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What the names Jesus, Mary, and Joseph mean

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Photo Courtesy of Sr. Amata CSFN

Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik - published on 12/26/21

For this feast of the Holy Family, the first Sunday after Christmas, we consider the most famous names in the world.

On the first Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It is helpful to learn the meaning of these three names which are the most famous in the world. The Gospel for Sunday is Luke 2:41–52 .

1. Origins

Jesus

In Hebrew, Yeshua is short for the name Jehoshua. It is one of the so-called theophoric names, in other words, it contains the name of God. The name is composed of two words. The first part of the name: “Jeho” comes from Yahweh, and the second “shua” is derived from the verb save. Thus, the name Jesus literally means “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.” 

This is indeed the meaning of the name Jesus indicated in the Gospels. The angel told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a son “and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sin” (Matthew 1:21). 

Mary

There are many hypotheses about the meaning of the name Mary. A very convincing one speaks about the Egyptian-Jewish origin of the name. It was given to girls who were born to elderly parents. This name has two parts, the Egyptian “Mar” means beloved/loving and the Jewish abbreviation for “ja” from the name Yahweh, meaning “loving God” or “beloved by God.” 

Joseph

Joseph, or the Hebrew Yosef, is a biblical name. It has the word God in its meaning: it is composed of Jo (shortened from Jeho, Yahweh “God”) and the verb jasaf “to appropriate.” Thus, it means “may God multiply—thoughtfully—the good.” 

Genesis’ story of Joseph in Egypt is also related to Joseph, Mary’s spouse. Doctors of the Church and popes have said that precisely Joseph of Egypt is Joseph of Nazareth’s prototype. Joseph of Nazareth is the guardian of God the Father’s most precious treasures: Jesus and His mother. 

2. The importance of a name

In Jewish tradition, a name is very important. It is supposed to express a person’s special traits, and even his or her mission in life. Bestowing a name is treated like a prayer that the one who bears that name will fulfill the message contained in it. 

3. Today

Do I know the meaning of my name? Do I know why I was given this name? What qualities in my name would I like to fulfill in my life? 

Today, I will ask Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to help me live beautifully and according to the Gospel. 

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