What would Jesús do?

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This bit of social commentary comes from the Latino Rebels website. Like many brilliant ads, its impact is multiplied by the fact that, even after you've had the Aha! instant of "getting it", your mind continues to unspool a series of relevant inferences.

I bet if you sat down and started listing them, you could easily reel off a good dozen or so.

Most of these would involve stark contrasts and juxtapositionings, and the hinge from which they all flap, of course, is the double meaning of the name Jesus, which in Anglo culture can only ever refer to one person, while in many Hispanic countries the name Jesús is used as a name given to ordinary folk, much like José or Jorge. Clearly, the fellow with the gracious reply of "De nada" ("You're welcome") is named Jesús. (The issue of  this cultural difference in naming conventions has been explored here.)

I myself have only once ever encountered a non-Spanish use of Jesus as a given name, granted to a French-Canadian boy I knew in childhood who swam at my local pool in Montreal. We kids speculated that his parents had named him thus because of the prominent cross-shaped birthmark on his arm (one hopes that they didn't take this as a prediction of his eventual destiny). I thought this was rather an audacious name, especially for a culture whose taboos revolved so much around blasphemy; it was one thing for my French-Canadian peers to say "C'est tout fucké!" but quite another grave and groundable offense to utter words corresponding to religious objects, such as tabernacle or chalice. Nevertheless I had the impression that the boy's name seemed slightly less eye-poppingly outrageous to my French-speaking friends than my English ones. In any case, the kid was a damned brat. And his name was certainly incongruous enough in either culture to elicit chuckles all around when the lifeguard once finally exploded at him, shouting "Tabernacle! Arrête de niaiser, Jésus!"


  1. Vance Maverick said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:44 am

    Salvatore is common in Italian.

  2. twhit said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:47 am

    Love the picture!
    I find it interesting that the Spanish in this article is translated, but the French is not. Maybe I only notice because I speak Spanish but not French.

    [(js) Well, the French bit is partially untranslatable, or at least its full humorous effect is—but "Arrête de niaiser" simply means "Quit fooling around" or "Quit being stupid".]

  3. Victor said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 2:57 am

    Actually, what jumps at me is the two lit candles in the middle of the dinner table. I can't really discern what else is on the table, aside from tableware, a bowl of rolls and what looks like a medium turkey (or a giant chicken). I am not familiar with cultural anthropology of Christian table-side rituals, but I'm going to guess these are Protestants. So the candles look somewhat incongruous to the rest of the set-up. Had they been Catholic Latinos, particularly from New Mexico or neighboring Texas area, I would have made a guess as to the candles provenance.

  4. LDavidH said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 3:41 am

    Well, I'm not American, but a quick search for "Thanksgiving USA" on Google images reveals several tables with candles. In my home country (Sweden), candles are often used for ambience and festiveness, with no Catholic connotations whatsoever – in fact, virtually every Protestant church in Sweden would use candles every Sunday.

  5. C Thornett said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 4:03 am

    @Victor: The candles almost certainly have no religious significance. They are there, along with the rolled napkins, to indicate a special or more formal meal. The turkey probably indicates that the occasion is Thanksgiving; other food may be brought to the table later. A table crowded with food might have made an even better contrast with the second picture, however.

  6. Duncan said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 4:43 am

    @ Victor: In addition to the turkey (I believe you're right on that), the reddish dish would be cranberry sauce, and beside it appears to be a plate of stuffing. What you saw as the basket of rolls has some dark items in it too, possibly red baked potatoes, or maybe it's a basket of various muffins. Also note the two pies on the table in the corner (I hit the zoom effect here, if you're wondering at all the detail I'm seeing), with what appears to be a stack of disposable plates, for desert. There's also what might be either cream or gravy, covered, with a spoon handle sticking out. There's what might be the top of a juice jug at the bottom edge of the picture in front of the basket of rolls or muffins or whatever, altho there's not enough of it to be sure and it'd be incongruous in the otherwise formal setting; it should be in a pitcher. I can't make out what the two items on the bed of green (lettuce?) between the stuffing and cranberry sauce is, nor what that bright green dish is (too bright green for most salads, parsley-garnished potatoes, maybe? if so, that's a LOT of parsley!). Finally, between the pies and plates on the table in the corner appears to be… something else I can't make out, but my best guess is either a pitcher of OJ with a coat rack behind it, or strips of something, I'm not sure what (jerky?), hanging.

    Particularly given the captioning, I believe it's supposed to be a US Thanksgiving day dinner. That would explain the more formal setting than usual, possibly including the candles in some families/subcultures.

    The context would therefore be the traditional Thanksgiving dinner (Christmas and sometimes Easter have similar traditions, but this one works best with Thanksgiving, for obvious reasons) prayer offered before the meal.

