm pretty sure there's no such saint.

  132. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

    Jerry: I could imagine "prophet" as a general term for "venerable Old Testament figure".

    In French there is the descriptive phrase une barbe de prophète 'a prophet's beard', meaning a long, full, often grey or white beard, such as is often seen among the Orthodox priesthood. This must correspond to what the popular imagination thought those most "venerable Old Testament figures" must have looked like.

  133. Liz said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

    I was quite taken aback when I first discovered that Jesus was a normal name in Spain, but reassured when I realised the different stress. Couldn't quite imagine saying "Cup of tea, Jesus?" Brought up in north west England at a time when there were residual hostilities between Catholic and Protestant, learned early to divine religion through naming. (Shamefully anachronistic seeming now, but I am not certain it has gone) And in Troubled Ireland, the wrong name in the wrong part of town could get you into serious trouble. As Seamus Heaney has it, "Norman, Ken and Sidney signalled Prod/And Seamus (call me Sean) was sure-fire Pape…. "

    I kept my own children's names as bland as possible – though come to think about it, both are saint's names.

  134. Kaja said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

    @ Bill Walderman: This is a loan-translation of Theodore, isn't it? […] Perhaps some of the other Slavic Bogo- names also have parallels in Greek and/or Hebrew.

    You're right on Bogusław/Theodore. The source I used to confirm it (Baza Imion, a Polish-language name database hosted by a dictionary publisher) doesn't list similar connections for any of the other Bog- names. The sheer proliferation of them in Polish ("Boguwola" – "will of God" and "Bogusąd" – "judgement of God" are two others I've just found) suggests that it may be a naming convention that took the basic form of an initial borrowing–Bogusław–and ran with it.

  135. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

    My mother's parents were from a village in Southern France where the community was divided into Catholics and Protestants, and being of opposite religions they got married (just before WWI) in spite of strong opposition from both families. Once I was old enough to notice these things, I realized that there were religiously-based naming patterns which explained the names of our relatives: Abel was a Protestant name, so were Eva and Maria, but Marie was Catholic, while Anna could be either.

  136. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    I'm thinking that the middle name of James Jesus Angleton may have had something to do with his parents having met in Mexico and his mother's maiden name being Carmen Mercedes Moreno.

    The Anglophone taboo against naming kids Jesus doesn't extend to institutions. Both Oxford and Cambridge have a Jesus College, and I have a vague sense of having read Oxbridge anecdotes in which this led to comical misunderstandings by outsiders of particular statements about such-and-such student or teacher being a Jesus man or coming from or going to Jesus etc. Religious schools in the U.S. sometimes lead to comical or odd language in the sports pages, such as a story about high school girls' basketball headlined "Christ the King Ranked #1."

  137. Mark F. said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:01 pm

    Thomas Westgard —

    Your comment leaves me completely baffled. You write

    People are happy to think of Baldur as Jesus, or Thor as Sampson, even though Jesus is a far more complex and interesting character than Baldur, and the lessons of Thor's actions are completely different from those of Sampson.

    Really? Are most people even familiar enough with Norse mythology to have that kind of a mapping? My take is that, in the Southeastern US where I live, few people even know who Baldur is, and those who do certainly don't identify him with Jesus.

  138. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

    Oh, and for why the Russians call Joshua son of Nun what they do, see the comment thread at http://www.languagehat.com/archives/003584.php. (Executive summary: they're just following the Greek of the Septuagint.)

  139. Maneki Nekko said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:18 pm

    James Jesus Angleton's middle name came from his mother, who was Mexican.

  140. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:43 pm

    Only in Spanish-speaking countries, I think, is Salvador common as a boy's name. Here in NZ I have met one boy, the son of immigrant parents, who answered to the name Saviour, but it did sound odd.

  141. Steve Morrison said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 12:07 am

    Mazda also used to be the brand name of a light bulb.

