What Was Jesus' Full Name? (HINT: His Last Name Was Not Christ)

Marko Marina Author Bart Ehrman

Written by Marko Marina, Ph.D.

Author |  Historian

Author |  Historian |  BE Contributor

Verified!  See our guidelines

Verified!  See our editorial guidelines

Date written: November 6th, 2023

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

Behind every name, there is a story to be told. Jesus, the central figure of the Christian religion, is known by many titles today in the church - Son of God, messiah, King of Kings. But what was Jesus' full name? It’s a question that takes us on a journey to the Roman Empire, ancient naming conventions, Jewish religious titles, and messianic expectations.

What Was Jesus' Full Name - HINT, His Last Name Was Not Christ

Names in the Roman Empire

In the vast expanse of the Roman Empire, names were more than mere labels; they were a key to identification and a reflection of one's social standing. However, the conventions surrounding the use of first and last names, and the significance attributed to them, evolved, reflecting the dynamic nature of Roman society.

Roman culture had a specific system behind the naming conventions. It was a thing that separated them from other nations around the Mediterranean. However, it’s important to note that these conventions were almost exclusively bound to the upper-crust members of society. 

In other words, the common people didn’t follow this tradition because they didn’t belong to the same world. We must remember that Roman society was stratified. Consequently, the same rules didn't apply to all. 

Discovering Jesus' full name will take us beyond the confines of the Roman aristocracy. But regardless, let’s take a closer look at the naming conventions of the distinguished Romans.

True Roman aristocrats had three specific elements of their names: 

  • Praenomen
  • Nomen
  • Cognomen

Together they formed the so-called “tria nomina”. Praenomen was the first part of an individual's name. It was roughly equivalent to what we consider a "first name" today. The praenomen served as a personal identifier within a family and was used in informal settings.

As the Roman Republic transitioned into the Roman Empire, the use of praenomina gradually declined in favor of using nomen (family name) and cognomen (a secondary personal name) to identify individuals. 

Nomen corresponds to what we typically think of as a "family name" or "last name" in modern naming conventions. All members of a particular Roman family or clan shared a nomen. It served to identify one's family lineage. Gaius Julius Caesar, for example, belonged to the Julius family, and "Julius" was his nomen. 

Cognomen was an additional name or nickname used to distinguish between individuals with the same praenomen (first name) and nomen (family name). The cognomen was more specific than the praenomen and nomen and often referred to personal characteristics, achievements, or even a person's occupation.

To use the same example, Gaius Julius Caesar had the cognomen "Caesar”. Caesar is probably derived from the Latin "caesaries", meaning “head of hair” or "long-haired." In other words, this was a reference to a distinctive physical trait.

The majority of people living in the Roman Empire didn’t belong to the same social class as Julius Caesar or Marcus Tullius Cicero. So, let’s shift our focus to the name of the central figure of Christianity. What was Jesus’ full name?

Jesus’ First Name: Meaning Behind the Etymology?

Jesus, of course, wasn’t a member of the Roman upper class. After all, where was Jesus born? In contrast to tradition, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth. He came from a poor Jewish family. His parents were Galilean peasants. He, therefore, didn’t share the same cultural world as, for example, Cicero, did. 

The name Jesus derives from the Hebrew name "Yeshua" which means “Yahweh is salvation”. The name "Yeshua" was a common given name in ancient Israel, and it can be found in the Old Testament, primarily referring to figures like Joshua, who played significant roles in biblical narratives.

Moreover, the name “Yeshua” was among the most popular male names in the 1st-century Palestine. In his book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, Richard Bauckham notes that “there were a small number of very popular names” among the Jews in 1st-century Palestine. 

Basing his conclusions on an excellent study by Rachel Hachlili, Bauckham explains that “Joseph is the second most popular male name, very close to Simon in frequency, and that Jesus is the sixth most popular.”

What is Jesus’ last name? Since he wasn’t a part of the Roman aristocracy, Jesus didn’t have an official nomen. But he had to be differentiated somehow. After all, he wasn’t the only “Jesus” in Galilee or Judea. 

Jesus of Nazareth" or "Jesus the Nazarene" was a common way to differentiate him. This referred to his place of origin, Nazareth, a small town in the region of Galilee. The same can be said, for example, about Mary Magdalene. She was from Magdala - a town on the Sea of Galilee in ancient Israel. 

In other words, it was a custom to use geographical identifiers to distinguish between, for instance, different women named Mary in the New Testament. Moreover, sometimes people would use the name of the father as the identifier. Consequently, John and James were primarily identified as “sons of Zebedee (Mk 10:35).”

In some cases, common people would be identified through their age or physical traits. The New Testament Gospels, for example, mention “James the Younger” (Mk 15:40) - a person identified in the Catholic tradition with James, the brother of Jesus.

What is Jesus’ Last Name?