    The social commentary is quite biting, since it's often just this type of (stereotypical, certainly, obviously not the whole class matching either way, but…) conservative that's funding the anti-illegal-immigrant political positions taken by some here in the US.

    (FWIW, I'm in Phoenix, AZ, with AZ infamous for its sb1070 law, much of which is held up in court at this time, that is one of the reasons AZ's economy has been hit worse than much of the US, since many even legal Latinos left over it, driving down real estate values and up rental vacancies, leaving stores, restaurants and auto-dealerships with far fewer customers, and farmers scrambling to find workers for their fields. As that law was the basis for similar laws introduced in other states, AZ's a focal point of that debate both as a border state and due to that law. FWIW, the prime sponsor of that law and leader of was it the state house or senate for many years, just failed a recall election and lost his position, so the political winds /do/ seem to be changing. Yes, this does get a bit political, but the whole picture with caption and thus any discussion thereof is political, no way around it.)

  7. Kylopod said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 4:44 am

    In the early '90s when I was in my mid-teens, there was a hit song by an artist called Jesus Jones, where "Jesus" is pronounced in the Anglo way. I see now through Wikipedia that it's the name of the group, not the singer, though I always assumed it wasn't the singer's real name anyway. Nevertheless, at that time I was familiar with the fact that when Jesus was a first name it was pronounced "hay-soos," and when I first saw the name of the band I remember thinking it was a singer named hay-soos Jones. I soon found out from the DJs how the band's name was really pronounced.

  8. rgh said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 5:17 am

    GG Allin was christened Jesus Christ:


  9. Theo Vosse said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 5:41 am

    Weirdly enough, names like Maria, Joseph, Gabriel, Peter, etc., as well as Mohammed, are widely accepted. Jezus seems to be the exception.

  10. Kathleen said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 7:49 am


    Why are you assuming they are Protestants? Am I missing something?

    Also on the topic of religious names, I have sometimes encountered Spanish or French male names like "Jorge Maria" or "Jean-Marie," but you don't seem to hear of English-speaking men named "Matthew Mary."

  11. Bob Ladd said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 7:59 am

    @ Kathleen:
    Many Dutch (and Flemish) Catholic men have Maria as one of their (often multiple) middle names. But I don't believe they normally have double names like Jean-Marie in French.

  12. Elliott P. said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 8:37 am

    @Duncan. Good sleuthing. At the bottom by the dinner rolls, that's not a juice jug, that's the hands of the two boys. The green bowl is probably green beans, of perhaps something like collard/mustard/turnip greens.

    Your orange juice by the pie with jerky(?) behind it is actually a yellow vase with dried (brown) flowers/plants in it. And I don't think the plates there are disposable; I think they're smaller versions (aka dessert plates) of the dinner plates on the table.

  13. The Ridger said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 8:38 am

    @Kathleen: I think this is different. English-speaking men don't have women's names, period. In fact, as soon as a previously "male" name gets associated with women, it becomes a "female" name. You aren't going to find many Florences or Evelyns or Shirleys who are male any more. Robin manages to hang on in the UK, probably thanks to Robin Hood, but I don't know of many American men named that. There's probably some tipping point, after which it's a "woman's name", but I do wonder how long such names as Taylor will remain available for boys.

  14. Trimegistus said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    Speaking of stereotypes: why does anyone assume Jesus in the lower panel is an illegal immigrant? Hispanic U.S. citizens can't grow crops?

  15. Rod Johnson said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:10 am

    @Bob Ladd: Jean-Marie Le Pen is one well known example.

    It's interesting to hear what looks to be a wholly unremarkable dinner (Thanksgiving in my (American, Protestant) family would have an order of magnitude more dishes) inspected so closely.

  16. Rod Johnson said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:16 am

    I don't know how to link to this directly, but if you go to Baby Name Wizard and enter Jesus (and then click on "Super multi-map") you can watch the spread in the US of "Jesus" as a name from Texas only in 1961 to a much broader area today.

  17. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:17 am

    And really, R J, the photo doesn't provide much visual information about location, so that the farm worker could actually be anywhere that climate and terrain are possible. Mexico? Afghanistan?

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:17 am

    According to David Hackett Fischer, "Emmanuel" was a not uncommon boys' name in colonial Virginia and Maryland, but not in New England, because the Puritans thought it too pretentious or something to give your kid a name that was essentially an alias of Jesus. Likewise (per the same source), the Puritans were more reticent than other Anglophones of the time about using Michael or Gabriel, because of the perceived inappropriateness of using an angel's name for a human baby. "Christos" is a reasonably common boys' name in Greek but if you believe what you read on the internet is typically pronounced with first-syllable stress to disambiguate it from the final-syllable stress when used as the appellation of Iesous.

