The name James in the Bible
The name James comes, after a very curious evolution, from the Hebrew name Jacob. When in Greek times people were named after Jacob—the arch-father of Israel—they were given the Hellenized version Jacobos (Iakobos). Hence there are four men in the Bible called Jacobos (James):
- The father of Judas-not-Iscariot (Luke 6:16).
- The brother of John—they are both apostles, nicknamed Boanerges, and sons of Zebedee and Salome.
- The son of Alpheus, also one of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:3), also known as James the lesser.
- One of the four mentioned brothers of Jesus (Matthew 13:55). The latter became a leading figure of the church of Jerusalem, was rendered the predicate The Just and is most likely the author of the Epistle of James (Iacobos).
Etymology of the name James
The English name James comes from the Greek name Iakobos, and Iakobos comes from the Hebrew name Jacob. The name Jacob comes from the Hebrew verb עקב (aqab) meaning to take by the heel or supplant:
When the Bible was translated into Latin, the name Iacobos became transliterated into Iacobus, and late Latin turned that into Iacomus—the b and the m being somewhat similar in sound in nasal languages. The early French version of this Latin name became the shortened Gemmes, which then traveled into the English speaking world as James.
When the Bible was translated into English, the translators truncated the Greek names into the versions we know now—Paulos became Paul, Petros became Peter (but Titus and Jesus, curiously, remained Titus and Jesus; perhaps this is because people didn't want to be reading from the book of Tit, or pray to Jees). And the name Iacobos didn't become Jacob, it became James, and this while King James VI of Scotland ordered in 1604, "a translation to be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek..."
The name James doesn't mean anything, but it came from the name Jacob, which means Supplanter.