Recently, someone wrote in asking us why names in various translations of the Bible can be spelled differently:

I have a question about names of people in the Bible in different translations. Why do different English versions have different names for the same people (e.g., Aholibamah in KJV is Oholibamah in NIV)? Some have just one letter different, others have a letter added or taken away. I understand the translation being different, but why are names different?

So, why the alphabet shuffle with certain names? While you could fill a book explaining the details, here's the short answer:

In the original Hebrew, there are no vowels, just consonants. That's not so much a problem when you're reading in the original language, but it is tough for transliterating words into English. Now, this isn't a problem in understanding what the words mean... just how they're pronounced. For example, you may have heard that God calls Himself Yahweh in Exodus, but in the Hebrew, it's just YHWH.

So, when translators are moving ancient Hebrew names into English they do so by providing vowel sounds. When you factor in tradition and also Greek-icized versions of names that came to us through the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), you can see why there are some variations. (In fact, formalized spelling of names wasn't common until recent times even in English.) In Greek for example, you have Elias instead of Elijah or Jesus instead of Y'shua (or Yeshua).

When you factor in those differences, you can see why there's some variation. Tradition generally wins out for most modern translations. For example, we know of Nebuchadnezzar instead of Nebuchadrezzar, even though he was called both.