    I assume the pattern of Maria/Marie as a boys' middle name in certain historically Catholic cultures (see also the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, born to a German-speaking family in Habsburg-ruled Prague) has to do with the unique cultural significance of the BVM and is not part of broader pattern of using identifiably female names for boys.

    Per trimegistus' point, "Jesus" is attested in the SSA's database of the most common names given to U.S.-born boys all the way back to when records begin in 1880 (missing only for 1891). It entered the top 200 in 1968 and has been in the top 100 continuously since 1990. So there have long been plenty of native-born U.S. citizens with that name.

  19. Gav said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:19 am

    Dr William Price (Llantrisant) called his son Iesu Grist, but that was unusual.

  20. Rod Johnson said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:21 am

    Somehow I botched the link there, sorry: http://www.babynamewizard.com/name-mapper

  21. Rod Johnson said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:24 am

    @Mr Fnortner: Sorry, was that directed to me? I'm unsure what you're responding to.

  22. Rodger C said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    Most Hispanics I've known named Jesús called themselves Jesse in English.

    And let's not forget the half-Mexican CIA chief, James Jesus Angleton.

  23. jmmcd said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    "your mind continues to unspool a series of relevant inferences. I bet if you sat down and started listing them, you could easily reel off a good dozen or so."

    I think this is a bit too coy. I don't know what is intended.

    @Kathleen, Ridger, etc: "Mary" used to be not unheard of as a middle name among English-speaking Irish Catholics, though it was probably more common (as "Máire") among Irish-speaking ones.

  24. Lisaa said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:10 am

    Most Hispanics I know named Jesús call themselves Chuy.

  25. Mark Etherton said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:19 am

    @the Ridger

    Has Florence ever been a male name? Apart from Florence of Worcester (thank you Wikipedia) it seems pretty universally female, presumably thanks to Florence Nightingale, Florence from the Magic Roundabout and Florence and the Machine, inter alia.

  26. GeorgeW said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:38 am

    'isa (Jesus in Arabic) is not uncommon among Muslim Arabs and I knew one Christian Arab with that name. However, I don't think any Christian Arab would name a child 'Yasu'," the Christian form of Jesus' name.

  27. Mr Punch said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:43 am

    Emmanuel/Jesus is an example of typology, in which Emmanuel is considered an Old Testament prefiguration of the New Testament Jesus. The Puritans were very concerned with typology, and so took that identification very seriously.

    Trimegistus's point about the assumption the "Jesus" is an undocumented alien is answered by an assumed political context: the argument implied here that the day-to-day lives of all Americans depend on the presence of Latino labor is very closely associated with advocacy for this group.

  28. Mr Punch said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:48 am

    @Kathleen – The family appears to be Protestant because the're thanking Jesus. Other Christians think well of Jesus, of course, but they tend to attribute catering to another aspect of the Deity.

  29. dj said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    This social commentary is biting, indeed. I didn't immediately notice that it was probably a Thanksgiving meal in the top picture, as I think the sentiment isn't based on that detail. I think the message is the same…that there is a disconnect between people and their food. This ad is obviously playing up the racial undertones of the matter in the U.S. where the bottom picture represents the typical worker of the food-bearing fields. The racial aspect is clear, but couldn't this be any meal of the year where people are praying and giving thanks for the food they have "earned" or "deserve" from on high by being religious, albeit ignorant of the food source?…

  30. claudia said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    Another instance of the use of Jesus as a proper name is the Portuguese "Maria de Jesus". Since 98% of the women of the older age group were named "Maria of Something", they tend to have their names shortened to "Something". So, if you yell Jesus in a random Portuguese city chances are a couple of little old ladies will look at you. Also, my husband's Mexican aunt was known as Tía Jesus.

  31. The Ridger said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 11:11 am

    @Mark Etherton: It was, though probably not widely. See the fictional Florence Knox of "The Irish RM" for instance.

  32. Michael Briggs said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    Jesusa is a girl's name, together with the diminutive Jesusita. The Mexican polka "Jesusita en Chihuhua" is known in Texas as the J.C. or Jesse Polka.

  33. Michael Briggs said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 11:26 am

    I've sometimes wondered if the English novelist Evelyn Waugh (b. 1903) and the American novelist Hillary Waugh (b. 1920) would have been so named if they'd been born (say) 80 years later.

  34. rootlesscosmo said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 11:40 am

    I read this joke in Brendan Behan:

    Mr. & Mrs. Maloney, childless after many years of diligent effort, offer a prayer to our Savior and are blessed with a son, whom in gratitude they name Jesus. A few years later the boy is one of a group making a trip to Rome who are granted an audience with the Pope. The children sing him a song but young Maloney (who can't carry a tune) doesn't join in. "Why is that boy not singing?" asks the Pope. "Jaysus Maloney don't sing," says the priest accompanying the group. "Christ," says the Holy Father, "he could stand up!"

