JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen RE: Translating English to Jewish/Hebrew #general

Wegner, Peter

James Belson wrote:

...translate the American name Joanne to Hebrew phonetically for a tombstone. I
believe the translation is YUHANA. Can you comfirm, correct, or send me to the
right web location for the right information. I notice that all names I have seen
starting with "J" become "Y". My name James for instance is Yontov.

Dear James,
Your query raises several points of general interest, so I am responding to the
group as a whole. First, it turns out that your question involves not
"translation" but "transliteration" >from one alphabet to another. That's because
the original transliteration of this particular name was not >from English to Hebrew
but exactly the reverse! In fact, "Joanne" is not an "American name" at all, but
a Hebrew name: Yohanah; for the tombstone, you would need the original Hebrew
spelling: yod-vav-het-nun-heh.

The name Yohanah was first transliterated into Greek in the New Testament as
"Ioanna" and later into Latin as "Joanna" (see Luke 24:10). Obviously, the
"American" version Joanne is a very slight modification of the Latin spelling.
In the N.T., Joanna is one of Jesus' Jewish followers. Her original Hebrew name,
Yohanah, was the feminine equivalent of the male Biblical name Yohanan. The latest
(post-exilic) books of the Hebrew Bible record several men with that name (see e.g.
Jeremiah 40:16). Indeed, the name seems to have been as common back then as its
English counterpart "John" is today!

In the N.T., we have John the Baptist and John the Apostle (the purported author
of the Fourth Gospel). In both cases the Hebrew name "Yohanan" was transliterated
as "Ioannes" in Greek. (In later centuries, it would be rendered Johannes in Latin
and German, Giovanni in Italian, Jean in French and John in English -- with female
equivalents in all of those languages (thus in English, we have not only Joanna but
also Jane and Joan, and in French Jeanne and Jeannette.

Postscript: Your own Hebrew name is not actually spelled Yontov with an "n" but
Yomtov with an "m." (The Hebrew spelling is: yod-vav-mem tet-vav-bet.) "Yom Tov"
means literally "a good day" -- meaning specifically, a holy day in the Hebrew
calendar. "Yontov" or "Yontif" is a Yiddishized version of the original Hebrew.
As for the name James itself, this is a modification of Iakobos or Jacobus ( New
Testament Greek and Latin renderings of the Biblical name Ya'akov ( Jacob). So
James is actually the precise English equivalent of the Hebrew name Ya'akov. But
the original "b" of Jacobus got lost along the way (cf. Italian Iacomo ) So it
ended up as James in English!

Judith Romney Wegner

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