I have read that this word may derive from an Egyptian decree issued by Pharoah Merueptah (1224 which referred to the hebrew word 'habitu' (type of slave) who carry stones for the great pylon of the great city of Rameses'.

But what is the actual etymology?

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    I’ve nothing to add to Otavio’s answer, but I’d love to know who offered the habitu etymology! Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 22:19
  • Note that habitu's meaning is actually "look", used as an imperative for many.
    – yossi
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 10:37
  • 1
    I think you may mean "habiru" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habiru). If so, the identification of the Habiru with the Hebrews is far from certain.
    – TKR
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 2:21

3 Answers 3


From Chambers Dictionary 11th Ed.:

ORIGIN: OFr Ebreu and L Hebraeus, from Gr Hebraios, from Aramaic ʻebrai (Heb ʻibrī), literally, one from the other side (of the Euphrates)

From Oxford English Dictionary 2nd. Ed.:

ME. Ebreu, a. OF. Ebreu, Ebrieu (nom. Ebreus, 12th c. in Hatz.-Darm.), ad. med.L. Ebrę̄us for cl.L. Hebræus, a. Gr. Ἑβραῖος, f. Aramaic ‭ﻋebrai, corresp. to Heb. ‭ﻋibrī ‘a Hebrew’, lit. ‘one from the other side (of the river)’;

From Etymonline:

late O.E., from O.Fr. Ebreu, from L. Hebraeus, from Gk. Hebraios, from Aramaic 'ebhrai, corresponding to Heb. 'ibhri "an Israelite," lit. "one from the other side," in reference to the River Euphrates, or perhaps simply signifying "immigrant;" from 'ebher "region on the other or opposite side." The noun is c.1200, "the Hebrew language;" late 14c. of persons, originally "a biblical Jew, Israelite."

From Collins English Dictionary:

[from Old French Ebreu, from Latin Hebraeus, from Greek Hebraios, from Aramaic `ibhray, from Hebrew `ibhrī one from beyond (the river)]

  • Is it cognate with the word Eupharates?
    – Anixx
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 15:26
  • @Anixx "Old Persian Ufratu, itself from Elamite or Sumerian, of unknown meaning"
    – Colin
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 17:43
  • "one from the other side (of the Euphrates)" since Abraham was perceived as coming from east of the Euphrates?
    – Colin
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 17:47


The word Hebrew comes from the verb (עבר) meaning to pass over, through, take away. The first application of this word is in the name Eber. The second application is in the first occurrence of the word עברי, Hebrew in Genesis 14:13, where Abram is called Hebrew. The first case of narrative use of this verb is in the enigmatic cadaver vision of Genesis 15:17, "...there appeared a smoking furnace and a flaming torch that passed between these parts."


The word for "Hebrew" in Hebrew is




It's easy to see how the various language variations could emerge from there (i.e. V changing to B, adding an H at the beginning)

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    It is actually the other way around: original /b/ changed to /v/.
    – fdb
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 14:19