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In my regional language (Tamil) biblical names vary from the actual names. I'm sure this is not only in my regional language only but also in other languages too. For instance Jesus' name is Yesu and John's name is Yovan and so on. But in my regional language it doesn't mean anything; rather it's confusing.

In our prayers also we used the regional names and I think, would we mean Jesus' name or something else?

I can understand it'd be necessary to translate the Bible as it'd help the people to understand the Bible better. But what was the reason to change the names?

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2 Answers 2

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That is simply the nature of language. Here's how things got from Yeshua (Hebrew) to Jesus (English).

  1. Greeks changed it to Yeshu (drop the final "a")
  2. Romans changed it to Iesu (sh changes to s, Y->I) and, in certain grammars, a final "s" was added.
  3. Over time, as the J came into common use, this changed to Jesu/Jesus (pronounced yay-soos).
  4. The letter J in English warped and gained its modern pronunciation.

Interestingly enough, the hymn "O come all ye faithful" has the line "Jesu to thee be all glory giv'n". In England (and in fussy choirs here), this is pronounced with the French "J" (as in Jean) as the first consonant.

Or, there is Yochanan, which became Ian, Sean, and John.

  1. Yochanan becomes Yohana (final n dropped in Greek? not sure if this is a Latinism.)
  2. It was then changed to Iohannes (that extra "s" added in Latin again (This is one of the final forms in Germany, the alternate simply missing "es", thus Johan Sebastian Bach and Johannes Brahms))
  3. In Italian the "h" becomes a "v" (there is no aspirate H in proper Italian, meaning that "Yohan" is technically unpronounceable) and the "es" becomes an "i".
  4. In France the "ha" and the "es" are dropped and, when the i becomes a j, it becomes "Jean" (ea is a better spelling of the aw sound in John).
  5. In English the "es" and the "a" are missing (but the H is still there!) because they were deemphasized over time to the point of obscurity.
  6. In Irish Gaelic (Irish John = Sean) it actually was the same process as found in France, only they took the extra step of "unvoicing" the first consonant (the French J is the voiced version of the English SH)
  7. In Scotch Gaelic (Scottish John = Ian), it kept much of the original English pronunciation (remember J and initial I's used to be pronounced Y), but as time went on, the sound of that initial I changed into the "ee" sound.
  8. "Juan" in Spanish kept the same sounds that English, both Gaelics, and French did, but then the "J" changed into the "w" sound.
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This is right in the major premise (the names are different because of changes due to borrowing and natural language change over time) though most of the specific details are wrong (e.g. the Greeks didn't have a 'sh'; the Romans had 'Iesus' but dropped the s in certain grammatical circumstances; 'ea' in French 'Jean' is not meant to indicate the original vowel sound - that's just a coincidence (the 'o' changed into the 'e', and the h dropped); "J" is not a "w" sound in Spanish (it's an h or kh sound, depending on the dialect, it's just that 'hw' sounds like 'w' to English speakers), etc. –  Muke Tever Feb 15 '12 at 13:06
Irish also has Eoin and Eoghan (both names pronounced the same as the Welsh name Owen, which is spelled more intuitively for English speakers) as forms of John. –  TRiG Feb 26 '12 at 18:12

One of the reasons for the variance in names is that languages often don't share the same sounds as Greek or Hebrew. For instance, Russian has no "th" sound. Consequently, the sound of that name cannot be reproduced in Russian. In Greek, it is ματθαιος, or /Mat-thaios/. Russian translates this as Матфей, or Matfay. So, the "th" becomes an "f".

Also, the ending of the name changes in Greek depending upon which part of speech it is. We don't do that in English, so we just have to select an ending and stick with it.

There is also a difference whether or not the Greek or Hebrew is being translated. The Greek for the Hebrew Name of Jesus (Yeshua) is Ἰησοῦς, or Yay-soos. The Hebrew name of Yeshua is translated into Joshua, while the name Yay-soos is translated Jesus.

So, sometimes a word's sounds are not matched in the receiving language. Other times, there is variance on whether it is coming from Hebrew or Greek. This accounts for some of the issues.

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The Greek name is Ἰησοῦς, or Iesous (although it does sound like Yay-soos). –  user72 Feb 14 '12 at 15:14
@MarkTrapp yeah, I know... I just put it in English. Should've included the Greek. –  Narnian Feb 14 '12 at 15:18
not to mention that hebrews do not have vowels? –  Jim Thio May 9 '13 at 3:53
@JimThio: Every spoken languge has vowels. Written hebrew ommits them, leaving them up to guess work of sorts. –  Flimzy May 9 '13 at 7:54

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