Minnesota Farmer

August 1, 2015, 6:27 am
Filed under: name origins, spelling, Wojahn | Tags: , ,

My last name is Wojahn, which most people pronounce as Whoa-john, but my great grand parents pronounced it Voh-yan.  The name has Germanic roots and was at one time spelled Woian.  I prefer to have it pronounced Whoa-yan, but that causes problems when you tell someone your name and they try to spell it.  Most people from Europe have no problem pronouncing my name as Whoa-yan, but those crazy Americans just cannot understand why I want it that way.  The problem is in how our alphabet changed.

“The letter J is relatively recent, about 1500, and originated as a variant of the letter I. Why that happens is a little complicated.

In the original languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew) which provide us with the names Jesus, Joseph, Justinian, etc., the sound which we write as J was pronounced as the English letter Y. (Just to make things confusing for English speakers, the phonetic symbol for this sound is [j].) In Latin, the letter for this was I/i, in Greek it was Ι/ι (iota), and in Hebrew it was י (yod). Thus, the Greek spelling for “Jesus” was Ιησους, pronounced something like “Yeh-SOOS”, and the Latin likewise was Iesus.

Subsequently, in the Latin alphabet the letter J was developed as a variant of I, and this distinction was later used to distinguish the consonantal “y” sound [j] from the vocalic “i” sound [i]. However, at about the same time there was a sound change in many of the languages of Western Europe, such that the “y” sound changed into a “j” sound ([dʒ], or sometimes [ʒ]). So we have it that in English, the letter J now represents a consonant [dʒ] which is not obviously similar to the vowel [i], despite the fact that they descend from the same letter and the same sound. (English also has many [dʒ] sounds spelled with J which come from native Germanic roots.)”

You can see this history worked out differently in the spelling systems of German and many of the Slavic languages of Eastern Europe, where the letter J spells the “y” sound [j], and the letter Y, if used at all, is primarily used as a vowel.”

So there you have it, a history lesson on your alphabet.  Does your name contain a J?  Have you ever wondered why people from other countries pronounce the J differently?  Now you know.


1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

So glad you clarified. I have heard many people pronounce your last name in different ways, and wondered if I was incorrect. 🙂

Comment by carolyncares

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: