Is the J in Many Hebrew Names/Places Prounounced Y?


In Slavic, Germanic, and many other languages, the J in words is pronounced Y. Does this apply to Hebrew names, such as Jeroboam?


Yes. In ALL proper names in the Bible, the English letter J should be pronounced as a Y. (The letter C should always be pronounced as a K, but that’s a different topic.)


Doesn’t that mean that Jesus is really pronounced Yesus? :confused:


If you want to be technically correct, yes. Hebrew Yeshua8 -> Greek Iesous -> Latin Iesus; J is a later addition to the Latin alphabet to denote the letter I in a consonant slot.

In English the “dzh” pronunciation of the letter J is a relatively late addition to the language; unfortunately, I don’t know how late.

Edit: BTW, I play the piano accordion, and I like polkas :smiley:


So “Jews” are actually “Yews”?


Jesus comes from the Greek Iesous, which in turn is from the Hebrew Yeshua (not Yesus).

And no, Jews are not Yews; they’re Yehudim.

The words “Jesus” and “Jew”, as spelled, are English words in their own right, not transliterated Hebrew.


Right. In the Latin alphabet, J was originally just a way of writing I. According to Wikipedia, it originated in writing numerals, and I’ve certainly seen it that way (viij for 8, for instance). But in the sixteenth-century printed sources I’m most familiar with, j is often used for i at the beginning or end of words (always when “i” is being used as a consonant with the sound of our “y”). In German, J is used in the same way, to represent a sound more like our “y” than our “J.”

So while modern printings of the Vulgate usually spell Jeroboam with an I, medieval and early modern ones would have used a J, and this passed into English. English-speakers have a habit of writing loan words the way they are written in the original language but pronouncing them as if they were English words. Maybe this has something to do with the fluidity of medieval and early modern English. So we say “Jeroboam” instead of “Ierovoam.”



There is no J in the languages of Scripture.

In Hebrew, the letter ayin, which is pronounced as a Y, is transliterated in English as J.

Ayin is transliterated in Greek as the consonantal iota (written as an I).

So, the name Yerushalayim ------> Jerusalem.

And Yeshua -----> IESOUS (because male names in Greek normally end in S) -----> Jesus.



Actually, it’s the letter yod. The letter ayin in the Semitic languages stands for a voiced pharyngeal fricative, which has absolutely no equivalent in English.


Sigma is the most common final for masculine names, but, since “normally” makes it sound like the others are aberrations, I would point out that there are quite a few -ων names (e.g., Plato, Apollo, Agamemnon, Petron), and some -ωρ ones.


In Greek, Ιουδαιοι (“You-die-oi”, roughly).


In Greek, Jesus is Ιησους (Iēsous), the second letter being not a simple ‘e’ but a long vowel which Standard English does not have (it’s a double /e/, close to, but not the same as, our /ei/ in “day” /dei/). Here is a guide which demonstrates it (click on the ‘Η η’ on the left, and then again on the ‘Η η’ on the page which comes up).


Further to my answer to #2, there is a caveat, which is that if we pronounce names from the Bible like they’re supposed to be pronounced, nobody would know what we’re talking about :stuck_out_tongue:


I agree, albeit rather reluctantly.

I was once irked to hear a reader in church use “prophesise”, but, upon looking it up, I discovered that the awful thing has been in use for nearly 200 years.


And (entering language geek mode here), if you take into account the phenomenon of etacism and iotacism (something that was already occurring in Greek in the time of Jesus), Ιουδαιοι/Ioudaioi would really be pronounced roughly like You-day-ee (kind of like the Latin Iudaei), the diphthongs ai and oi being simplified into e and i.

As for Iēsous, by the time we get to the 1st century, the pronunciation of eta (η) is becoming more simplified: so it’s not so much Yay-soos (which is correct - if you’re talking about the more ancient Attic Greek), but AFAIK somewhere in between Yeah-soos and Ee-soos. Go on even farther and the pronunciation of Ιησους completely becomes Ee-soos. (Which is how Ιησους is pronounced in Byzantine and modern Greek.) Again, due to etacism.


It’s likely from French, actually.

The thing is, there were different local pronunciations of Latin even from early on, and the pronunciation evolved just like these local dialects of Latin evolved into languages like French or Italian or Spanish. It’s true that in Classical (and Italianate) Latin, the Iesus would have been pronounced Yay-soos, but in places like France or Portugal, the pronunciation of the I of Iesus evolved into /ʒ/ or /dʒ/ (like the j in French jeune or the dg in hedge), something like Zhay-soos or Jay-soos. You would notice that even in Italian, Jesus is Gesù, Jay-zu. (In Spain, the pronunciation change went even further: that’s why in Spanish, Jesus is read as something like Hay-soos.)


That’s what I figure; I just don’t know when it crossed the Channel and started being used in Anglo-Saxon words, as opposed to Norman-French words.


Interesting. And in Romanian it’s pronounced that way too, naturally. There is actually a rather amusing confessional debate about how to spell it between the Orthodox and the evangelicals. The Orthodox, not having an eta in Romanian, write it with two “i’s,” “Iisus.” The more pragmatic “neo-Protestants” (who use a Bible translated in the early 20th century by a former Orthodox priest who became Plymouth Brethren) drop the extra i, since it doesn’t affect the pronunciation. I’ve been told (but by evangelicals–I haven’t confirmed this with an actual Orthodox person, but it would match the tone and method of some of the Orthodox polemic I have read) that some Orthodox use this as an argument to prove the irreverence and heresy of the Protestants, since they are taking out a letter from the name of Jesus. (According to one evangelical lady I knew, the Orthodox claim that by taking out the letter the Protestants are making the word mean donkey, but neither she nor I could figure out how such an argument was supposed to work.)



What evidence do we have for iotacism or etacism in this period? Demetrius’ On Style (probably C2nd BCE) shows no consciousness of such coalescence, nor does Dionysius Thrax (C2nd BCE); Dionysius of Halicarnassus (late C1st BCE), on the other hand, describes the vowels as very distinct forms. None of these sources is κοινη, however.

Still, in terms of later usage, this summary describes etacism as evidenced in writing (via η/ει interchanges) from the late C2nd CE, and lists individual interchanges (ει/ι, αι/ε, ο/ω, υ/οι) of other vowels rather than the generalised assimilation of most forms to ι.

Also, W. Sidney Allen comments of οι that “diphthongal pronunciation is clearly indicated at least until Roman times” (Vox Graeca, p.80), and he places ι for οι in the C3rd CE.

While individual versions no doubt varied by regional accent (especially given the non-native aspects of κοινη), Jesus’ own time seems too early for such changes, although a comparison with C1st Hebrew sound forms might be interesting.


It’s kind of funny, because that’s the reverse of what happened between the Russian Orthodox and the Old Believers. ‘Jesus’ was traditionally written Ісусъ (Isus), but Patriarch Nikon’s reforms standardized it to Іисусъ (Iisus; maybe the и was added to conform it more to how the name was actually written in Greek).

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