  142. Nanani said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 1:00 am

    @marie-lucie: Azrael was also the name of Gargamel's cat. Might that be why the name rings a bell?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_characters_in_The_Smurfs

  143. marie-lucie said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 1:17 am

    Nanani, the Smurf series ("les Schtroumpf") started after I had moved across the Atlantic, so even though I know about them, I never got to know them. So I did not know about Gargamel and Azrael. I know I have read the name Azrael, but I don't remember where.

  144. KCinDC said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 1:26 am

    Simon, isn't Salvatore used as a first name in Italy?

  145. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 1:50 am

    Yes of course. And I dare say there's a corresponding name in Portuguese. No doubt I should have said Catholic countries, or Latin countries, or something. It's not a Germanic or Protestant tradition, is it? Nor Celtic, so far as I know.

  146. Peter Taylor said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 5:06 am

    J. W. Brewer wrote:

    The Anglophone taboo against naming kids Jesus doesn't extend to institutions. Both Oxford and Cambridge have a Jesus College, and I have a vague sense of having read Oxbridge anecdotes in which this led to comical misunderstandings by outsiders of particular statements about such-and-such student or teacher being a Jesus man or coming from or going to Jesus etc.

    Cambridge also has Christ's (formerly God's House), Corpus Christi, Emmanuel, Trinity, and Trinity Hall; Oxford has Christ Church, Corpus Christi, and Trinity.

    Members of Trinity College, Cambridge are described as Trinitarians, which has always struck me as an unfortunate choice: the most famous Trinitarian of all time refused to sign the 39 Articles because he wasn't a Trinitarian. (I refer to Isaac Newton, who was an Aryan).

  147. Kenny Easwaran said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 5:25 am

    This does sound like a question for Laura Wattenberg, who runs the Baby Name Wizard mentioned above.

    Also, just as Slavic languages have "Bog-" names, there's a bunch of "Gott-" names in German, like Gottfried, Gottlob, and so on. (Those ones just come to mind because of Leibniz and Frege, but I'm sure there have been many other Germans with similar names.)

  148. Mark Etherton said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 6:30 am

    @Peter Taylor

    Isaac Newton's refusal to sign the 39 Articles was presumably because he was an Arian, rather than an Aryan.

  149. Peter Taylor said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 6:50 am

    Oops. Yes.

  150. Słowosław said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 7:11 am

    Is there a connection between Theodore and the Slavic name Todor? I used to work with a Bulgarian called Todor who would often introduce himself as Theodore to English-speakers.

    Trinity Hall, Cambridge is (was?) usually called Tit Hall by undergrads, undermining the religious significance of the name somewhat.

  151. Karen said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 8:30 am

    Todor, as you surmise, is the Bulgarian version of Theodor. Fyodor and Teodor are the Russian versions.

  152. Karen said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 8:34 am

    I think Thomas Westgard (when he says "People are happy to think of Baldur as Jesus, or Thor as Sampson") is referring to the kind of person (usually Christian, but the Romans did the same thing all over Europe, didn't they?) who decides that some strange religion is just a "shadow" of the One True Way, and that all the gods are shadow copies of the prophets, heroes, and god(s) of their own.

    Many Christians ascribe all foreign religions to the devil, but some try to find redeeming qualities in them. Sort of "Hmmm, yes. I see: your Baldur is just the same person as Jesus! So you're not *really* damned, just mistaken…"

  153. Karen said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 8:40 am

    Kaja says @ Bill Walderman, who asked "This is a loan-translation of Theodore, isn't it? […] Perhaps some of the other Slavic Bogo- names also have parallels in Greek and/or Hebrew."

    You're right on Bogusław/Theodore. The source I used to confirm it (Baza Imion, a Polish-language name database hosted by a dictionary publisher) doesn't list similar connections for any of the other Bog- names.

    But "-slav" isn't gift, it's "praise". There are a host of Slavic names with that final element (Boleslav, Miroslav, Vladislav, etc), and they're all X+praise (at least in my Dictionary of Personal Names (Mitrofanova). Boguslav is not in her dictionary – probably because it's not a Russian name – but Bogdan is, and that's the one she calls a calque from Greek's Theodore.

