Thursday, June 28, 2012

John, Mary and Muhammad in Different Languages

If your parents named you John, don't be surprised that in France people will call you Jean. Or if you find yourself in Spain, an abuela (grandmother) may refer to you as Juan. Women with names like Mariska, Mariah and Mary owe their names to a Hebrew name. Muhammad, the most popular name in the world, has many different spellings in different languages. Fascinating, isn't it?

Most of the given names today originated from Latin, Greek, Hebrew or Arabic names. Throughout human history, given names have changed from one location to another. As people moved across lands and over seas due to migration, war or a multitude of other reasons, they brought with them their given names that came from their original mother tongues. The locals in their new communities must have spoken a dialect or language different from theirs. So when their names were adopted in these new settings, their original given names were changed in order to fit the local language or dialect better.


The Hebrews were the first peoples to name their children John. In Hebrew form, John is Yohanan or Yochanan. The meaning of this given name in Hebrew is "graced by Yahweh" where Yahweh means God. In the dead language, Latin, John is Ioannes or Iohannes. This was adopted from the Greek name Ioannes.

John was and still is a very common name around the world. Many Jewish parents named their sons John in its Hebrew form during the time of the Roman Empire. Its eventual popularity in Europe came after the Crusades and stemmed from the fact that Kings, Emperors and Popes often were called John or its equivalent in their language.

Italians use Giovanni, Gianni or Gian; Germanic language speakers used Johann, Jan, Jannis or Hans, Hungarians preferred János, while those who spoke Slavic languages named their children Honza, Ion, Ivan, Jan, Janez, or Jovan. Albanians used Gjon or Gjin. Juan was used in Spain while Juo, now João, was used by the medieval Portuguese.

From the Old French you have Jehan. This later became Jean, a name that found itself in the shores of England back in the 11th century when William the Conqueror invaded England. There was even a time in England that the spelling of John was Iohn. In Wales, John was Ieuan, Ifan or Ianto. Rendered in English, Ifan became Evan. Even the Irish had their own versions of John, which were Eoin and Sean. In Scotland, Iain stood for John.

There are feminine forms of the masculine given name John. Some of its feminine equivalent names are: Joan, Joana, Joanna, Johanne, Jana, Hanna, Hana, Ivana, Ivanka, Yoana, Yoanna, Yoanka, Yanina, Ghjuvanna, Hanne, Juana, Juanita, Janet, and Janina.

Two of the most popular Johns are found in the New Testament of the Holy Bible: St. John the Baptist and John the Apostle. American President John F. Kennedy, nicknamed Jack, is also a very popular John in today's culture.


The name Mary is an English form of the Greek name Maria or Mariam. The Greeks adopted this name from the Hebrew name Mariam. Some sources have said that Miriam comes from the Egyptian word "mry" that means beloved or the name Meritamen or Meri-Amun that means "beloved of the God Amun" in Egyptian. What does Mary mean? A number of sources attach the meaning "bitter" to the given name Mary. To the name Mariam, "rebellious" and "disobedient" are pointed to as possible meanings.

There are many (too many) variants of the name Mary in different languages. In German you have Marie, Mareike, Mariele, Marita, Mia and Ria. For French speakers there's Marie, Marion, Mariette, Marielle, and Marianne. In Arabic there's Mariam and Maryam. Moira, Maura, and Maureen are Irish, while Maria and Marita are Spanish. The Maoris have Mere, the Hungarians have Marika, Mariska and Mari, while the Lithuanians and Macedonians use Marija in place of Mary.

In some European countries like Italy, Poland, Germany, and in the Southeast Asian country Philippines, males may include Maria as a middle name.

Who is the most popular Mary in the world? Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus Christ.


Sources point to the name Muhammad as the most common given name in the world. It is a transliteration of an Arabic given name. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the original spelling is retained. But in Afghanistan and Iran, it is more commonly spelled as Mohammad, while in North Africa the locals use the spelling Muhammed. Muhamed is used in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In countries like Albania and Turkey, the following transliterations are common: Muhammed, Muhammet, Muhamed and Muhamet.

Latin and Greek also have their own versions of Muhammad. These are Mahometus and Moameth, respectively. The Spanish and Catalans say Mahoma while the Galician version is Mamede. If you go to Russia, you may meet men with names like Mukhammad or Magomed. In West African countries like Senegal, Mamadou is their version of Muhamman while in Somalia you have Maxamed. The Kazakhs use Mukhammed.

What does Muhammad mean? Muhammad originates from the Middle East and is the name of the prophet of Islam. The name Muhammad means "praised." Another popular Muhammad is Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Different languages, different names? Not really. Many given names in use today came from languages that are no longer spoken in daily conversations. Greek and Latin are common sources of given names. Some given names come from Hebrew. If you are interested, find out the language of origin of your own given name. And while you are at it, try to discover the famous (and infamous) people you share your name with.

1 comment:

Teresa Halminton said...

Wow! I have never known that! Thank you for sharing!
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