  35. Mark Etherton said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

    @ The Ridger

    Given that Flurry Knox is Anglo-Irish, isn't it reasonably likely that the Florence comes from his mother's family (cf Joyce Cary), and therefore not a forename in the usual sense? (Admittedly, there's no mention of this in the books.)

  36. Rodger C said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

    Percy Florence Shelley, son of the poet.

  37. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

    @Rod Johnson, My mistake. I meant to address the poster above you, Trimegistus, and failed.

  38. Duncan said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    @ Elliott: Thanks. You're right, those look like green beans now that you gave me the hint, and I see the thumb on the hands that I thought was a juice bottle, and the dried arrangement in the vase makes sense tho with the lettering on top I can't verify it. Also, looking again I noticed one more dish just sticking out above the younger boy's head, but it's enough obscured by his head that I think it's impossible to know what's in it, tho it's either dark food or a dark lid. Perhaps that's the other one of the gravy/cream pair, for the potatoes, etc.

    @ The Ridger: You speak of the rarity of men with "female" names in the UK. Here in the US, there's a few ambiguous names like Terry (tho the Terri form appears to be entirely female). In high school (80's) I knew a guy named Kim, and I know another guy with that name now, but it certainly wasn't easy for the guy in high school, anyway (he definitely wasn't helped any by the fact that he was rather geekish so definitely not the popular sports jock, and had a rather high voice for a guy, as if it hadn't changed (yet?)). Unfortunately, his last initial was B, while there was another Kim, female, with a last initial A, so taking attendance in class it was Kim A, Kim B. Not fun to be him, for sure, especially as he only moved in in the Junior year and everyone else already had their cliques going, but I was geekish and a bit overweight myself, and befriended him to some degree, partly because he reminded me of myself, the year before (sophomore), my first year, a year after most of the others since it was a 4-year high school, tho luckily I didn't have the name handicap he was stuck with.

    But given that experience, I agree, there's a SERIOUS social stigma against men having female names in USian culture as well. Terry doesn't seem to have hit your tipping point and remains ambiguous, but it's one of the few. (IIRC there's another common one that eludes my memory, ATM, but it's only those two I'm aware of.)

    @ Trimegistus: As others have pointed out, Mexico or legal migrant worker in the US would fit for "Jesus" as well. I don't believe I assumed he was illegal, only that the message was designed to make the anti-immigrant (which interestingly, seems to be mostly anti-Latino immigrant, there's not the resistance to European or Russian or even African immigrants, and the resistance to Asian immigrants is sometimes there but generally to a far lower degree) people and those who may have been inclined to agree with them, think a bit. Since the sentiment seems to be more anti-Latino, only it's not politically correct to be racially discriminatory, it comes out as anti-illegal immigrant. But legal Latinos face a lot of discrimination as well, because it's really racial prejudice in disguise (you can't tell legal status by skin color and preferred language), and the message works even better if he's considered a legal worker here in the US, precisely because that bit is ambiguous.

    @ DJ: In a way I wish it wasn't so obviously Thanksgiving (the turkey in particular is definitely Thanksgiving linked, and that's the most identifiable food there), as the message certainly applies year-round, but I suppose the choice was between a year-round message that wasn't quite as biting, and an overtly Thanksgiving message with more punch due to the double meaning of "saying grace" and "Thanks, Jesus" on Thanksgiving. They went with the extra punch for a shorter period over the year-round message but with a bit less punch. Oh, well…

  39. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    When I first saw the joke my initial interpretation was that it was a commentary on religion, and not politics. That was undoubtedly conditioned by the fact that I'm an Atheist activist, and the idea that thanking God is giving credit where it's not due is common among us. With that in mind, the use of a Hispanic agricultural worker would be driven by the fact that that enables the pun.

    Speaking of which, this discussion reminds me of a joke I remember from my childhood: If Jesus was Jewish, why does he have a Puerto Rican name?

  40. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    On reflection, the wordplay here, which is premised on the fact that a word that has one specific meaning in standard AmEng but also happens to be a common name among some group of exoticized foreigners/immigrants, seems structually similar to, e.g., the joke "yo mama so fat she got more chins than a Chinese phone book," which, if not actually bigoted is not what you'd call very elevated. There also seems to be a fairly fine line between on the one hand suggesting that the median or prototypical worker in the crop-picking sector of the U.S. economy is Hispanic (which seems to be empirically true based on a few moments googling, although the particular labor force involved in the production of particular crops varies widely depending on e.g. the degree of mechanization so you'd have to look at your Thanksgiving menu a little more closely to know the odds of a high percentage of Hispanic representation in its production) and and the other hand suggesting that the median or at least prototypical/representative Hispanic male (i.e., guy named "Jesus") in the U.S. makes his living picking crops, which is empirically untrue and demonstrates imho the risk that this sort of well-meaning and "thought-provoking" image runs the risk of curdling into stereotypical attitudes that are, at best, patronizing.