  154. Karen said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 8:42 am

    Hit "send" too soon. I meant to add, is the -sław suffix glossed as "gift" in other Polish names, or was this an error in the original calquing?

  155. Bill Walderman said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 8:53 am

    "the priest asked "St. Ashley" to protect her. I'm pretty sure there's no such saint." Apparently, there is:

    http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=550

    'The sheer proliferation of them in Polish ("Boguwola" – "will of God" and "Bogusąd" – "judgement of God" are two others I've just found) suggests that it may be a naming convention that took the basic form of an initial borrowing–Bogusław–and ran with it.'

    There are plenty of Hebrew names that begin with Jo- or Jeho- or end with -el. I think that's one source of the naming convention. Jehoshaphat, for example, means something like "judgment of god."

    There are also many Greek names that begin with Theo-, e.g., Theodotus ("given by god"), Theophilus ("beloved of god," or maybe active "lover of god"), Theodulus ("servant of god"), Theophylact ("protected by god"). Some of these are actually pre-Christian: Theocritus, for example, meaning something like "chosen by the god," is the name of one of the greatest of the Greek poets.

    Germanic names beginning with Theo- (actually Theod-), e.g., Theobald, Theodoric ("ruler of the people"), etc.are from a root meaning "people," the same root that appears in "Deutsch" and Italian "tedesco."

  156. Słowosław said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 8:57 am

    As far as I know, -sław in Polish names means "…who praises" – e.g. Bogusław "he who praises god", Mirosław "peace praiser". At least, this is what my parents told me. (Which is why I concocted this screenname. According to Baza Imion, my real name means "simpleton".)

    I thought Bogdan meant "god given" (cf Czech Bohdan, Bulgarian Bozhidar).

  157. Słowosław said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    I've also just remembered the Polish name Bożena, which seems to have the same etymology.

  158. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    Azrael is by tradition the angel of death; he appears in that capacity in various imaginative works. I immediately think of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (where Azrael is in charge of death at a universal level, and hence is the superior of Death, whose responsibility is confined to the Discworld). But I'm sure there are others.

  159. Mark F said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 9:51 am

    So it sounds like nobody really has any information at all about why naming kids after Jesus is acceptable in Iberian languages, almost alone among European languages. There was one conjecture that it started with forced Jewish converts trying to prove their Christianness, which only seems to work if there weren't already a taboo against using "Jesus" as a name. Surely there's historical evidence about when it started in Spain? A priori, it could have been a practice widespread across Europe that only survived in Spain and Portugal, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I'm not familiar with any people in England or Germany, say, being named after Jesus at any point in time.

  160. Cecily said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 10:14 am

    Returning to the original question, there is no easy way to know how many parents are naming their children after gods. Counting the prevalence of individual names is not a good proxy.

    How many of those who name their sons Joshua nowadays are aware that it's an Old Testament name, let alone that it has links to Jesus?

    Similarly, many of those who choose the increasingly popular Freya probably know nothing about Norse mythology.

  161. quodlibet said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 10:40 am

    What about the many Hebrew names beginning with Jo or ending wtih el (including, of course, Joel)?

  162. Michael said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    see what happens when you ask for input?…
    In 1907 a gentleman called Henry Preserved Smith (yes, that wa shis name) wrote in the Am. J. Semitic Languages & Literatures an article about the use of theophorous names (vol. 24 (1), 34-61.

  163. Ken Brown said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 11:40 am

    Army1987 said: "The middle name of my sister (born 1991) is Tabata, after a character in the "Bewitched" TV series. So much for "ridiculous, shameful, against public morality, public order, national sentiment or religious sentiment" names…"

    That might be where your parents first heard the name, but its an old Semitic name used by both Jews and Muslims and now and again in English (usually spelled "Tabitha") Means a gazelle or a fawn or a small deer. Its in the New Testament – Acts chapter 9 – where it is translated as Dorkas.

    mollymooly said: Praise-God Barebone is quite a well-known English historical figure. His original name was Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned, which I'm guessing the Italian and French authorities might have nixed.

