„Names in the Bibles“ Project by Mondonomo
How many names are there in the Bible?
According to one method of counting, there are about 2670 Old Testament Hebrew proper names and 580 New Testament Greek proper names, and out of these names, about 165 are common to both Testaments. Moreover, in the English translation tradition, there are a few names for which different forms have been used for a single Biblical name. The more ‘Hebrew’ forms are typically reserved for Old Testament personalities, and Anglicized or Hellenized ones are typically reserved for New Testament personalities: Jacob/James, Miriam/Mary, Joshua/Jesus, Hananiah/Ananias.
What is the Mondonomo Project ?
Many names in common use worldwide today can be linked to a Biblical heritage merely by using the form of the name that relates to a specific country. While this approach doesn't work for every name, you'll find that, in the project „Names in Bibles“ newly launched by Mondonomo, there are various equivalent forms for many popular and classic names from Bible in all kinds of languages.
This is, so to say, a multilingual databank of cognate names out of the Bibles around the globe. A cognate of a name is a corresponding name in another language which is derived from the same root. For example Andrew, André, Andrea, Andrey, Andrzej and Ondrej are all cognates derived from the Greek root name Ανδρεας (Andreas). Different languages transliterate sounds from other languages in different ways, even within the same area. So to render the name "John", an Italian would use Giovanni, a Spaniard would use Juan, a Dutchman would use Jan, a German might have used Johann, and a Dane might use Hans. For a more complete list of alternatives to the name rendered in English as "James", read here.
Why is the Mondonomo Project useful?
It is worthy to know that as of September 2021 the full Bible is available in 717 different languages, giving 5.75 billion people access to the complete Scriptures in the language they understand best. The New Testament is available in another 1,582 languages, reaching another 830 million people. Selections and stories are available in a further 1,196 other languages, spoken by 457 million people. Just imagine that 2,899 languages have begun active translation or preparatory work. Although any translation team might be thrilled about working through all these names in their translation into thousands of languages all around the globe, there would be unmistakable rewards if we handle them in a systematic and appropriate way. Handling them in a systematic way in all languages would save time and lead to a more consistent product. And, more importantly, doing the needed research and testing to find out what forms of names are most appropriate for their receptor language can improve the reception of their translation and the joy their readers will have from all those names. Under this perspectives, „Names in the Bibles“ can be considered as a highly fruitful and promising project.
Why so many variations of one Biblical name?
For the most part, most translations will transliterate the names fairly consistently, but occasionally they will differ. There are several factors that will cause one translation to transliterate a name one way, but another translation will transliterate the same name a different way.
Names in the Bible are normally not translated (i.e. the meaning of the name) but are transliterated. This can cause problems if the target language lacks certain sounds that are in the original languages as Greek or Hebrew. For instance, the ch (like Bach in German) is not found in English. Therefore, names with a ch in Hebrew will either be an H or a Kh in English. Russian has no "th" sound. Consequently, the sound of the name Matthew cannot be reproduced in Russian. In Greek, it is ματθαιος, or /Mat-thaios/. Russian translates this as Матфей, or Matfay. So, the "th" becomes an "f".
Secondly, many times the Bible was not translated from the original language but from a translated language. This compounds the errors. A “J” in German would be pronounced as a “Y” sound. However in English the J is very distinct from the Y. Therefore, names like Joel or Jacob are much closer to the original Hebrew names in German than they are in English. Also, the ending of the name changes in Greek depending upon which part of speech it is. We don't do that in English, so we just have to select an ending and stick with it.
Part of this, too, has to do with the language spoken by the first missionaries to visit a particular area. For instance, the fact that the Tamil name for John is Yovan suggests that the Tamil language picked up the name of John from missionaries of Italian origin. Without having any background information about the Tamils in India, let us find out if it is true. And, yes, it corresponds to the history of India. The very first translations of the Bible for Tamils are due to Italian missionary Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi (1680-1747). He is one of the most important Jesuit priests of the 18th century: a Tamil poet, writer, translator and grammarian, he took the name of “Vīramāmunivar”, becoming the Father of Tamil prose.
Well, look up any name in our database, and the Mondonomo Project will tell you its equivalents in other languages.
- Bailey, Nicholas A. (2007) Proper Names in the Bible: translation and transliteration issues // Word & Deed, Dallas: SIL.
- Clark, David J. (1995) The transcription of proper names // The Bible Translator 46(3), 343-8.
- Latest Bible translation statistics. Wycliffe Global Alliance Report, December 2021.