The name Joanna and Hellenization of 1st-century Jewry?

The earliest appearance of the name Joanna, as far as I know, was in Luke 8:3, in the Koine Greek form Ιωαννα. The Joanna mentioned there was the wife of Herod’s steward (i.e. estate manager), and she enters the Biblical story as a sidekick of Mary Magdalene. She was well-to-do and apparently of the Jewish managerial class or upper middle class.

I wondered about the extent of Hellenization for Jews of this time, place, and class. Here is my GQ: Does anyone know whether nice Jewish girls could have had Hellenized names like this? The name may have Hebrew roots, but as it stands it’s Greek.

Wikipedia lists the masculine and feminine equivalents for the name in various languages, but under Hebrew and Arabic it lists no feminine versions. Does this exist as a girl’s name in Hebrew? The origin of the masculine form יהוחנן (Yehochanan) in ancient Hebrew, or its more familiar contraction יוחנן (Yochanan) is a masculine verbal phrase—naming people with verb phrases, like “Stands With A Fist,” was done by ancient Hebrews as well as Lakota—and in Hebrew verbs are gendered according to the gender of the subject who performs the verb.

So I wondered whether the name Joanna could exist in an originally feminine Hebrew form. For one thing, the 3rd-person singular conjugation of the verb חנן chanan ‘to be gracious, to give amnesty, to bless’ would be חנה chanah in the feminine form. This is identical with the noun and given name Chanah (Hannah or Anna). The subject of the verb was a masculine deity, however, so how would they adjust the gender?

I looked up that verse in a Hebrew New Testament --see הַבְּרִית הַחֲדָשָׁה: הַבְּשׂוֹרָה עַל־פִּי לוּקַס פֶּרֶק ח if you can read Hebrew-- and found something really interesting. The Hebrew form of Joanna they give is יוֹחָנָה (Yochanah), which actually does use the feminine gender of the verb, what do you know.

But in the Arabic translation of that verse they gave يونّا as the Arabic form of Joanna. They must have taken this directly from the Greek, not from Hebrew etymology. It reads – this is going to occasion jokes – Yuwanna.

Yuwanna – Ιωαννα :smiley:

Well, in the Apocrypha to the Book of Daniel, which was written in Greek, we find Susannah, who in Hebrew would have been Shoshannah. Her name occurs (not as a proper noun) in the Song of Songs, where it means “rose,” and elsewhere in Psalms, I think, where it’s part of an instruction for the musicians and may mean lily.

From Greek, it was borrowed into French as Suzanne, then English as Susan. So when I go to synagogue, people call me “Shoshana” if we’re speaking Hebrew, and when I go to Israel, people call me “Suzie” and tell me that Shoshana is an “old fashioned” name (apparently something like Enid or Gertie would be in the US).

“Shoshana” means “rose” or “lily” in several contemporary languages, and would be the likely Hebrew name for a woman named Susan, Suzanne, Susannah, Rose, or Lily.

Greeks, and some other folks in the region, had no /sh/ sound. That’s why the word “shibboleth” was such a great password–the enemy couldn’t say it right. Hence Shoshannah–>Susannah.

That’s also why my grandmother’s name, Anna, got that spelling… by that time, the Greeks weren’t pronouncing /h/ either, so Hannah became Anna. As hypothetically *Yochanah became Joanna, although I haven’t found any examples of actual Jewish women of ancient times named Yochanah. There were guys with that name in the old days, however, rabbis named Yochanah. I’ve only found it attested as a woman’s name in modern times.

You remind me… in a piece of magical realist fiction I wrote when I was 21 (this was years before I ever heard of the magical realist genre or read anything from it), I used the symbolism of a lily to represent my sweetie whose real name was Suzanne and who also used שושנה Shoshanah as the Hebrew version of her name. Your posts here were so intelligent that at first I thought you were her. But you aren’t.

When I googled יוחנה / Yochanah in both alphabets, I found out who uses this name a lot: the Messianic people. It figures, anytime it’s a question of Christian text translated into Hebrew language, they would get involved. Everybody wants to get into the act. That isn’t where I’d wanted to go with it…

No, I’m not her (though I also had a sweetie named Suzanne at one point). I believe there’s a masculine name, שושנ (sorry, I can’t find a nun sofit) that might be used in contemporary Farsi, but I’m not sure.