  41. davep said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

    GeorgeW (January 17, 2012 @ 10:38 am) said:

    "isa (Jesus in Arabic) is not uncommon among Muslim Arabs and I knew one Christian Arab with that name."

    It would seem that, if Mohammad is an acceptable name, that Isa would be even more so. If Isa is not uncommon among Muslim Arabs, it doesn't seem unexpected that Christian Arabs would not have much problem with the name (they'd be used to it).

  42. davep said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

    J. W. Brewer (January 17, 2012 @ 12:33 pm) said: "There also seems to be a fairly fine line between on the one hand suggesting that the median or prototypical worker in the crop-picking sector of the U.S. economy is Hispanic"

    The common word provides a link from the unreal benefactor to the real benefactors (all migrant workers not just Hispanic ones). It's a synecdoche.

    The "chin" joke example isn't.

  43. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

    The use of "Maria" in German names is unusual in more ways than one. There's actually a long-standing exception written into German child-naming regulations to allow it, since the giving of feminine names to male children is otherwise proscribed. Its use is closely linked with Catholic identity; I really can't imagine a Protestant man having the second forename "Maria".

  44. Grep Agni said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

    The informality of "Thanks, Jesus" seems strange to me. "Thank you, Jesus" seems like a better fit for the slightly elevated tone used for all the pre-meal blessings I have suffered through, and it doesn't affent the joke at all. On the other hand "We thank you, Jesus" or (shudder) "Thanks be to Jesus" would ruin the poster.

    On another tangent, is there a reason de nada is uncapitalized?

  45. Grep Agni said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

    Looking at it again I notice that the extra length of Thank you might push food over the red-shirted woman's head. Using a different, possibly less hideous, typeface might make the change possible, though.

  46. mollymooly said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

    Anglophone cultures tend to have middle names rather than compound names, though stereotypical Rednecks are an exception. This may contribute to John Mary Murphy being rarer than Jean-Marie Dupont or José-Maria Lopez; he is likely to be just plain John Murphy, or John M. Murphy at a pinch. Joseph Mary Plunkett is one exception. In Irish, the Virgin Mary is Muire, whereas your sister Mary is Máire.

    Male "Florence" (shortened to "Flor(ry)" but not AFAIK "Flo") is an arbitrary anglicisation of several Gaelic names, e.g. Flaithrí, Fionán, Flann. Florence McCarthy Knox inherited the name from his ancient McCarthy forebears, not the Knox blow-ins. Flor Griffin is still in business in Cork.

  47. Charles in Vancouver said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

    @Trimestigus: Coming from a Canadian worldview, I would not have assumed he was an illegal immigrant, but rather a farmer employed in Mexico or a Central or South American country by a large agricultural conglomerate that pays poorly. For example, sugar snap peas are a massive industry in Guatemala. And a non-negligible amount of winter produce that ends up in Canadian groceries, if not from the US, is from Mexico. The irony takes on a different dimension – a family likely to support crackdowns on illegal immigration is privileged by the economic benefits of making sure Jesús and his colleages remain in their poorly-paid jobs outside the USA, keeping the food on their American tables cheap.

  48. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

    davep, fwiw, according to the internets, Arabic-speaking Christians typically refer to Jesus as "Yesu" in Arabic while the Muslims typically call him "Isa." I've been to a few church services in the U.S. that had some Arabic mixed in, but certainly not enough to come away with any retained lexical knowledge on that or any other onomastic issue (except for vaguely remembering some word that sounded loosely cognate to "messiah" if you were primed to be looking for that sort of similarity). I'm not sure if anything theological hangs on the difference or it's just a contingent result of different translators' choices way back when, each of which would have been defensible in isolation on non-theological grounds.

    Speaking of which, although it was always floating in the background of US naming as a not-too-weird-or-exotic Old Testament name, Joshua shot into the first rank of popularity for American boys' names starting sometime in the '70's and is still there. I expect that only a minority (but by no means a tiny minority) are aware of the fact (or "fact"*) that Joshua is more or less the "same name" as Jesus, the same way that Old Testament Jacob and New Testament James are a doublet with the same underlying name having taken different paths into English. But for at least some parents with certain sorts of religious convictions, I would imagine the messianic vibe of Joshua (while avoiding the weirdness of "Jesus" as a given name in Anglophone culture) is a plus.