    Apparently that sort of name was never common, but was least uncommon in the south-east corner of England, Kent, Surrey and Sussex. And widely mocked everywhere else.

    Many cultures use long descriptive names like that though. I know some Yoruba people who have very long names, or rather sets of names. One baby was given something like 17 names at a naming ceremony I attended (I counted), and other was baptised with a name of over 20 syllables (I counted – and the vicar had to try twice) and someone else had a name that I was told translates as somethibg like as "My grandmother praised God on the day I was conceived" Words for God ro teh Holy Spirit seem quite common in these names – though I haven't noticed Jesus being mentioned yet.

    But in practice no-one ever seems called by such names (well, not in my hearing anyway) and they aren't used in government official documents like birth or marriage certificates. The child, or their parents, chooses one or more often two syllables to use as a nickname. Or possibly they start from the short name they want to use and add to it – I don;t know for sure. Antyway, the part of London I live in has lots of Igbo and Yoruba people with names like Afo, Ajay, Chigor, Ojay, Sade, Sola, Yinka, which are in some sense elements of much longer names. Of course English speakers do the same on a smaller scale. There is some sense in which my "real" name is Ken, its the one almost eveyone has used since I was born – but on my birth certificate its just the first syllable from the second of four names.

  164. marie-lucie said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 11:50 am

    "Salvatore, Salvador" ('Saviour')

    The French equivalent is "Sauveur", and there are places and churches named "Saint-Sauveur", so it is possible to use this word as a first name, but it is not common. The only person I know of who was called by that name belonged to a Jewish family originally from Algeria (he was the uncle of one of my classmates). Most North African Jews – at least educated ones – had French first names and Arabic or at least Semitic last names.

  165. jeffry house said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 11:56 am

    I think the Moorish influence is the best guess for why Spanish naming practice uses "Jesus" and others do not.

    As for the Joshua-Jesus question, it appears that the names were in fact related, but that after the crucifixion and deification of Jesus, Jews stopped using the name Jesus in order to not be thought Christian.

  166. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

    There seems to be some disagreement about the names of the Barebone family: some sources say that If-Jesus-Christ… (known as 'Damned' for short) was Praise-God's son, while I am sure I learnt as a child that they were brothers. (Praise-God's son, whether or not originally known as Damned, later gained some note as an economist under the name of Nicholas Barbon.)

  167. JR said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    I suspect there is an unspoken taboo about naming people "Jesus" in the US.

    I have some recollection that in the antebellum South, white slaveowners would give their slaves ironically lofty classical names like "Jupiter", possibly as a form of humiliation. I've wondered before if this sort of thing was the origin of the conventionally African American "LaToya".

  168. lh said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

    I have a child named Brigit and another named after a Norse god, and the names appealed to me because they have ancient origins that predate Christianity.

    Can the Chris names (Christopher, Christian, etc) be considered to be given in the same spirit as Jesus, since they make direct reference to Christ? (I know a Jew called Christine, and it puzzles me to no end.)

  169. Mr Fnortner said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    I'm still reeling from the image of 15 Jesuses per mile in Spain.

  170. Michael B said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

    My college anthro prof Dr. Alice James ( http://webspace.ship.edu/ajames/ ) has (had?) an ongoing research project studying inbreeding in small populations. One of her research sites was in the Aegean. She said her family trees were full of Apollos, Dianas, Zeuses, Heras, etc. She might be able to provide you with more information.

  171. Amber said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    My teenaged son is Frey. I grew up with a very common name that sounds very much like two other very common names. Being the only Frey anyone we know has ever run across, my son never had the problems I associate with a too-common name. At the same time, he has a name most people can pronounce and spell without difficulty.

    Interestingly, we have run across a handful of Freyas and Freyjas his age.

