This is follow up on a question I posed in Mi Yodeya.

I was investigating the source of the belief that God's name is "a combination of the words 'Will be, is, was' (יהיה Yihiyeh, Hoveh הווה, haya היה)" and looking into how these words might have morphed into the Divine name.

I knew that the vav is used in Hebrew as a conjunction (translated "and"); it thus seemed logical grammatically, that the name is an acronym:

Yihiyeh --He will be
Hoveh --He is
V --and
Haya --He was

This made sense, since Rambam forbid it to be pronounced according to these letters (from which I gather that the letters themselves were believed not to procure or contain the proper pronunciation of the name).

It was suggested that the name is more likely a portmanteau:

[A] portmanteau word is a linguistic blend of words, in which parts of multiple words, or their phones (sounds), and their meanings are combined into a new word... A portmanteau word fuses both the sounds and the meanings of its components, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog, or motel, from motor and hotel.

By circumstance, a related discussion emerged revealing a tendency at least later Jewish culture, to combine words to form a shorter name in discourse: Ramban--Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman Rambam--Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon

It was explained to me:

Those names are just acronyms, rather than a portmanteau. R'abbi M'oshe b'en N'achman, but then with vowels assigned [by] convention, based on usual yet rules of phonology. One must pronounce these names in speech, and a patach sound is a simple choice. If a yud appeared in an acronym, it would likely become a chirik. If an aleph at the end of a word, it would be a kametz. And then these became regularized. - josh waxman

This made me wonder, If based on usual rules of phonology, could the same have occurred with the name of God?

We would need to know what vowels in Divine name to explain precisely what got mushed where... One is an acronym. The other is explaining how the mush happened according to this particular explanation. The idea is that Hebrew has a nonconcatenative morphology, where the vowel patterns dictate the tense. So the mushing would be taking some vowels from each. But maybe could say that applied to the consonants without regard for that. I don't think that is the theory though, rather that vowels are part of the mushing. – josh waxman

I further inquired:

So, Rambam's name was originally four words: Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, and the vowels of those words morphed into Rambam. if God's existence was expressed originally with three words and a conjuctive, Yiheheh Hoveh, v'Haya, How would the usual rules of phonology take those vowels and use them to form one name. Only in Hebrew, from right to left.

Or does anyone actually talk about how such a portmanteau would be formed from the words that combine to form his name?


Don't know. But acronyms like Rambam were created at a very different period in history. – josh waxman

Another member suggested:

The resultant name might have been formed in a way which looks like an acronym but because its goal would be to import elements of meaning from the constituent words, it would be a portmanteau. Vowel assignation (if it operated like an English portmanteau) would be imported with the letters to remind us, aurally, of the source word (but I don't know how Hebrew language portmanteaus work and that question is out of scope). If the letters are simply acronymic then the vowels follow the rules of vowels in the new construct. – Danno 6

I personally think that the 4 letters are a unique verb form so they share letters with other forms of the verb but are distinct in the final structure. – Danno

That pressed the conversation outside of the Mi Yodeya scope. Now that I have confirmed that it is a commonly held understanding in Jewish tradition that the name was a combination of Yihiyeh יהיה, Hoveh הווה, haya היה I am wondering if the Hebrew Linguists might have some light to shed on How these words were combined to form יהוה that has come to represent His name.

  • 2
    I'm sorry, but this has about as much to do with linguistics as a crossword puzzle, i.e. almost nothing. Acronyms are (long) posterior to the invention of the technology called writing. I suppose that if you accept a literal version of the biblical story of the ten commandments, you can suppose that the name Yahweh is somehow put together by a trick of writing; but since we know many scripts which long antedate Hebrew, that view does not match the historical record. In which case, supposing that the God was not named until the story was written is ... rather odd. – Colin Fine Jul 17 '16 at 20:18

There's no reason to think that יהוה is an acronym (or a portmanteau, though that part of the question isn't clear to me), given that (1) his name presumably predates the Semitic alphabet, (2) it certainly predates by millennia the widespread use of acronyms in Jewish tradition, and (3) the supposed components of the acronym don't make sense in terms of Biblical Hebrew grammar, which did not have a threefold present/past/future tense distinction like Modern Hebrew does, but only distinguished verbal aspect.

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