    *Yeah yeah, Yehoshua v. Yeshua, although I personally (w/o being a licensed Hebraist) view that as a Deborah v. Debra level of difference. Greek bibles treat the names identically; the Latin does not – afaik European languages tend to follow one or the other of those patterns depending on the ecclesiastical history of the relevant speech community. Two minutes googling did not disclose how Joshua son of Nun is referred to in Arabic or whether Arabic-speakers of all potentially relevant religions are in agreement on that question.

  49. GeorgeW said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

    @davep: Mohammad is a very common name with Muslims, but absolutely not with Christian Arabs. It is my impression that 'Isa is also, very unusual among Christian Arabs. I have only encountered one (who was Lebanese). I have never encountered an Egyptian with that name.

    Neither the Mohammad nor the 'Isa (Jesus) are considered divine by Muslims; they are high ranking prophets. So, this may make them more theologically acceptable as given names.

  50. GeorgeW said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

    J. W. Brewer: 'Isa is derived from Greek (and used by Muslims) where Yasu' is from Hebrew and used by Christians.

  51. Ø said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

    Rainer Maria Rilke began life as Rene Maria Rilke. His mother was grieving the loss of a baby girl.

  52. Cameron Majidi said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

    @JW Brewer: Joshua son of Nun in Arabic is يوشع بن نون

  53. davep said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

    J. W. Brewer said, (January 17, 2012 @ 1:43 pm) said: 'davep, fwiw, according to the internets, Arabic-speaking Christians typically refer to Jesus as "Yesu" in Arabic while the Muslims typically call him "Isa." '

    That would further explain why a Christian Arab would have no problem with "Isa" as a name for a child. I'm going to guess that they don't use "Yesu" as a name.

  54. davep said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

    GeorgeW said (January 17, 2012 @ 1:48 pm) said:

    "@davep: Mohammad is a very common name with Muslims, but absolutely not with Christian Arabs."

    It's completely unsurprising that Mohammad isn't a common name with Christian Arabs!

    GeorgeW said (January 17, 2012 @ 1:48 pm) said: "Neither the Mohammad nor the 'Isa (Jesus) are considered divine by Muslims; they are high ranking prophets. So, this may make them more theologically acceptable as given names."

    Makes sense.

  55. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

    Cameron M. (or anyone): can you transliterate that for those of us who are alphabetically-challenged when it comes to Arabic? I was really just curious as to whether the "Joshua" piece comes out as Isa or Yesu/Yasu or some 3d thing.

  56. GeorgeW said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

    @J. W. Brewer: Joshua in Arabic is yashu' where Jesus is yasu' the difference is the /sh/ vs. /s/.

  57. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

    @ J W Brewer: You might try this for transliteration, but I cannot vouch for the results.

  58. Cameron Majidi said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

    That would transliterate as something like Yosha Ben Nun

  59. David Eddyshaw said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 5:59 pm


    "Isa" cannot possibly be derived from Greek. Apart from anything else, it begins with `ayin.
    It's the normal Muslim name for their second-most honoured prophet, identified with Muslims with the Christian Jesus, who in the Muslims' view have distorted his teachings and blasphemously represented him as the Son of God.

    Etymologically, Isa in fact corresponds to "Esau." It's not at all clear (to a non-Muslim, anyhow) how it came to be used for "Jesus."

    "Isa" is indeed a perfectly normal personal name for Muslims. I think it's commoner in some Muslim groups than others (I came across quite a few in West Africa.)

    Christian Arabs, I believe, don't use "Isa" for Jesus, but Christians in other very Muslim-influenced cultures do – again, many in West Africa. I never came across a Christian called by any variant of "Jesus", though I did encounter Emmanuels.

    I only knew one Christian (convert) called Muhammed. People were always asking him when he was going to change his name.

  60. Peter said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

    Tabernacle: Is that how that Quebecois swear is spelled? I always thought it was Tabarnac (or Tabarnak).

  61. GeorgeW said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 8:15 pm

    @David Eddyshaw: "Isa" cannot possibly be derived from Greek. Apart from anything else, it begins with `ayin."

    And, neither does English have an 'ayin' yet somehow we make adjustments and pronounce the name. (And, the name 'Jesus' itself bears little resemblance to the name his friends called him.)

    I read a book some time ago written by an Egyptian scholar who demonstrated the origin of the name as being from Greek and he used it as part of his case that the Bible (in Greek) was in the Arabian Peninsula before the Qur'an. But, that is another story.

  62. Steve Morrison said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

    There was also the composer Carl Maria von Weber.

