I am currently working on a religious drama and outsmarted myself. I come to you for help.
Growing up Jewish, I did not hear the term Yahweh until I was 14 in Western Civilization. "Well, you know, right? It's, you know, God." And my reply, "I have no idea what you're talking about, and seriously, there isn't even a w in Hebrew so try again." Nor in Ancient Greek! Although, some would say the Hebrew letter vav can behave like a w.
Next, my Torah portion included Exodus 3:14 (and I gotta tell you, reading off an animal skin scroll is cool!). It says Eh-yeh asher Eh-yeh. Even among Jews, there is some controversy because of limitations within Hebrew of future tense. However, "I shall be what I shall be" is without fault as an English translation of the Hebrew. Certainly the Christian Bible "I am who [what] I am" is a very different statement. The Torah has been meticulously transcribed letter by letter for 2600 years
So I asked a (Conservative) rabbi. We agreed the line from Exodus 3:14 contained neither a Yah nor a weh. "So, Rabbi, where does this word come from?" She says, "Well it really has nothing to do with Exodus 3:14. Here read this." And I read, "Barukh atah Adonai--"
"You can stop there," she says. "The third word does not state 'Adonai.' Why do you say that?" And my response is "Because that [what I read] is how we spell our Lord's name on paper--probably to prevent us from being insulting." And she says "And what does it actually read?" My Hebrew is not so great but I manage "Yeh-vah?" She says, "That's the best I can do."
Although I might benefit from seeing a Protestant minister, I wound up with a visit at a nearby Catholic Church. Although we came to no further conclusion on the matter, we agreed that Yeshua was an awfully nice Hebrew name.
I've read quite a bit over the years on the subject. Most of the commentary is either too mystical or too one-sided to be useful to my project or me.
Specifically, how did "Yahweh" become a word of such prominence in Western literature and lexicon?
I've redacted the latter part of my question, and thank you for your information thus far.
For clarification, I'll add: YHVH, or whatever you want to call it, is little more than a placeholder in modern Hebrew prayers; it is simply not said, and has been further redacted to YY. I've seen it a million times, but I just say Lord ("Adonai"). The idea that the placeholder held any real significance was lost on me until much later in life. I do not know what was spoken in biblical times, but that doesn't matter. The discussion of Jehovah below is helpful, but as long as I'm still open for business ...
Edit: I recently asked an Orthodox rabbi. Orthodox Judaism tends to be more mystical, if you will (Chabad.org). The response: "It is actually one of many names for the Divine. ... It was not used in general prayers during the times of the Temple [Kings]. ... It is unknown what was spoken during the time of Moses."