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Edit: Just as a heads-up, some folks have said that Eve was called エバ in the Meiji period. I was fully aware of that before I asked this question. I've added relevant translations which are not confined to just the Meiji period.

Eve seems to be a unique biblical characters in that her "mainstream" name, イブ, is not found in most bible translations, but is listed as the primary form in dictionaries. The form that's consistently used across bible translations is エバ, with エワ as the sole exception. Here are various translations of 1 Timothy 2:13 (new Testament verses are more readily available than Old Testament ones):

  • Colloquial (modern): なぜなら、アダムがさきに造{つく}られ、それからエバが造{つく}られたからである。
  • Classical Meiji: 蓋{そは}アダムは前{さき}に造{つく}られエバは後{のち}に造{つく}られたれば也{なり}
  • Classical Taisho: それアダムは前{さき}に造{つく}られ、エバは後{のち}に造{つく}られたり。
  • Classical New Covenant: そはアダムは第{だい}壹{いち}に造{つく}られ、エバは次{つぎ}なればなり。
  • Classical Émile Raguet: 蓋{けだし}アダンは前{さき}に造{つく}られ、エワは其{その}後{のち}なり。
  • Classical Eastern Orthodox: 蓋{けだし}アダムは前{さき}に造{つく}られて、エワは後{のち}なり。

In the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, the Daijisen and the Daijirin, イブ is the primary entry, while エバ is a redirect entry, though the Kōjien notably does the opposite. The Japanese Wikipedia goes further, using the more modern イヴ as the title for the article on Eve, which lends further credence to its popularity over エバ. I've even seen it being used in manga that reference the Bible. I haven't been able to do a conclusive corpus search, and even if I could, results for イブ would include actual women's names and render such a search pointless.

This is in stark contrast to the overwhelming majority of biblical characters. Think all the people who got books named after them, Esther, Job, Matthew, Mark, John, etc., all of them are named with the forms taken from the colloquial translation (which are, in turn, slightly altered from the classical Meiji translation to conform to modern orthography). Most of these names were transcribed either directly from Hebrew or indirectly through Latin (although Émile Raguet's transcriptions are from Italian, and Eastern Orthodox transcriptions from Russian), and they're used for the titles of Wikipedia articles. イブ/イヴ, on the other hand, sounds distinctly English.

So how did イブ become popular and seemingly displace エバ?

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  • every year's night eve that people hear as イブ vs some weird religion translation that's based on greek...
    – user52004
    Commented Mar 11 at 12:40
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    @shinku That's a different "eve" (native English, not Hebro-Greco-Latin English) but it could be a possibility. Commented Mar 11 at 13:12
  • A meiji publication uses エバ dl.ndl.go.jp/pid/825603/1/7 - so the popularity of Christmas eve may be the reason.
    – sundowner
    Commented Mar 11 at 13:52
  • @sundowner That's precisely the classical Meiji translation I mentioned, specifically of Genesis. What does it explain exactly? Searchable copies are available online, like here Commented Mar 11 at 14:30
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    @sundowner Yes. In fact, with the sole exception of the Eastern Orthodox translation, names are rarely consistently transcribed. Many names, often those in the New Testament, are derived from Italian or Portuguese. This is true for English New Testament names which come largely from French, while Old Testament ones are often from Latinized Hebrew. English-based names are anomalies, in fact I can only think of the Nile as the sole example in Japanese translations (maybe Egypt counts too I guess, though it's still French enough). Commented Mar 12 at 14:02

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In general, the current trend is originalism. That is, if there is a difference in pronunciation for a particular word between modern English and, say, ancient Hebrew, the latter tends to be adopted. On the other hand, there are countless instances where a "foreign" or "incorrect" pronunciation has become established due to a simple lack of research or the strong influence that languages such as Portuguese and English have historically had on Japan.

As for Eve, I could find no information on who first transcribed her as イブ. This is the most relevant article I could find. It looks like she was called エバ in the Meiji period, but somehow イブ became the common name later, possibly due to the influence of English. It's noteworthy that, among characters in Bible, the names Adam and Eve are exceptionally well-known to Japanese people. Given her popularity, it may be possible that some novelist around the Taisho era popularized the "misspelling" based on the English pronunciation.

Anyway, there is indeed a movement to change her name from イブ back to エバ. In the Japanese Wikipedia, the rename of this article happened in 2014. However, such changes usually start in the academic field first, and take decades to become widespread among the believers and the general public. The more famous the name is, the longer the change will take. エバ may become mainstream (again) among the general public in 50 years, but I don't expect a sudden change.

The same can be said about the Quran. Wikipedia changed the Japanese name of the word from コーラン to クルアーン in 2003 because the latter is closer to the correct Arabic pronunciation. Although the usage of クルアーン is gradually increasing in the academic field, the majority of the general public and mass media still use コーラン. On the other hand, the name change from マホメット to ムハンマド for Muhammad is nearly complete, and マホメット tends to be perceived as outdated now.

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  • The Japanese Wikipedia does seem to have weird article naming standards. A lot of Greek names are transcribed too accurately in spite of actual usage. Commented Mar 12 at 7:58
  • @Vun-HughVaw As for Greco-Roman proper names, I dare say originalistic pronunciations are usually commoner nowadays and English-influenced ones are confined to older technical jargons. Commented Apr 1 at 21:10

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