c.1200, "holy man;" early 13c., "a native or resident of Nazareth," childhood home of Jesus, from Late Latin Nazarenus, from Greek Nazarenos, from Hebrew Natzerath. As an adjective from late 13c. As "a follower of Jesus" from late 14c. In Talmudic Hebrew notzri, literally "of Nazareth," meant "a Christian;" likewise Arabic Nasrani (plural Nasara). In Christian use, however, it can be a nickname for Jesus, or refer to an early Jewish Christian sect (1680s in English), or, in modern use, to a member of the Church of the Nazarene, a U.S.-based Protestant denomination (1898 in this sense).
This epithet (Gr. Nazaraios) is applied to Christ only once (Matt. 2:23). In all other cases the word is rendered "of Nazareth" (Mark 1:24; 10:47; 14:67, etc.). When this Greek designation was at first applied to our Lord, it was meant simply to denote the place of his residence. In course of time the word became a term of reproach. Thus the word "Nazarene" carries with it an allusion to those prophecies which speak of Christ as "despised of men" (Isa. 53:3). Some, however, think that in this name there is an allusion to the Hebrew _netser_, which signifies a branch or sprout. It is so applied to the Messiah (Isa. 11:1), i.e., he whom the prophets called the _Netse_, the "Branch." The followers of Christ were called "the sect of Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5). All over Palestine and Syria this name is still given to Christians. (See NAZARETH.)