Hebrew Names: Yohanan & Hannah

sticker,375x360.u1Yohanan (יוחנן) – Well this isn’t a very common biblical name, is it? Ah, well this is both true and untrue. This is in fact the Hebrew name behind the Greek “Joannes”, which in English is “John”. As with many biblical names, it is used in many different languages, but unlike other names (like David or Samuel) it changes a lot between different languages. In French it’s Jean, in Spanish Juan. In Italian it’s Giovanni and in Russian Ivan. In Scandinavia, in Dutch, Flemish and Afrikaans it’s Johan and in German Johann and sometimes Johannes.

But what does the Hebrew mean? “Yo” is short for the LORD (Yhwh). The following verb ‘hanan’ is  from the Hebrew root *hnn. The ‘h’ is actually another letter/sound, one that English does not have. It would most readily be written ‘ch’ as in ‘loch’, the sound being a guttural ‘h’ (i.e. scraping at the back of the throat), sometimes written as a h with a dot under, ḥ. The noun ‘ḥen’ (guttural h!), means ‘grace’

The verb ‘ḥanan’ means “to show grace/favour”. Thus, Yohanan can be taken to mean “the LORD is gracious”, or “the LORD shows grace” or “the LORD has shown grace”, since the perfect verbal aspect is used in various ways.

Biblical references for “Yoḥanan”: 2 Ki. 25:23; 1 Chr. 3:15, 24; 5:35-36; 12:5, 13; Ezr. 8:12; Neh. 12:22-23; Jer. 40:8, 13, 15-16; 41:11, 13-16; 42:1, 8; 43:2, 4-5

Hannah (חנה) – The name of the prophet Samuel’s mother is also derived from the Hebrew root meaning ‘to show grace/favour’, *ḥnn. It could be a feminine form of the noun ‘grace’, which otherwise in Hebrew is masculine. Nouns ending in ‘h’ in Hebrew are feminine as a rule. It could possibly also be a clause, where the ‘h’ is a feminine pronominal suffix: ‘he has shown her grace/favour’.

Biblical references for “Hannah”: 1 Sam. 1:2, 5, 7-9, 13, 15, 19-20, 22; 2:1, 21

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2 thoughts on “Hebrew Names: Yohanan & Hannah

  1. Illuminating! Quite intriguing also the second suggestion as to the meaning of ‘Hannah’. (I think she would have agreed!)

    1. Yes, I think she would! Here is another miraculous mother who would: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46 NRSV)

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