Since the King James Version of the Bible, the name Jacob in the Greek New Testament has been rendered as James, as a way of sucking up to the King. This is exclusive to the English-speaking world: on the Continent, and, presumably, in pre-KJV English translations, the name ’Iακωβος is rendered as Jacob. Apart from sloth and reactionary conservatism, are there any reasons why we should not join the rest of the universal Church in having the Epistle of Jacob and “Jacob, the brother of the Lord”? If there are no such reasons, when can we expect the General Synod to act?
Before we light the fuse of this new Jacobite Revolt against such noted sloth and reactionary conservatism, it should be noted that the name “James” is used in English Bible translations before 1611, and our European neighbours are not as united in their Jacobitism as one might suspect.
William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament has “Iames” (as had John Wycliffe’s two centuries earlier). Note that spelling has an “I” instead of a “J”, and this difference in the spelling and pronunciation of the first consonant of the name continues across the languages of the world. Needless to say, the choice of this spelling is not royalist flattery; for Tyndale was no flatterer of kings. The spelling was more probably chosen as a colloquialism, to enhance the immediacy of the translation.
The English name “James” didn’t fall out of the sky, but is a reduction of the Late Latin form “Iacomus”, from “Iacobus”, which came to us via the French. The forms “James” and “Jammes” still exist in French alongside the standard “Jacques” (which also does not conform to a universal ideal of “Jacob”). The Spanish name the Epistle that of “Santiago”, and call men of such persuasion variously “Jaime”, “Jacobo”, “Diego”, or “Iago”, which all show how those phonemes have a rather liquid history on European tongues.
The Italians, also fond of the “m”-form, mostly go with “Giacomo”. The Portuguese have the habit of using “Jacó” in the Old Testament and “Tiago” in the New Testament in similar fashion to our “Jacob/James” migraine.
It would seem that nothing short of world domination would be necessary to enforce much-needed global unity over this name. Sadly, the General Synod is an unlikely route for a budding Bond villain with a penchant for onomastics.
(The Revd) Gareth Hughes (Chaplain of Hertford College), Oxford
. . . For example, in the Welsh New Testament there is “Iago”. . .
Angus Wilkinson, Selby
Our thanks to the many readers who offered answers to this question. Editor
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