James Hastings Dictionary of the Bible: Pronunciation of Proper Names

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James Hastings Dictionary of the Bible: Pronunciation of Proper Names


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It will be generally agreed that some uniformity in the pronunciation of Scripture Proper Names is extremely desirable. One hears in church and elsewhere, not only what are obvious and demonstrable mispronunciations, but such variety in the mode of pronouncing many names as causes irritation and bewilderment. It is impossible to tell whether a speaker or reader is simply blundering along, or whether he is prepared to justify his pronunciation by reference to some authority, or to base it upon some intelligible principle. If after hearing a name pronounced in a way widely different from that to which we have been accustomed, we refer to some accessible authority, it is by no means improbable that it will be found to support the accentuation or enunciation of which we should previously have been inclined to disapprove.

It is less easy to see how the uniformity desiderated is to be brought about. A committee consisting of representative Biblical and English scholars might draw out a list which would be accepted as a standard, on the assumption that individuals were prepared, for the sake of the desired uniformity, to give up their own personal habits or preferences. It is certain that no authority less distinguished would be recognized. It has therefore been, no doubt, a wise decision on the part of the Editor of the present work not to indicate, as was at one time contemplated, the pronunciation of each proper name as it occurred, at any rate when any difficulty was likely to be experienced. This would simply have been to add another to the numerous, and too often discordant, authorities already existing. Instead, it has been thought better to prepare the way, in some degree, for an authoritative list by discussing briefly some of the principles which should govern its construction.

1. Divergence of authorities.—It may be well at the outset to illustrate that divergence of accessible authorities to which allusion has been made. For this purpose we shall select the four following lists:—(1) That of Professor T. K. Cheyne, D.D., of Oxford, originally contributed to the Queen’s Printers’ Teachers’ Bible of 1877 (Eyre & Spottiswoode); (2) that contributed by Professor W. B. Stevenson, B.D., now of Glasgow, to the Supplementary Volume to Dr. Young’s Analytical Concordance (George Adam Young & Co.); (3) that contained in the Appendix to Cassell’s English Dictionary, edited by John Williams, M.A. (Cassell & Co.); (4) that contained in the Illustrated Bible Treasury, edited by Wm. Wright, D.D. (Nelson & Sons). The following names are thus given:—

Cheyne. Stevenson. Williams.*

[Note: As it is not stated by whom the lists in Nelson’s and Cassell’s publications were drawn up, the Editors’ names are given as responsible for them.]
Wright.*

[Note: As it is not stated by whom the lists in Nelson’s and Cassell’s publications were drawn up, the Editors’ names are given as responsible for them.]
Abia′ Ab′′ Abl′ Abia′ Abina′ Ab′′ Abin′ Abina′ Ad′′ Adram′ Adram′ Adramme′ Antipat′ Antipat′ Antip′ Antipa′ Ba′′ Ba′′ Ba′ Per′ Ba′′ Chedor′′ Che′′ Chedorla′ Chedorlao′ Debo′ Deb′ Deb′ Debo′ Deda′ De′ De′ Deda′ Em′ Emma′ Emma′ Em′ Eph′ Ephra′ Eph′ Ephra′ Habak′ Habak′ Habak′ and Hab′ Habak′ Hav′ Hav′ Havi′ Havil′ Haza′ Haz′ Ha′ Haza′ Ich′ I′ Ich′ I′ Ja′′ Jaha′ Jahaz′ Mahalal′ Mahalal′ Maha′ Mahalale′ Mattath′ Mattathi′ Mattathi′ Mat′′ Meri′ Meri′ Mer′ Meri′ Nazarene′ Nazare′ Naz′ Naz′ Sennache′ Sennach′ Sennach′ Sennach′ Tir′ Tirha′ Tir′ Tirha′ Zeru′ Zerui′ Zer′ Zerui′ Zohe′ Zo′ Zohel′ Zohe′ These examples might be greatly multiplied, particularly in the case of what might be termed more familiar names in regard to which there are two ruling modes of accentuation, as Aga′ and Ag′ Ahime′ and Ahim′ Bahu′ and Bah′ Bath′ and Bathshe′ Ced′ and Ce′ Mag′ and Magdale′ Peni′ and Pen′ Rehob′ and Rehobo′ Thaddae′ and Thad′ An examination of the lists will show the very considerable extent of the variation which exists even among those who may be regarded as guides in the matter, and it will show also that a great part of the variation may be accounted for by the degree to which the Editors of the respective lists are disposed to give weight to the forms of the word in the original, or to what may be considered the popular and current pronunciation. This is indeed the crux of the matter.

