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What’s with all the “J” Names?

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05/28/2015

What’s with all the “J” Names? photo

Anyone making a list of Jewish names, or choosing one for a child, has to be struck by how many start with "J."

This is not an accident. One of the many names for God is spelled, in Hebrew, with the two letters "yood" and "hey." Together, they sound like the last syllable of "hallelujah." (Which makes sense, since that word means "praise God.")

The "yood" -- the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- is transliterated into the letter "I," the ninth letter in our familiar alphabet. And as any Indiana Jones fan can tell you, "J" began as a capital form of "i." Later, "J" took on its own pronunciation.

So all the "J" names actually start with an "I"… originally, a "yood." Here are some of the more well-known J names (alphabetized) followed by their meanings, their original Hebrew pronunciations, and more modern forms the name has taken… which is where your name might have ended up in the list. Most female names of this type are versions of male source-names; the ones that aren't usually start with a "Y" in English, like "Yael" and "Yaffa."

Jacob: "Heel"
(yah-ah-COHV)
[Jake*/Jacqueline/Jocelyn]

Jadon: "He will judge"
(yah-DON)
[Jaden. "Jayden" = "Jay" + "Hayden"]

James: (a form of Jacob)
[Jamie, Jim, Jake*]

Jamin: "Right (hand)"
(yah-MEEN)

Jared: "He will descend"
(yah-REYD)

Jedediah: "Beloved of God."
(yeh-DEED-yah)
[Jed]

Jeremiah: "God exalts"
(yeer-mee-YAH-hu)
[Jeremy]

Jesse: "God exists"
(YEE-shai)
[Jessica]

Jethro: "His excellency"
(YEET-roh)

Joel: "The Lord is God."
(YOH-el)

Jochanan: "God has favored"
(YOH-chan-an) [John/Johanna, Jack/Jake*, Jan/Jane/Janet/Janice/Janis and even Jean/Jen/Joan]

Jonah: "Dove (the bird)"
(YOH-nah)
[Jonas]

Jonathan: "God has given"
(YOH-naht-ahn)
[Nathan is its own, stand-alone name]

Jordan: "Descend"
(yar-DAYN) [Jordana; Jordan River flows southward]

Joseph: "God will increase"
(yo-SAYF)
[Josephine/Josie/Joe/Jody]

Joshua: "God will save"
(yeh-hoh-SHOO-ah)
[Josh]

Judah: "Praise, thanks"
(yeh-HOO-dah)
[Judith/Judd/Judy/Jody/Jude]

*"Jake" can be a nickname for Jacob, for John (through Jack), and even for James (since James is from Jacob anyway).

Some rarer Hebrew "J" names include: Jaleel, Jasper, Jedidah, Jehochanan, Jemima, Jephthah, Jeroboam, Josephus, and Josiah. Jumpin' Jehosephat! (Yes, also Biblical.)

While there are J-ified versions of these names, you mostly hear them in Hebrew or in Israel: Yael, Yafit, Yair, Yaron, Yechezkel, Yedidah, Yehudit, Yerucham, Yigal, Yirachmiel, Yishai(ah), Yisachar, Yoav, Yoel, Yocheved, and Yuval. All starting with a "yood."

Some "yood" names retain the "I," however: Isaac, Ilana, Iris, Isabel (from the Biblical name Elizabeth, even if it sounds like "Jezebel"), Isaiah, Itamar… Ian and Ivan (from John)… and of course Israel itself.

Why "I" in these cases? It has to do with the second letter, after the "yood." If the second letter is a vowel, the yood becomes a "J"; "Ya'acov" becomes "Jacob." If the second letter is a consonant, the "yood" has to stay a vowel; "Yitzchak" becomes "Isaac"… not the unpronounceable "Jsaac."

Probably the most prominent city names that start with "J" in English but "yood" in Hebrew are, of course, in Israel (which itself starts with a "yood" in Hebrew:):

Jaffa: "Beautiful" (YAH-foh)

Jerusalem: "Vision of Peace" (yeh-roo-shah-LAH-yim)

Jericho: "Fragrant" (yeh-REE-choh)

Not all J names are Hebrew in origin, of course. Those from other languages include: Jarvis, Jasmine, Jason, Jay, Jeffrey, Jennifer, Jerome, Jill, Joy, June, Julius (and, therefore: Jules, Julian, Julia, Julie, Juliet, etc.)... and Justin/Justine.

But still, quite a few "J" names do come from Hebrew, even from the Torah. And now you know why.

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