  63. Yosemite Semite said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

    The dish between the stuffing and the cranberry sauce appears to me to be the two halves of a stuffed butternut squash.

  64. A Little Social Commentary | The Old Gringo said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

    […] Via Language Log. Striking juxtapositions. […]

  65. Joyce Melton said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

    The Amish and Mennonite sects sometimes name baby boys Christ. Biblical names are popular with them. If you know someone called Chris Yoder, it is likely his name is actually Christ. I'm not sure about Jesus as a first name among them but it seems possible.

    The picture of the farm worker looks to be taken in the Imperial or Coachella Valleys of California from the hills visible in the background. It's an area famous for growing onions. It could be many similar places in other southwestern states or in Mexico but I grew up within sight of those hills and the color and shape look right. In particular, it looks like the ridge along the west end of of Mt. Signal as seen from the northwest.

  66. Just another Peter said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 1:00 am

    On the male/female name thing, in Australia there are some names generally accepted as unisex – Kim, Jesse and Robin to name a few. There are some which are used but less commonly accepted, such as Shannon. Then, of course, there are also the ones used for both sexes and pronounced the same but usually with different spellings, such as Leigh/Lee and of course Peter/Peta (non-rhotic). I must admit, I was surprised when I found out that the American author Tracy Hickman was a man (having never come across Tracy as a male name before or since, although the name mapping site Rod linked to shows it was quite popular in US in the middle of last century).

  67. Chris S. said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 3:25 am

    @Kathleen: There is a Catholic priest that serves the University of Washington community by the name of "Raphael Mary"

    @Peter: Tabernacle is the standard spelling of the word. tabarnak/tabarnac are eye dialect spellings, I suppose.

  68. Duncan said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 6:11 am

    @ Yosemite Semite: Thanks! Halved squash looks correct. That was bothering me so I'm glad you figured it out! =:^)

  69. Sean Purdy said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 6:35 am

    Some years ago I met a gentleman in Gijon who assured me his name was “Hey Zeus”. My Spanish skills were insufficient to enquire about which set of gods he happened to worship, although I did gather from him that the local cider was delicious. He was not wrong.

  70. Thomas Thurman said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    "Using a different, possibly less hideous, typeface might make the change possible, though."

    The typeface is Impact, which carries a certain cultural baggage online for labelling pictures (look up "image macros", "lolcats", etc, when Wikipedia's back).

  71. richard howland-bolton said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 7:29 am

    I know a lady called Sharon Turner, I don't think her parents were aware of any other, by that name. :-)

  72. Terry Collmann said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

    The transliteration I have normally seen, in the UAE, is Issa rather than Isa, and at a guess it's in the top 20 or so Muslim names there.

    One male/female name that hasn't been mentioned here is Leslie/Lesley – the puzzle, for me, being that the -ie version is almost always (in the UK at least) used for males, the -ey version for females, even though -ie as a name ending is surely typically feminine (Annie, Lizzie) and -y masculine (Harry, Jimmy). Still, while Leslies are often shortened to "Les", for what may be obvious reasons, I doubt many Lesleys go by the same short form.

  73. IrishReader said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    There's a story (urban myth?) that the Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne discussed doing a talk show in the US with one of the US networks. Gay wasn't considered a suitable first name (short for Gabriel), so they asked him what his middle name was. 'Mary,' was the reply. He stayed in Ireland.

  74. David Eddyshaw said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

    It occurs to me that I know at least one Jewish "Emmanuel", whose parents can hardly have intended to name him for the Christian Messiah. I presume the name is simply meant in its literal sense of "God with us", with no reference to an individual. Come to think of it, the use by Christians who would never call a child "Jesus" is just the same.

  75. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

    Does anyone know if wordplay akin to that in the original poster is common in Spanish-speaking culture? Is it a stock gag in Spanish-language sitcoms for one character to exclaim "Jesus" for either devotional or profane reasons and another character with the given name Jesus to suddenly pop into the screen under the misimpression he has been summoned (cue laugh track)? Or would a Spanish-speaking audience just not find that particularly amusing, because the polysemy of the word is not novel or unexpected? By way of parallel, that someone might sing or pray "Ave Maria" or "Hail Mary" within earshot of a character named Maria or Mary (who could then perhaps mistakenly believe it was a reference to her) is perfectly plausible in an Anglophone setting, but not really surefire comedy gold.

  76. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 1:25 pm


    French Canadian here. Let me confirm that NO modern Quebecer would ever consider that "tabarnak" and "tabernacle are even the same word. Nobody would ever think of censoring "tabernacle". "Tabernacle" would never be pronounced with /a/ as the second vowel anyway: /E/ -> /a/ _r is considered one of the most obvious markers of low-class speech.