Revisiting this thread some time later–even if Shoshana and I are the only ones to take an interest, just two Dopers together provide more brainpower than a whole busload of non-Dopers.

Coincidentally, as I was writing this OP, a novel about Joanna was nearing publication. I found that Mary Rourke, the author of Two Women of Galilee, was thinking about the exact same question at the same time as me. She also did a lot of historical research, and gave her answer to the question in the form of fiction. She sees Joanna as the daughter of a Jewish family which had become culturally Hellenized because of their position in Herod’s court, and no longer observing Judaism. Rourke adds a little family drama to the plot by having Joanna turn out to be Mary’s long-lost cousin, in which Mary’s branch of the family had gone frum again and lived in humble circumstances, which is why the two branches had become estranged.

Looks like Rourke and I were simultaneously heading toward similar conclusions to the same question, but she actually developed the idea fully while I just wondered about it.

I wouldn’t say Shoshana is all that old fashioned - it’s just usually abbreviated to “Shosh” or “Shoshi” (they probably called you “Suzie” because you’re Amwerican, although I’ve known a few Shoshanas who went by that). I’m in my early 30’s, and I know plenty of Shoshs and Shoshis my age.

Shoshana does indeed mean “lily”, although many confuse it with “rose” (modern Hebrew speakers have an odd habit of misnaming plants and animals). The correct word for rose is “Vered,” also a common name.

The Hebrew name “Lily”, incidentally, is short for “Lilach.”

As for the OP: I’ve never encountered a direct Hebrew version of “Joanna”; it could be a variation on “Chana” (Hanna), on “Noa,” or perhaps on “Yochevet.”

There was definitely a Hilni (ie Helen) mentioned several times in the Talmud, which overlaps the time period you’re discussing. I also remember learning about women of the Hasmonean dynasty (a bit earlier) with very Hellenic names in my eighth grade Jewish History class, but that’s a while back and I can’t remember what they were other than Marimne, which may have been a Hellenization of Miriam and so wouldn’t count. (The men of the family had very Hellenic names such as Alexander, Jason, and Hyrkanos.) There are many Hellenized or Latinized names in the Talmud, as well, such as Yannai. I don’t think that any of these has a direct Hebrew cognate, but that’s frequently true even in observant circles nowadays - I went to school for many years with a girl named Cynthia, for example, who was born to an Orthodox family. (Her Hebrew name is Devorah, but she doesn’t use it in daily life, now that she’s out of school. I know Orthodox-from-birth women named Cheryl, Donna, and Juliet, as well as many others, although all have Hebrew names as well.) I would assume that people of the period had a Hebrew name that they used in a ritual setting if they were observant, but bear in mind that many Jews became quite Hellenized over all after the conquest by Alexander and subsequent reign of the Ptolemeic and Seleucid dynasties after Alexander died and his empire was divvied up. They may not have wanted or needed Hebrew names at all.

Joanna’s roots in Hebrew are probably there, but tenuous - isn’t it a feminization of John? IIRC, John is ultimately derived from ‘chen,’ like ‘Chanan’ or ‘Chana,’ but Joanna seems to me to be taken most directly from the Hellenized ‘John,’ and isn’t a direct adaptation from ‘Chana’ or a Hebrew woman’s name.

That’s a possibility! I’ve noticed this practice among modern Asheknazim, but since 1st century Palestine was a different culture, I hadn’t thought of it.

That’s what I was speculating, but wasn’t sure how well it would apply in this instance.

Yes, exactly. I had posted this OP last year while preparing to write the Wikipedia article on the name Joanna, and this is the etymology I gave-- “Her name as given is Greek in form, although it ultimately originated from the Hebrew masculine name יְהוֹחָנָן Yehôḥānān or יוֹחָנָן Yôḥānān meaning ‘God is gracious’. In Greek this name became Ιωαννης Iōannēs, from which Iōanna was derived by giving it a feminine ending.”

Alessan, shortly after I wrote the article someone else came along and added “Yocheved” as a Hebrew equivalent, so I see what you mean. Although I don’t get the connection, since the two roots חנן hnn and חבד hbd share only one letter in common.