Some of you may be aware that the letter J is one of the more recent additions to our alphabet. But when was it invented? And what was language like before it came into existence?
When Was The Letter “J” Invented?
The Letter J was invented for the Italian language by a man called “Gian Giorgio Trissino” in the year 1524. It was used in Roman Numerals, but back then, it was an alternative way of writing I, not its own letter. Before the letter J, Jesus’ name was pronounced “Yeh-Soos”.
The History Of The Letter J
Let’s go over the history of the letter J and see how it went from being an alternative version of I to its own letter.
In the year 1524, Italian Gian Giorgio Trissino was the first to use J as a letter. The sound that this new letter would make has another common way of being written “dg“. Due to the influence that Latin and French had on Italian, the letter J was just another way of writing “dg”.
However, back then, the usage of J was far from common, even in Italy, and it wouldn’t be until much later that it would become as recognisable as it is today. It’s unlikely he would have lived long enough to see his new letter become popular.
Much later in the 16th century, a Frenchman called Pierre Ramous was the next person to separate I from J. Back then, words that today we would spell with a J would have been spelt with an I. But, this was only amongst a few French scholars.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the letter J became common in English. If you read some of the older versions of the King James Bible, you will see the letter I where today’s version has the letter J.
What Was Jesus’ Name Before The Letter J?
Did you know that Jesus’ name wasn’t actually Jesus?
When he was alive, the letter J did not exist. And his name was “Yeshua”. This name is the same place that we get the name “Joshua” from.
The reason why modern English translations use Joshua and Jesus as two separate names is to separate the two to prevent people from getting them mixed up.
Before the Letter J was invented, to translate the Hebrew name “Yeshua” into English would have given you Yesus. This is what Jesus was known as for most of English history.
Most of the names we give people in the Bible are not their actual names.
Yahweh Vs Jehovah: What Is God’s Real Name?
If you read Christian literature, there will be two names that God tends to be given. One of them is Jehovah and the other is Yahweh. The reason why God seems to have two names is that his original Hebrew name has been translated differently.
In the Bible, his name is “הֹוָה Yəhōwā,”. When spelt out phonetically, this name sounds like Yahweh.
However, if you were to take the letters of his original name, and turn them into Latin letters, his name is closer to Jehovah.
Because the Bible wasn’t written in English, it can be translated in multiple different ways.
The Letter J In Roman Numerals
Before J was a letter, it was an alternative way of writing I in Roman numerals. In Roman numerals, they would use letters like I, X, and V instead of numbers.
But sometimes, when there was no longer going to be any I’s, people would put a J at the end of the number instead of a final I.
Therefore XIII and XIIJ were different ways of writing the number 13.
There are two ideas as to why some Romans did this. The first idea is that it simply looked better. But the second is that it prevented people from putting another I at the end. Similarly to how you might write “Twenty Pounds Only” on a cheque.
Leftovers From Before The Letter J Was Invented
As we mentioned earlier in the article, the letters “dg” can have the same sound as the letter J. For example, in words such as Hedge and Edge.
Because people already had the “dg”, there was not any need for the letter J.
You can generally tell how old a word is by whether it uses “dg” or J. Older words tend to use “dg”, whereas newer words tend to use J.
Words That Use A Silent J
Some words that we use that use the letter J. But it’s not pronounced that way.
In words such as Hallelujah, the J is pronounced the same way that Y is. This is because that word was invented before the letter J was used. So even though the spelling changed over time, its pronunciation stayed similar to its original.
And in words such as “Jalapeno“, the J is pronounced as an H. This is because it is not an English word, it’s Spanish. So the letter pronunciation rules will not be the same as they would for an English word.
What Is J In The Greek Alphabet?
One question I’ve seen pop up is “What is the letter J in the Greek alphabet?”. And, as many of you will probably be able to figure out, the Greek alphabet doesn’t have a letter for J.
It wasn’t used as a letter until 1524. And the Greek Alphabet is several thousands of years older than that. The Greek alphabet didn’t even have a G sound.
In the Ancient Greek language, there were no words that would have made the J sound. Much like in English, there are no words that make the “ü” sound.
And that is all the information you should know about the letter J. Maybe you knew that it was a newbie but didn’t know much about the history behind it.
Or perhaps you were new to the fact that J is a new addition to the English language.
It’s interesting to think about how we can invent new letters. Perhaps in the future, sounds like “sh”, “ch” and “Gr” will get their own letters- only time will tell.
But, next time you hear someone talk about Jesus, Joshua, Yeshua, Yahweh, or Jehovah, you’ll now know more about where these words come from, and how alternative translations have altered how we say them in modern English.