But, wait a minute! What about “Christ”? Isn’t that Jesus’ last name? Well, it isn’t. As you can (I hope!) assume, Joseph’s and Mary’s last name wasn’t Christ. So, what is the meaning behind this term?

It’s essential to note that Christ is a title. In The New Testament, Dr. Ehrman gives a clear explanation: “The word ‘Christ’ comes from the verb “anoint” and typically refers to someone who has just had a rubdown (with oil). “Christ” was a title in Jewish circles, however, as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “messiah.”

In the Hebrew tradition, the Messiah is the awaited (anointed) savior or deliverer of the Jewish people. In other words, religious Jews are still waiting for his arrival. But Christians believe that Jesus is Christ (Messiah) - a belief that most Jews rejected

It didn't take long for another self-proclaimed Messiah to emerge. Simon bar Kokhba (132-135 C.E.) led a major Jewish revolt against Roman rule  During this time, he was hailed by some as the Messiah - a title he almost certainly accepted. His movement, however, ultimately failed as he was killed at Bethar, his stronghold southwest of Jerusalem. After a great defeat, Jews were exiled from Palestine.

Jesus is called “Christ” in the New Testament documents so often that it became part of his name. However, the true meaning of the term is related to Jewish Messianic expectations and religious titles, not formal names. In other words and contrary to what some of my students think, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. 

Jesus H. Christ? The Meaning and Origins

As a central figure of Christianity and one of the most influential persons in the history of Western civilization, Jesus’ name was used in numerous forms. One common form is “Jesus H. Christ”. What does the H stand for in Jesus’ name? 

The “H” in “Jesus H. Christ” represents an unusual variation of folk etymology. A variation which, as Roger Smith observes, could be termed “folk literalism”. The precise meaning of “H” in Jesus’ name has been a subject of scholarly debates. 

However, one common but false assumption is that the “H” stands for “Harold”, stemming from a misunderstanding of the line in the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father who art in Heaven, Harold be thy name." Of course, the actual line is "hallowed be thy name." 

According to the most widely accepted theory, “Jesus H. Christ” has its origin in the ancient Greek monogram for Jesus (IHC or JHC). It developed from the misreading centuries older than America. According to this theory, the problem arose because the first three Greek letters in Jesus’ name are transliterated as iota-eta-sigma (IHC or JHC). 

Smith explains that “Jesus H. Christ” “probably “arrived in America with immigrant Anglicans or was invented here because of Anglican vestments decorated with IHS or IHC, and worked its way into the general American repertory of profane oaths.”

So, what was Jesus’ middle name? As it turns out, Jesus didn’t have a middle name. He was primarily known as “Jesus of Nazareth” and later (after his death) as “Jesus Christ”, meaning “Jesus, the Messiah”.

What does the H. stand for in Jesus’ name

Jesus’ Name in Folklore: Some Examples

The name "Jesus" and the title "Christ" have been used in a variety of colloquial expressions, some of which may be considered by religious communities as irreverent or inappropriate. While these usages may be culturally or historically interesting, they can also be offensive to some individuals. Here are a few examples, purely for the sake of scholarly discussion:

  • "Jumpin' Jesus on a Pogo Stick": A somewhat humorous and irreverent phrase used to express surprise or disbelief
  • "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph": A phrase used to express surprise or exasperation, incorporating not just Jesus but also figures from the Christian nativity story
  • "Sweet Baby Jesus": Used to express astonishment or disbelief, this phrase references the infant form of Jesus, as commonly depicted in nativity scenes
  • "For the Love of Christ": An exasperated expression calling upon the name of Jesus as an interjection
  • "What in the name of Christ?": Similar to the above, used to express shock, confusion, or disbelief
  • "Christ on a Bike/Cracker": More irreverent expressions used for emphasis in expressing disbelief or surprise
  • "Christ Almighty": An exclamation of surprise or frustration, often used to underline the seriousness of a situation

Summing up Conclusion

As we delve into the depths of history, exploring the ancient tapestry of names and titles, we encounter the enigmatic question: "What was Jesus’ full name?" The answer lies not in the traditions of Roman aristocracy, but in the world of common people who struggled to survive. 

Furthermore, his name, "Yeshua," meaning "Yahweh is salvation," was a common name in 1st-century Palestine. And finally, "Christ" is not his last name but a profound title that has left an indelible mark on human history.

If you want to know more about other fascinating aspects of the historical Jesus and the earliest Christian sources, join a captivating course “Jesus the Secret Messiah” by Dr. Bart Ehrman. Click the link below and explore the earliest biography of Jesus!

Marko Marina

About the author

Marko Marina is a historian with a Ph.D. in ancient history from the University of Zagreb (Croatia). He is the author of dozens of articles about early Christianity's history. He works as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Zagreb where he teaches courses on the history of Christianity and the Roman Empire. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and spending quality time with his family and friends.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}