    The curse words may have derived from religious terms, but noway they are very definitely different words.

  77. Peter Taylor said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    @J. W. Brewer, I don't watch Spanish sitcoms, but in general everyday usage "Jesús" as an interjection is most likely to be a response to someone sneezing.

  78. Latino Rebels said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

    Thank you so much for posting and cross-linking to our site, we are black today because of SOPA Protest, but we will be back up tomorrow. We appreciate the link love!!!!

  79. Acilius said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

    Just to add one more Anglo to the list, I mention late CIA official James Jesus Angleton. Granted, Mr Angleton's mother was Mexican, but he pronounced his middle name in the Anglo way.

  80. Peter G. Howland said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

    What Would Hay Zeus Say?

    @Joyce Melton, 1/17/12 @ 10:54 pm – Yep…that’s the Coachella Valley area all right. Looks almost the same in the picture as it did when I first saw it 70-umpty-ump years ago…except that Jesús now has a better looking hat.

    @mollymooly, 1/17/12 @ 1:35 pm – In reference to your aside about stereotypical redneck names:
    – Billy Bob Thornton
    – Stevie Ray Vaughn
    – Joe Don Baker
    – Fannie Mae Clark
    – James Earl Ray
    – etc.

    BTW, within my conversationally functional but very limited knowledge of Spanish, “de nada” translates to “of nothing”…as in (it was merely of no consequence) or, (think nothing of it) or, (no big deal)…not actually “you’re welcome”. ¿Sí?

    [(js) Indeed. But it functions as the colloquial equivalent of "You're welcome." Of course, the literal meaning of the phrase adds yet another layer of depth to the possible inferences….]

  81. Sarah said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

    I know one British man (but from an Irish Catholic family) whose middle name is Mary. He must be in his fifties I think.

    I've always thought of the male and female Evelyns being pronounced differently, with male pronounced Eve-lin and female pronounced Ever-lin.

  82. J. Goard said,

    January 19, 2012 @ 6:32 am

    Reminds me of the joke about how Jesus got his name, when Joseph was asking Mary what names she liked and she started to reply "How about…" — but just then stepped in a pile of sheep droppings and shouted, "Jesus Christ!"

    Bet a close equivalent using French profanities wouldn't be too hard to come by.

  83. Ken Brown said,

    January 19, 2012 @ 11:30 am

    @Peter G. Howland: "de nada” translates to “of nothing…"

    It fits better with British English I think where "It was nothing" or "Don't mention it" are rather more likely phatic responses to being thanked than "You're welcome" is. Though the most likely of all is, I think, to repeat just "thank you" or "thanks".

    Its always hard to know what you say in real life but I don't think "You're welcome" is part of my use vocabularly. It is one of those phrases that, over here, sounds a bit forced or false. Like "Have a nice day". No doubt others find our British habit of saying "sorry" and "thanks" so often just as odd.

  84. mollymooly said,

    January 19, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

    @IrishReader — that story was originally told as a joke by Gaybo himself when compering the Rose of Tralee festival (the original of Father Ted's 'Lovely Girls' Contest).

  85. Michael W said,

    January 19, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

    I found it slightly amusing that she apparently knew Jesus of Montreal. That came out in 1989, but I don't know if had any influence on what names children were given.

  86. Meirav M. said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

    It's been fascinating reading all this – I had seen this image and wondered what it's really about, wasn't sure if it was a dig at Christianity or at Americans or what, so it's helpful to read other people's thoughts.

    @dj Christians praying and giving thanks for the food do not give thanks for, as you put it, the food they have "earned" or "deserve" from on high by being religious – we thank God for the food he has graciously provided for us, grace being what he provides even though we don't deserve it.

    @David Eddyshaw – yes, the name Immanuel is a normal boy's name in Hebrew, it comes from the Jewish Bible and it means: God is with us. It doesn't imply anything beyond that.

    @J W Brewer – the Hebrew name Yehoshua (translated as Joshua) is indeed close to Yeshua (translated as Jesus) but they are not identical. Yeshua is a name which literally means salvation. Yehoshua read more like: God saves. Joshua son of Nun was not a saviour, just a man whose name referred to God being saviour. The man called Yeshua of Nazareth was named Saviour.

  87. Meirav M. said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

    oops… that should read "Yehoshua reads more like…", not "read" :/

  88. Ingus said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

    Maybe someone already mentioned this, but there is also a simple hystorical reason for men to have female second names:
    There was once a common tradition to give the child its mother's name if she died giving birth, even if the child was a boy. That is at least the case with Karl Maria Weber.

  89. [links] Link salad is wet and chilly | jlake.com said,

    June 14, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

    […] What would Jesús do? — Language Log on, among other things, cross-cultural naming conventions. […]

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