God bless you; Bless you

said to show affection or thankfulness; said in response to someone who has sneezed
—After his third sneeze, I stopped saying, “Bless you,” and just gave him a tissue.

A year later, Sarah gave birth to a son, just as God had promised. This son, Isaac, then grew up and his wife had twin baby boys. When the two boys were born, the younger one was holding on to the heel of his brother. Therefore, he was given the name Jacob, meaning “one who grabs the heel,” which can further mean “supplanter” or “deceiver.”

As a grown man, Jacob tricked Esau to get a blessing from his father. As part of the blessing, Isaac told Jacob to travel to the land of his grandfather to find a wife, saying,

May the sovereign God bless you [God almighty bless thee]! May he make you fruitful and give you a multitude of descendants! Then you will become a large nation. May he give you and your descendants the blessing he gave to Abraham so that you may possess the land God gave to Abraham, the land where you have been living as a temporary resident. (Genesis 28:3,4)

Today, people often say “Bless you” after hearing someone sneeze. While this is a common custom, it’s origins are unclear. Following are some possible explanations.

Some say that in the past, people believed that sneezing could expel a person’s spirit. Saying “Bless you” prevented the spirit from being snatched by Satan before it could return. Others say that the phrase comes from an old belief that sneezing was the body’s way of ridding itself of an evil spirit. Saying “Bless you” therefore kept the spirit from returning. Still others say that in times past people believed that when a person sneezed, his heart stopped. Saying “Bless you” encouraged the heart to start again. Still another theory is that during a plague, a sneeze was seen as a symptom of the disease, so a response of “Bless you” was asking God to heal the sick person.

Now, for most people, this phrase is simply a polite response, with no actual meaning behind it.

Even thought the name Jacob has a strange meaning, according to the US Social Security Administration, it was the most popular name chosen for baby boys in the US during the first decade of the 2000s. In fact, of the top-ten boys’ names for that time period, eight come from the Bible (Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Daniel, Andrew, Ethan, and Joseph), while three out of the top-ten girls’ names are biblical in origin (Hannah, Abigail, and Elizabeth).

Go to the appendix for a list of over 150 biblical names, along with their meanings and backgrounds, that are often used in the US.

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