  172. Kaja said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

    @Karen and Słowosław

    You are both right. It turns out I was waaay distracted while writing my response to Bill Walderman and randomly substituted one of the Bog- names for another without thinking about it. Consider it a particularly bad typo.

    The correct match for "Theodore" is "Bogdan". And there is at least one other set of Polish-Greek calques : "Bogumił" and "Theophilus".

    In my original post, I translated "Bogusław" as "one who glorifies God", as the noun "sława" means "fame" or "glory". "Praises" is fine as well.

  173. mollymooly said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

    Irish-born John J Flanagan was Olympic hammer champion 1900-04-08. Apparently his middle name was Jesus. I've never heard of another Irish person with the name. (Giolla Íosa yes, Íosa no.) Neither has the 1911 Census, though that mostly records first-names only. Mary was a common middle name for Catholic boys, but in that case I guess the reason it wasn't a first name was embarrassment rather than sacrilege.

  174. marie-lucie said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

    Mary was a common middle name for Catholic boys, but in that case I guess the reason it wasn't a first name was embarrassment rather than sacrilege.

    The reason for having Mary as one of the names of Catholic Irish boys is the same as for including Marie as one of the two or more names of French boys in the past: to make sure that the saint so honoured would extend special protection to the child, not to intend that the name should be used in addressing or referrring to the boy. As a first or at least usual name, intended for actual use in address or reference, Mary (Marie, Maria, depending on the language) could only be for a female, like Elizabeth or Rachel. There could be no more thought of naming a boy Mary than naming a girl John or David.

  175. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 1:18 am

    @J. W. Brewer: Thanks for the answer on "Iisus Navin".

    @Bill Walderman: Thanks for St. Ralph Ashley. I was surprised to see that site you linked to and another calling him "St. Ashley", as I'd previously only seen first names following "Saint". But now I'm seeing hits for "St. Bosco", to my surprise.

    I'm fairly sure Ashley's parents didn't know there was a saint by that name. My impression at that moment of the christening was that the priest was thinking, "Wait a second…. Well, if that's her name, there must be a saint." But I could be wrong.

  176. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 1:40 am

    Trivia: Wikipedia says the notorious American punk rocker GG Allin was originally named Jesus Christ Allin. The father was apparently crazier than the son.

    ("Notorious" doesn't mean I'd heard of him before today.)

  177. Tikhon said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 2:04 am

    1. The common modern Greek name of Christos is spelled with an eta, and means something akin to the English word kind. It is the word used by St Paul when he says "Love is patient, love is kind." It is not related to Christos, spelled with a iota, whose denotation is well-known. The difference in accentuation has already been noted in a previous comment.

    2. One should also differentiate between contemporary names derived directly from Greek deities in neo-classical fashion, and names which only accidentally have their origin in pagan Greece, my name being an example. Both are equally subject to trends, but the latter occur in proportion to a people's relationship to the formative period of Christianity, when most of the saints had pagan Greek names, the Church being confined to the Hellenized world. Thus they are common in the Orthodox churches of the Greeks, Slavs, etc., less so in the Western Catholic churches, and virtually non-existent in the Protestant churches.

  178. Tikhon said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 2:10 am

    Dmitri,

    Leonidas is a well-beloved martyr.

  179. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 2:51 am

    Joseph-Maria for a boy, Maria-Joseph for a girl (and the corresponding names in French, Italian, Spanish, etc.) are, or at least used to be, names quite commonly given to children in Catholic families. I have a cousin so named, and nicknamed "Ma-Jo".

  180. marie-lucie said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 8:42 am

    In France you can have Jean-Marie for a boy (= John-Mary), and for a girl Marie-Pierre (= Mary-Peter) or Marie-Josèphe or Marie-Josée (with a feminine form of Joseph, like Maria Josefa in Spanish). The first component of these double names is the one showing the sex of the "namee".

  181. Sigve said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 8:51 am

    Here are some name counts from Norway, for a small selection of Norse gods. They seem to fall into three groups.

