There seems to be a big move on, especially on the Internet, to try and require Christians/believers to pronounce God's "name" a particular way. There are several variants of this idea on several sites, but the upshot is this: both the God of the Old Testament and the Son of God in the New Testament had specifically-pronounced names built out of Hebrew words. As the argument goes, when we take one of those names, such as the Divine Name YHWH in the OT, and pronounce it a different way such as "Jehovah," we are dishonoring God. Same for the name Yeshua, when we latinize it to "Jesus." I haven't seen any of these people come right out and say it yet, but the implication is that unless you pray to God and pronounce His name correctly, He won't hear you. In fact, if you called on Jesus instead of Yeshua, you may not be a Christian at all.

One site insists that God's names are pronounced "Yao-" in various combinations, most notably "Yao-hush" for Jesus. This one is easy: Hebrew has never had any kind of A-O vowel combination of this type. Other sites are more subtle, but they all basically convey the same message: say it right (and of course, they all have a different idea of what the "right" way is) or don't say it at all.

The question below was one of the milder queries I've received on this matter. I hope readers will find my reply useful, and I also hope that the Lord will open all of our eyes to the dangers of legalism.

> A quick question for you. When is it acceptable to change a name and > when is it not? For example, the Creator said his name is YHWH(Yahweh) > and the name Yeshua was used for the Savior, when is it acceptable to > change the names to "God" and "Iesus or Jesus?" Personally, if He said > his name is one thing, whether Hebrew or not, that is what I believe we > should call Him! Your comments on this matter appreciated.

There are several occasions when it's permissible: for example, when one language's sound corpus can't accomodate the sounds in the name. A couple of examples come to mind. the bushmen of the Kalihari desert have a language that uses various levels of clicks and pops, and it's virtually impossible for us of European stock to replicate. So we would have to come up with some other pronunciation in order to address such a person. Another example I know of: when I was in college, a young man from Malaysia attended our church for a while. His name was Esaias, pronounced "EE-sah-EE-as." The majority of people in our congregation couldn't say that if their lives depended on it! So they Americanized it and called him Isaiah, which is actually what the name is in English. Esaias is the Spanish form of the name Isaiah. He was perfectly happy with it, though when he found out I knew enough Spanish to say his name "correctly" he was pretty happy with that, too.

Another occasion is when we are seeking familiarity: here an example from a Tom Clancy novel comes to mind. Jack Ryan, the hero, has just done a big favor for the Soviet premier, and the premier wants to treat him as a friend. So he Russianizes his name. Jack, of course, is a nickname for John; in Russian, the name John is Ivan. Russians don't use middle names, they use what's called a patronymic: they take the man's father's name, add "ovich" to it meaning "son of" and use that where we use a middle name. Jack's father was named Emmet, so the premier called him Ivan Emmetovich. This was both to treat him as a friend, and to honor him.

This brings me to the third occasion: when wanting to honor someone, in essence making them "one of us" with all the rights etc. pertaining thereto. The above example covers that, as well.

In the case of the name YHWH, Yahweh is a guess. So is Jehovah. In truth, we don't know how it was pronounced. What's the best way to pronounce an unpronounceable name? So we come up with something else, just like pious Jews do. They don't try to pronounce it either, they use either "Adonai," which means "Lord," which is where we got the idea, or they use "Hashem," which means "the name." Now, for the name Jesus/Yeshua, it gets a little more complex and has to do with the way languages behave. Once again, let's go back to the name "John." That's the English version; the "original" version is actually two versions, Yohanan, which means "YHWH is gracious," and Yehonatan, which means "YHWH has given." In English we've combined those so that "John" is often a shortened form of "Jonathan," yet in Hebrew they're two different words. But that's not the end of the story; Greek-speaking Jews of the Dispersion before and around the time of Christ couldn't find a good Greek way to pronounce Yohanan, because Greek doesn't have a way to put an 'h' in the middle of a word. So they elided it into Ioan. However, Greek doesn't do well with words ending in -an, either, so they substituted a Greek ending (third declension masculine singular, if you're a stickler) and came up with Ioannes. This is the name we know both John the Baptist and the Apostle John by in the New Testament. From there it passed through into Latin, where it picked up the J instead of the initial I; as Christianity spread to Russia the name became russianized into Ivan, whereas in the west it went to the Romance languages (those based on Latin) several ways, all depending on the behavior of sounds in each language: in German it became Johann, in French it came out Jean, in Spanish it was Juan, and in English it came out John. If a man named John goes to Russia and people call him Ivan because their language doesn't have a 'J' sound, are they insulting him? Is he going to not answer because they don't pronounce his name "right"? Hardly.

What's important is the person (or Person) behind the name. My given name is David; some people call me that, some call me Dave, my children call me Daddy, I've even been known to answer to "Hey you, the funny-looking one!" If I know the person is talking to me, it's not that important how they pronounce it. My last name is Washburn, and when I was a kid you wouldn't believe how many creative things the other kids came up with to mess with that name (the main reason I've always disliked it). But I could tell if someone was calling for "Washtub" to make fun of me or to ask if I wanted to join in some game or other activity; I could tell if they were being derisive or friendly. What mattered was not how the person pronounced my name, but the heart that was behind the speaking. My oldest daughter's name is Naomi, and I'm amazed at how many people can't pronounce it. Nevertheless, she answers to all the varied pronunciations, provided it's someone who really wants to talk to her and not just make fun of her. How the name is pronounced is not that crucial; how it's said is. So it is with the Lord. He looks on the heart, not on the outward appearance or pronunciation. He's calling members of every tribe, race and people on Earth, and His name is going to fit each language's phonetics differently. He doesn't mind; what matters is that they call to Him with a sincere heart.