Friday, December 23, 2005

Anglicizing Funny Names

While everyone has heard of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, some people may not recognize the names Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, and Moshe. Yet these were there real names!

What gives English speakers such difficulty referring to biblical figures by their real names? Is it the fact that they have never heard a Christian refer to Moses as Moshe or Elijah as Eliyahu?

Yitzchak Rabin was Yitzchak Rabin - the English press never changed his name to a more pronounceable "Isaac Rabin". Since we don't Anglicize the names of others with "funny" names like Kofi Anan, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Usama Bin Laden, why do we need to Anglicize the names of biblical figures?

I have no problem with someone referring to brochos as "blessings" or davening as "praying", but a name is a name!

Why can't Abraham just be Avraham?


At December 23, 2005 at 8:12:00 AM EST, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Could it be the King James Version of the Bible? I mean there's no Osama in the Bible; but there's certainly an Abraham. So since our culture accepted the norms of the KJV, we're kinda stuck with it.

(The quesiton is why Bibi is called Benjamin here and not Binyamin. My best guess is that since he spent a significant amount of time in the States he may well have referred to himself as Benjamin in many settings.)


At December 23, 2005 at 8:17:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

David: That is probably the correct answer. It reminds me of a quote I just saw [Soferim 1:7], "The day when the Torah was written in Greek was as unfortunate for Israel as the day of the Golden Calf."

At December 23, 2005 at 1:17:00 PM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

The Bible is so universal and revered in so many cultures, I would imagine each would adapt the names to align with their own. Wonder what they call Avraham in Zimbabwe and New Guinea....

At December 25, 2005 at 11:48:00 AM EST, Blogger Batya said...

That's one of the things that bothers me about the Herzogs, grandsons of the former Chief Rabbi. They're known as Mike and Izak. At least those are the ones I know of. Oh, and they're actually Israeli.

At December 26, 2005 at 6:21:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

MCAryeh & Batya: Thanks for your comments.

At December 27, 2005 at 11:04:00 PM EST, Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Sometimes it is a question of linguistics. The Hebrew name Yeshua became the Greek Iesous (and then the Latin Jesus) because in Greek, like many other languages, proper nouns have to decline into cases just like regular nouns (so they can figure out what is happening in the sentence). So the name had to be changed to make it easy to fit in with the rest of the language.

Other times it is just a question of a sound that is difficult to pronounce. I am guessing that the gutteral Yitz-chak is hard to pronounce in many languages.

Lastly it can also be an issue of regional pronounciation differences. So to an Arab, Avraham is Ibrahim and Yishmael is Ismayeel.

At December 28, 2005 at 6:32:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

E-Kvetcher. Thank you for your comment and the link. It was very interesting.

At December 28, 2005 at 10:20:00 AM EST, Blogger James lee Hamilton said...

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