    The first are common names, which don't evoke the Norse god at all. Most wouldn't know that these were the names of gods, except for Tor.

    Gerd: 16982
    Magne: 9718
    Tor: 22655
    Siv: 7291
    Vidar: 9628

    Then we have the names which are not so common, and where there is a felt relation to the Norse god (if one is familiar with the god in question). The counts seem to correlate to some degree with how prominent the God is. Odin gets alot, but Sigyn, who noone knows who is, gets few.

    Balder: 156
    Brage: 1678
    Frigg: 20
    Frøy: 8
    Frøy/Frøya: 69/314
    Hermod: 509
    Idun/Idunn: 595/343
    Loke: 147
    Nanna: 583
    Njord: 29
    Odin: 1551
    Sigyn: 23
    Tyr: 8
    Urd: 51
    Vilje: 83 (female, although male god)

    Then there are those with very few or none. Most of these are obscure Gods. I only knew Heimdall and Hel. Hel is the goddess of the underworld (and the christian hell is 'helvete'), so it's perhaps not suprising that it's not a popular name. Heimdall, though, is a known god with a positive reputation, so I would have thought he would have had at least some named after him (by eccentric parents, for sure, but there are some of those).

    Eyr: <4
    Forsete: <4
    Heimdall: <4
    Hel: <4
    Hod: <4
    Rån: <4
    Skade: <4
    Skuld: <4
    Ull: <4
    Vale: <4
    Ve: <4
    Verdande: <4
    Æge: <4

    The name counts are from http://www.ssb.no/navn/

  182. Thomas Westgard said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 11:15 am

    Mark and Karen are both correct – Mark is right in thinking that most people who hear the name Loki are in touch with their ignorance in the best possible way, and so don't really project anything onto the name, good or bad. Karen is correct in stating that, among those people who believe they know something about it, it is usually Christians who bring that wonderful combination of ignorance and perceived superiority to rewrite all mythoi (had to look it up) in Christian terms. All of the above based on my anecdotal experience.

  183. M. Packman said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    I did know a guy named after Brahma, though in a circuitous fashion. When I was studying Tamil in India, we had an office gofer named Harikumar. One day, one of our teachers quizzed us: who /is/ Harikumar, the son of Hari/Vishnu? I said Ayyappan, born of Vishnu's female form Mohini. That wasn't it. Think, she said, of what comes out of Vishnu's navel. The lotus! And who's seated on the lotus? Brahma! Theophorous indeed. Brahma or Phrom is also an element in some Thai names. I was greatly amused to know a 4 year old whose nickname referred to the creator of the universe.

    Also, I'm puzzled about not seeing Siva/Shiva in names. Tamil Saivite names include Sivan all the time. If you include titles like Sankaran (the conch-bearer), Natarajan (the lord of the dance) and such, it becomes, like, everybody.

    Regarding the name Tabitha, you should have heard the hullabaloo in the family when my sister decided to give that name to her firstborn. I'm from the post-Bewitched generation, so my parents had to the origin of their baggage. It made me think of calico quilts, kitties and classic Americana for some reason.

  184. Cleveland Kent Evans said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

    Here is a link to a post on behindthename.com from a Spanish (or Catalan) expert, Monica Font, regarding the question of Jesus as a given name in Spain:

    http://www.behindthename.com/bb/arcview.php?id=3541178&board=gen

    I'm skeptical myself as to whether "Damned Barebone" ever really existed. The fact that there is so much disagreement as to whether such a person was Praise-God Barebone himself, a brother of his, or an original name of his son Nicholas, seems to show that no one really has firm evidence from a baptismal record or the like that such a name was ever really used, and the whole idea of such a name may reasonably be attributed to jokes about Praise-God circulated by his opponents. Certainly there are other examples of lists of "Puritan names" from that time period which have turned out to be fictional.

  185. Kaja said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

    @ Simon Cauchi: Yep. It showed up in west-Slavic Catholic families as well–at least the more devout ones. My father (born in Czechoslovakia in the 50s to a very religious family), is Józef Maria (though the "Maria" is a middle name, like the Irish tradition mentioned above).