2. Principles adopted.—In what follows we shall keep in view especially the contributions of Professor Cheyne and Professor Stevenson, each of whom explains in an introduction the principles on which he has sought to solve the problem presented; and perhaps we may be allowed once for all to acknowledge our obligations to these able and scholarly discussions. In reference to the point just referred to, Professor Cheyne says:—

‘Strict accuracy is no doubt unattainable. In some cases (e.g. Moses, Aaron, Solomon, Isaac, Samuel, Jeremiah) the forms adopted by the Authorized Version are borrowed from the Septuagint through the medium of the Vulgate. Here the correct pronunciation would require an alteration of familiar names which would be quite intolerable. But even where the current forms are derived from the Hebrew, a strictly accurate pronunciation would offend by introducing a dissonance into the rude but real harmony of our English speech. Besides, that quickness of ear which is necessary for reproducing foreign sounds is conspicuously wanting to most natives of England. Still, the prevalent system of pronouncing Biblical names seems unnecessarily wide of the mark. There is no occasion to offend so gratuitously against the laws of Hebrew sound and composition as we do at present. Not a few of our mispronunciations of Hebrew names impede the comprehension of their meaning, especially in the case of names of religious significance, when the meaning is most fully fraught with instruction. A working compromise between pedantic precision and persistent mispronunciation is surely feasible.’

Professor Stevenson remarks, with reference to his list of Scripture Proper Names, that—

‘It does not offer an absolute standard, for no such standard exists. The supreme authority in pronunciation is prevalent usage (among educated people). But the weakness of such an authority is specially clear in the case of Scripture names. Even names not uncommon are variously pronounced, and many are so unfamiliar that there is no “usage” by which to decide.… In actual speech unfamiliar words are pronounced as analogy suggests, unconsciously it may be.… There is no single court of appeal. In particular, the original pronunciation is not the only, nor perhaps the chief, influence. If it were better understood how impossible it is to pronounce Hebrew names as the ancient Hebrews did, there would be less temptation to lay stress on the original as the best guide. On the other hand, the closer the incorporation of Scripture names into English, the better; and this also is a consideration entitled to influence.… The principles here adopted are those which seem to express the English treatment of ancient foreign names which have become common property in the language.’

(1) New Testament.—The case is no doubt widely different with regard to the Old Testament as compared with the New. In the New Testament the Greek form of the name (including the transliteration of Hebrew names) may almost invariably be followed; thus, Aristobu′ Ar′ Diot′ Epe′ Proch′ Tab′ The diphthong of the Authorized and Revised Versions justifies Thaddæ′ rather than Thad′æus. Cheyne and Stevenson both spell the name Thaddeus, the former accenting the first, and the latter the second, syllable. It is desirable to follow the Greek sometimes even in the face of fairly common usage, as by making Bethsa′ a word of four syllables, and Ja-i′ a word of three. There are some peculiarities which have to be noticed, e.g. that final e is sounded in Bethphage, Gethsemane, Magdalene, but not in Nazarene, or Urbane. For Phœnice the R.V. reads Phœnix. Sos′ again, is a word of three syllables. With some attention to these principles, of which the above are merely examples, the pronunciation of New Testament names should present little difficulty.

(2) Old Testament.—When we turn to the Old Testament we find ourselves in presence of a much more complicated problem. Here it is impossible to conform our pronunciation to that of the original language; yet if we are not to pronounce at haphazard, and follow each his own taste and habit, we must reflect upon the conditions, and frame at least general rules for our guidance. In the absence of a standard list of pronunciations constructed by experts of such authority that we might waive in favour of their dicta our personal predilections, there will, at the best, be considerable room for individual judgment. We do not aim, therefore, at doing more in the following observations than aid such judgment by showing the alternatives before it, and indicating the limits within which it may be profitably exercised.

‘The supreme authority in pronunciation,’ says Professor Stevenson, ‘is prevalent usage (among educated people).’ The difficulty in many cases is to determine what is prevalent usage, and how far the education which is presumed to guide it has included the elements which would make it reliable in such a connexion. Prevalent usage itself may be educated and corrected, and the question is where the line shall be drawn between ‘pedantic precision’ and ‘persistent mispronunciation’ (to use Professor Cheyne’s phrase), how much shall be conceded to a regard for the methods of the ancient Hebrews on the one side, and for those of the modern Britons on the other? This question is the more difficult to answer because the training and environment of even highly educated people differ so widely, and because what is prevalent in one circle is almost or altogether unknown in another.

Professor Cheyne suggests, as a guiding principle, the giving of some attention to the religious significance of proper names, particularly those which ‘contain in some form the proper name of God in Hebrew.’ With this laudable object, he, as a rule, shifts the accent in such names so as to bring their religious significance prominently before the reader. The practice, however, brings him into conflict with many undoubted cases of established usage. Professor Stevenson holds that the influences ‘which must affect the treatment of Scripture names are—(1) The original pronunciation; (2) the characteristic tendencies of purely English speech; (3) the fixed customary pronunciation of certain words resembling others less common.’ In applying the second of these principles—the characteristic tendencies of English speech—he appeals chiefly to analogy:—

‘People naturally pronounce according to the analogy of other words which are familiar, and the practice supplies a rule of treatment. Doubtful or unfamiliar words should be pronounced in harmony with the general tendencies of the language, or in a way similar to other words which strikingly resemble them. Scripture names are borrowed from the foreign languages Greek and Hebrew. They are, therefore, to be compared specially with words of similar origin, such as the names of classical antiquity.’ He admits, however, that ‘conflict of analogies cannot be wholly avoided. If one is not in itself stronger than another, the most “desirable” result in each case should be preferred. Ease of pronunciation is one test of desirability. The principle of pronunciation according to sense has also been used by the writer.’

