Jesus’s name comes up often in Spain, not least because it’s a perfectly acceptable name for a man (often for women as well: María Jesús), whereas in most other Christian countries the moniker is reserved solely to refer to Jesus Christ.
But there’s another common use of Jesus’s name that comes up often in Spain.
Someone sneezes, and the person closest to them – even if they’re a complete stranger – will shout ¡Jesús!, to which the sneezer will reply gracias (thank you).
It’s similar to how English speakers will respond to a sneeze with ‘bless you’, or French speakers will say ‘santé’, but why do Spaniards choose instead to name Christ?
According to Spanish priest Jesús Luis Sacristán in an interview with Cadena Ser, “in ancient times, both Romans and Greeks thought that sneezing was a sign that the gods were warning you of something, a divine warning” as it was already understood that consistent sneezing could precede illness.
Obviously, Greeks and Romans weren’t uttering Jesus’s name back then, but instead shouting ‘May Zeus save you’, or ‘Hail!’.
With the advent of Christianity and devout Catholicism in Spain, this old tradition of praising the gods took on a more alarmist approach in that sneezes were considered to represent the devil’s attempted entry into our bodies.
Inquisition-wary Spaniards would reportedly shout Jesus’s name out loud several times, which eventually gave way to saying His name just once.
The tradition of uttering Jesus’s name post-estornudo (sneeze) didn’t spread to other Catholic countries however, in a similar way to how Jesus isn’t a man’s name in France and Italy.
Nowadays, you are perhaps more likely to hear a Spaniard say ‘salud’ (health) after a sneeze, especially as an increasing number of people in Spain are no longer religious.