In the Old Testament, Jacob was one of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, and was born clinging to the heel of his brother Esau. This was a sign from God that they would head two tribes, and that Jacob, the younger twin, would be stronger than Esau, who would serve him.

Jacob became a herdsman and his mother's favourite, Esau a hunter and his father's favourite. One day, faint with hunger, Esau sold his birthright to his brother for food. When they were older, Rebecca contrived that Jacob should receive his father's blessing in Esau's place: she disguised Jacob as his brother so that the old and nearly blind Isaac would mistake the younger for the elder when giving his (irrecovable) blessing. When Esau discovered this, he swore to kill his twin.

Rebecca sent Jacob away to escape his brother's wrath, and to marry one of the daughters of his uncle, Laban, so that he would not have to marry a local Canaanite. On his way he took stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold there were angels of God ascending and descending on it. During the dream God told Jacob that he and his descendants would prosper. On his travels Jacob met Rachel, one of Laban's daughters, as she was bringing her father's flocks to the water. Jacob rolled back the stone that covered the well. Rachel was very beautiful, and Jacob offered to work for Laban for seven years to win her hand. Laban agreed, but when the time came for their wedding, he put his elder daughter Leah in Rachel's place, because the younger sister could not marry before the elder. Jacob still loved Rachel, however, and he offered to work for seven more years so that he might marry her, too; Laban agreed that it would be better to give his daughter to Jacob than to another man. Jacob had many children by both of his wives, and by their handmaids, and after 20 years he resolved to return to Canaan with them all. They left secretly, Rachel taking her father's household idols. Laban pursued, eventually overtaking them, but Rachel kept the idols hdiden by sitting on them. The night before they reached Canaan, Jacob, alone by a brook, wrestled with an angel until daybreak. Unable to throw him, the angel refused to tell his name, but said that Jacob would henceforth be named Israel. Jacob then understood that he had been wrestling with God.
As they approached Canaan, Jacob heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, so he sent his brother part of his herd in appeasement. When they met, the brothers embraced and wept.

In his old age, Jacob blessed the children of Joseph, his favourite son. He prophesied that in the future his own 12 sons would be the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Deriving etymology is probably the most fun a person can have without having to take their clothes off. Take, for instance, the etymology of the name ‘James’ and ‘Jacob’ --- both ultimately come from the Hebrew ‘Ya’aqov’ (יעקב), meaning ‘holds the heel’. The Greeks borrowed his name as ‘Iakob’ (Ιακώβ) for the Septuagint, and the Romans borrowed it as ‘Jacobus’ (or IACOBVS, if you prefer). Remember your Old Testament? We know this guy as Jacob, who fought with an angel of God and after having his hip dislocated by a divine body-slam, was renamed ‘Isra’el’ (ישראל), which means ‘wrestles God’.

Good guy to have on your side in a bar fight.

Now, the Romans and Greeks were pretty sloppy with those barbaric foreign names and in a lot of cases, had more than one form. Alongside ‘Jacobus’, there was another form, ‘Jacomus’. ‘Jacobus’ gave us ‘Jacob’ and the Italian 'Giacomo', whil ‘Jacomus’ gave us ‘James’ and the Spanish 'Jaime'.

Anyway, so we have these two forms that give us ‘Jacob’ and ‘James’, both from the same root. But it doesn’t stop there. Ya’aqov lent his name to Santiago (at least that last element, ‘Iago’) and further on to San Diago and San Diego, both of which were derived from ‘Santiago’, with the final consonant of the first element becoming the initial consonant of the second in a process called ‘sandhi’. Sort of the same thing happened in English with the word ‘adder’ (a type of snake), which was originally called a ‘nadder’ (akin to the German ‘Natter’). hapax suggests 'napron' as a better example: 'a napron' eventually resulted in 'an apron'.

However, some say that ‘Diego/Diago’ is from the Latin 'Didacus', ultimately borrowed from the Greek ‘didakhos’ (διδάχος), which means ‘learned’. This is plausible and fits pretty well with the sound laws that governed the gradual evolution from Latin to Spanish, but since these three forms (Iago, Diego and Diago) were attested in writing in roughly the same time period, the former hypothesis strikes me as a little more likely: Ya’aqov gave us ‘Jacob’, ‘James’, ‘Diago’, ‘Diego’ and ‘Iago’.

Nice work for a guy who had the cojones to try and put the smack down on an angel of Yahweh (unbeknownst though it was at first).

Thanks to hapax for supplying a better example of sandhi than 'adder', and yes, DonJaime, I deliberately left 'Jaime' out of my examples to spite you.

Ja"cob (?), n. [Cf. F. Jacob. See 2d Jack.]

A Hebrew patriarch (son of Isaac, and ancestor of the Jews), who in a vision saw a ladder reaching up to heaven (Gen. xxviii. 12); -- also called Israel.

And Jacob said . . . with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands. Gen. xxxii. 9, 10.

Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel. Gen. xxxii. 28.

Jacob's ladder. (a) Bot. A perennial herb of the genus Polemonium (P. ceruleum), having corymbs of drooping flowers, usually blue. Gray. (b) Naut. A rope ladder, with wooden steps, for going aloft. R. H. Dana, Jr. (c) Naut. A succession of short cracks in a defective spar. -- Jacob's membrane. See Retina. -- Jacob's staff. (a) A name given to many forms of staff or weapon, especially in the Middle Ages; a pilgrim's staff. [Obs.] Spenser. (b) Surveying See under Staff.


© Webster 1913.

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