It is needless to say that he carries out these principles with great care and consistency. The weak point of the position is that the analogies founded on by one scholar will not be equally familiar, or commend themselves to the same extent, to another; and it may well appear to many that Professor Stevenson in his list of proper names concedes too much to popular usage, and would in some cases attain a more desirable result by approximating more closely to the form of the original.

3. Points for consideration.—We shall now present for the consideration of the reader who desires to achieve as great a degree of correctness as the matter admits of, some of the more important points which he will have to decide for himself, assuming that when he has once adopted a rule he will follow it as consistently as possible, or be able to give a reason for any deviation.

(1) Shall we adopt what may be called the Continental pronunciation of the vowels—a = ah, e = eh, i = ee, u = oo?—In many instances we may be strongly tempted to do so; to one who knows Hebrew it is more natural, and the effect is finer—Mesopotâmia is a grander word than Mesopotamia. But it is only in the less familiar words that this could be done. The first syllables of Canaan, Pharaoh, Balaam, must have the â as in fate or fair.

(2) Is the Hebrew J [Note: Jahwist.] to be pronounced like j in judge, or like y?—It would probably be impossible to follow the latter mode in the large number of names beginning with J [Note: Jahwist.] , such as Jericho, Joash, &c [Note: circa, about.] ., and it would be intolerable in the case of Jesus; but there are instances in which it would impart an added dignity—e.g. Jehovah-jireh is far finer if the j be sounded as y, and the i as ee. In the middle of words, especially in words containing the Divine name Jah, the matter has already been settled for us, as it in most cases appears as iah, Ahaziah, Isaiah, Shemaiah. The question here arises whether the i is to be treated as consonant or vowel, and if the latter, whether it should ever he accented. Professor Cheyne, in order to bring out more prominently the Divine name, would treat the iah = jah always as a separate word—Ahaz′ Isa′ Shema′ Except for this consideration the rule would probably be, that where it follows a consonant the i is not only treated as a vowel but also accented—Jeremi′ when it follows a vowel it is assimilated with that vowel as in the two examples given above, which also illustrate the way in which one or other vowel may give place, Isaiah (Isâ-ah), Shemaiah (Shemî-ah), though some would render the former also Isî′

(3) The question often arises in the case of names of three or more syllables, especially when the last two are significant in the original, whether the accent should be placed on the penultimate or thrown farther back in accordance with general English practice. Professor Stevenson says:—‘The English stress accent in ancient foreign names is determined, with limitations, by the original length of the vowels, not by the original stress.’ But in the case of words in familiar and frequently read passages of Scripture, the ‘limitations’ are extensive, and must be allowed to override considerations based on length of vowel. Where Cheyne prefers Abime′ Ahitho′ Jocheb′ Joha′ Stevenson gives Abim′ Ahith′ Joch′ Jo′ On the other hand, Cheyne gives Am′ and A′′ where Stevenson accentuates Amra′ and Aholi′ Nor is it an English trait to have too much regard for significant parts of words. We do not say philosoph′ biolog′ Deuteronom′ (though this is heard occasionally), but the stress is laid on the connecting syllable. So, if Abim′ and the class of names ruled by it be allowed, a great deal might be said for Abin′ Abi′ and similar words being pronounced thus, instead of Abina′ Abia′ etc., notwithstanding the length of the penultimate in the original. Here, again, views will differ according to the ‘educated usage’ to which we have access, and the deference we may be inclined to pay to the peculiarities of English speech. With reference to Jochebed and Johanan in the examples quoted above, it should be noted that Stevenson makes an exception to the rule of the penultimate accent in favour of names in which the first element is some form of the Divine name. The accent, he says, rests in such cases on this first element. It may be doubtful if this reason is the one consciously adopted in regard to these names. Jo′ seems to us unnatural, and for Jehon′ we prefer the explanation given in the former part of this paragraph.

(4) Professor Stevenson is doubtless right in saying that the established pronunciation of familiar names determines that of others in the same form that are less familiar. Dan′ and Is′ are the key to one class of such names, unless, as he points out, Penu′ be accented on the second syllable, and determine other words in—uel. Phil′ (accent on the first) is due to the analogy of Philip, and Ene′ ‘to the analogy of Virgil’s hero.’

These may serve as examples of the kind of difficulty which surrounds the subject, and the extent to which individual judgment may be exercised. There are general principles which may be adopted and usually observed, though perfect consistency in their application may not be attainable or desirable. Let the reader ascertain in all doubtful cases the form and pronunciation of the name in the original,* [Note: These are given in all cases by Professor Stevenson in Roman letters, according to a system of transliteration which he explains in his introduction. They are thus made accessible to English readers.] and compare it with those suggested by the best authorities within his reach. He will then be able to follow the method which most commends itself to his ear and judgment. Though the student may not always adopt the pronunciation given in Professor Stevenson’s list, nothing but good can result from a careful pondering of his explanations. Let us be sure that, though we are told that ‘De minimis non curat lex,’ it is worth our while to be as careful as we can even about ‘little things.’

Alexander Stewart.