  186. Jupiter said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

    I'm a Jupiter, named for my grandfather, who was named for the Romanized Olympian god. His father had little knowledge of mythology but just liked the sound of it (and was a devout Christian)…. I suspect that "just liked the sound of it" is the reason for a lot of names. (I have an acquaintance named Medea, which seems like a terrible name to burden a girl with.)

    My parents' sense of humor then led them to name my sister Venus. Perhaps thankfully, they stopped at two kids.

  187. Mr Punch said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

    The U.S. Navy, which names some of its ships after cities, ran into trouble with the Catholic hierarchy when it decided to name a warship (submarine, I believe) after Corpus Christi, Texas.

    When Prince Charles married Princess Diana,the English (Catholic) novelist Anthony Burgess wrote that it would be inappropriate for a Christian queen to bear the name of a pagan goddess.

  188. Aaron Davies said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 2:05 am

    miscellaneous thoughts:

    somewhere, there must be a man with a spanish mother and swedish father, named "jesus christ".

    my understanding was always that "jesus" was simply a badly mangled version of "joshua", produced by passage from hebrew through aramaic, greek, and latin before getting to english. (taking the story literally, arguendo) we can assume that his mother ("miriam" to her friends, incidentally, same process applies) called him "yehoshua", which we normally render these days as "joshua". (messianic jews often say "yoshua" instead of "jesus", btw. i have no idea what textual authority, if any, they have for this.)

    @jupiter: i suppose it's a good thing your parent's didn't name your sister juno…

  189. Marion said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    My two cents from the Netherlands: I don't know anyone named after a god (personally, I mean. I know of some Diana's, but not in my immediate circle), though biblical or saint's names are very common. Interestingly, the increasing secularisation of our society means that many people of my generation probably do not associate a saint with their name, whereas in my parent's generation it was more common to be named after at least a couple saints or biblical figures, including Maria (and even as a boy's middle name.) The catch here is that a lot of traditional Dutch names may be derived from saint's names, but are not easily recognizable as such. (Like my grandmother, Catharina Maria Jacoba, known as Toos.)

    A lot of our names are derived from biblical and germanic myth/religion, or from plants and herbs, which in turn may have been derived from mythological beings.

  190. Clarissa said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 12:57 am

    I don't know anyone named Apollo, but I know a young woman named Minerva here in California. (Fittingly, she's very smart.)

    Wasn't Sophia also the name of a goddess of wisdom?

  191. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 11:19 am

    Wasn't Sophia also the name of a goddess of wisdom?

    Not so far as I know. My Lempriere (A Classical Dictionary) and Howatson (Oxford Companion to Classical Literature) have nothing about a pagan goddess Sophia.

    I suspect you are thinking of the Saint Sophia to which a church (now a museum) was dedicated in Constantinople. That Sophia was neither a goddess nor even a mortal woman, but Holy Wisdom.

    Thurston and Attwater, editors — in truth, rewriters — of Butler's Lives of the Saints, debunk the notion that a Roman widow St Wisdom and her three daughters SS. Faith, Hope, and Charity were martyrs at the time of the emperor Hadrian.

  192. Michael M said,

    December 16, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    Alex, I couldn't find Amir Harrak's "Pagan Traces in Syriac Onomastica" anywhere. Any suggestions?

  193. Jon Proppe said,

    December 16, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    Most of the old Norse gods live on in Iceland – in name, at least. A quick search of the on-line phone book (www.ja.is) yields 579 men named Baldur, 144 Óðins, etc. Almost 200 women are named Freyja and more than 800 are named Sif. The variations on Þór (Thor) are even more popular, reflecting the fact that he was the most revered god among the original settlers of the country more than 1000 years ago. Only a handful of names are not in use, such as that of the deceiver Loki who caused the death of Baldur. Remember that these figures are out of a total population of only 300,000.

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