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Most Spanish names are quite similar to the equivalent in English, such as:

  • Juan → John
  • Pedro → Peter
  • Maria → Mary

But what's up with this one?

  • Santiago → James

What's the connection? How do the twain meet?

Are there other unusual Spanish/English name combinations like this?

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From the Wikipedia article on Santiago (name):

Santiago, (also San Iago, San Tiago, Santyago, Sant-Yago, San Thiago) is a Spanish name that derives from the Hebrew name Jacob (Ya'akov) via "Sant Iago," "Sant Yago," "Santo Iago," or "Santo Yago," first used to denote Saint James the Great, the brother of John the Apostle. It was also the tradition that Saint James (Santiago) had travelled to the Iberian Peninsula during his life and was buried there. The name is also complicated in Spanish in that Jaime and Jacobo are modern versions of James.

Another variant is Diego, as in San Diego, as a doublet or variation.

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Maybe the question should be: Why is "James" the equivalent of "Santiago"? "James" is derived from the Latin "Iacomus" (Latin does not have a "J"), which in turn is derived from the Hebrew "Jacob". The Spanish "Iago" is likewise derived from the Latin "Iacomus". Thus "Saint James" is the equivalent of "Santiago".

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  • Very interesting. Santiago == St. James is plain after your explanation. So calling someone named James "Santiago" seems a little "heavy-handed." What is the equivalent for "plain old James" or "Jim" then? Jaime, or...??? – B. Clay Shannon Apr 28 '15 at 15:26
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    Yes, James would be Jaime, and Jim would be (I think) Jaimito, which would be Jimmy too. En Mexico, I've noticed that friends would refer to a Jim as ... Jim. – Diego San Luis May 1 '15 at 19:26
  • There are lots of Santiagos in Spanish. And plain old James doesn't mean much. – Lambie Aug 3 '18 at 22:22
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Santiago and James are indeed cognate, both ultimately deriving from the Biblical name יַעֲקֹב (Yaʿqob), but they evolved via different routes. Santiago comes from the Latinised form Sanctus ("Saint") Iacobus, while James derives from an Occitan variant Iacomus:

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As such, a more obvious set of analogues might be:

As for why most New Testament figures named Ἰάκωβος are anglicised as James,1 as opposed to the closer-to-the-Greek Jacob, this has more to do with historical tradition, and is analogous to the name being traditionally rendered as Santiago (as opposed to San Jacobo) in Spanish:

So how did the Jewish name Ya’akov become so Gentilized as James? Since the 13th century, the form of the Latin name Iacomus began its use in English. In the 14th century, John Wycliffe made the first Bible translation into English and translated Iakobus as James. (However, in both the Old and New Testaments he arbitrarily used the name Jacob for the patriarch). In all future English translations the name stuck, especially after 1611, when King James I sponsored the translation then called the Authorized Version but since 1797 called the King James Bible.

Indeed the association is so strong that many post-biblical Christian figures named Jacob (or a similar variant) are often referred to as James in English.2


Notes:

· The development Iacobus > Iacomus is likely a result of nasalization of the o and assimilation of the following b (i.e., intermediate *Iacombus) followed by simplification of the cluster mb through loss of the b.

· The form Didacus is a medieval latinised form of Diego (similar to the latinisation Ludovicus, of the Germanic Luis).

1. James son of Alphaeus, James son of Zebedee, James the less, James the Just.

2. James of Nisibis, James Intercisus, James the Deacon, James the martyr.

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    Thanks; that explains why James is "Jakobus" in German. That never seemed like a smooth transition to me. – B. Clay Shannon Aug 4 '18 at 12:15
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Santiago would not be equivalent to James; you're right, that would be "heavy handed." Iago by itself would be equivalent, though. So Susan James would be Susan Iago, and Susan St. James would be Susan Santiago (santo iago; sant iago).

Diego makes it even worse to understand, because the "D" in Diego really and properly belongs to the word San, as a "t". In the USA we are so used to the Californian names of San Francisco, San Rafael, San Bernadino for "Saint" Francis, etc., that we naturally presume, with a city named San Diego, there was a Saint Diego. See, though, if you follow suit with San Francisco, you'd have San Iego (Iago/Yakob/Iacom/James). Its a mess, and nobody bothers, and you're not going to be able to formally change a city name (well, you can, but not usually one with 1.3 million people in it), AND in the meantime since consonants got pushed around over the last couple centuries, there's probably been somebody out there given the inaccurate name "Diego" who actually received sainthood!

As an humorous aside, if all that was done in making San Diego's name etymologically correct was to move the "D" (the soft "t") back to the word for saint, it would come out as Sand Iego, and folks would just presume the city name referred to something unique about their nice beaches.

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  • Robert, Diego (and San Diego, in California) most likely refers to Juan Diego, the indigenous peasant who witnessed the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Although only canonized as saint very recently, popular (as in popular catholicism) devotion to him likely earned him the moniker San Diego centuries before California became part of the US. – user13421 Aug 16 '16 at 19:50
  • I always hear it as "Sandy Eggo", which makes me think of "Leggo My Eggo" – B. Clay Shannon Aug 16 '16 at 20:03

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