Rabbi, What’s Jesus’ Nickname?

Dear Rabbi,

I have a question that has bothered me/intrigued me for years. What was Jesus’ true name? What was the name his mother called him? His disciples? The name that he told them that you can do all things “in my name.” I thought ya’ll may have something in your archives that would point to an answer.

This is from a real email I received.

I am a rabbi in a small city on the coast of Georgia; as the only rabbi in a 75-or-so-mile radius, I get many emails and phone calls with all kinds of questions from folks in the Christian community. This one is a favorite for several reasons.

First of all, there is a place where Judaism and Christianity intersect, and that place is Jesus. I love how the writer is looking to me, the local go-to expert on all things Jewish, to help him navigate that intersection. For his sake and for ours, I wish there was an archive of Jewish stuff , where we could look there to not only help our Christian, Muslim and other-faith friends understand their religions better but to also gain deep insight into our own. I mean, a great way to understand the tensions around Jewish religious practice at the time of the Second Temple is to read the Gospels.

READ: Jewish Life in the Land of Israel at the Beginning of the Christian Era

Secondly, I admire his search to find in whose name he is really praying. My Christian friends that pray in Jesus’ name, often change their prayers when I’m around in an effort to be ecumenical and inclusive. Sometimes they end their prayers by saying, “we pray in your holy name.” But what does that really mean? Who are we really talking about when we say “you?”

In Parshat Shemot, Moses encounters God at the burning bush and asks the exact same question! Who should I say sent me? It’s a trick question. If Moses tells the people a name for God they already know, then there’s no magic to the answer. And if Moses gives an unusual name that the people don’t recognize then they just won’t believe him. Moses and the email writer are not asking for the community’s sake, they are, I believe, asking God, who are you?

Which brings me to the third thing I love about this email: He wants to know Jesus’ personal name. When Jesus met someone new, how did he introduce himself? As a child, when his mother tucked him, what did she call him? In my mind, the email writer is looking for a personal, even intimate connection with God. God tells Moses, my name is eheyeh asher eheyeh, I will be that which I will be. (Exodus 3:14) Amazingly, God doesn’t just say, the great and powerful God, or the God of your forebears, although God says that too. God uses a personal, intimate name by saying “I.” I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. I had deep, personal and unique relationships with those people; you, too, can have that kind of relationship with me. You can call me what you want, because I will be what I will be. My name doesn’t matter because no matter what you call me, I am yours.

I don’t know any other names for Jesus, or for Allah or Buddha or Brahman, or for God. But what I learned from this man’s email is that many of us are seeking that name, and by sharing the search with one another we enhance the journey for us all.

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