The Grammarphobia Blog

On Eve and evening

Q: In a 2016  post, you say there’s no etymological connection between the biblical name “Eve” and the word “evil.” Is there by any chance such a connection between “Eve” and “eve,” as in “evening”?

A: No, there’s no etymological connection between the name “Eve” in Genesis and the word “eve” used to mean “evening.” The word “eve” began life as a shortening of “even,” a now obsolete term for “evening.”

In Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, the word for “evening” was ǽfen. Here’s an example from Beowulf, an epic poem that may have been written as far back as 725:

“Syþðan æfen cwom ond him Hroþgar gewat to hofe sinum, rice to ræste” (“As evening came, Hrothgar left for home, the noble king to rest”).

The noun ǽfen gave rise to the verbal noun ǽfnung (“the coming of evening”). Later, ǽfen became “even” (then “eve”), while ǽfnung became “evening.”

The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation for “evening,” which we’ve expanded, is from an Old English translation of Genesis, written around 1000, by the Benedictine Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham:

“Heo com ða on æfnunge eft to Noe, ond brohte an twig of anum elebeame mid grenum leafum on hyre muðe” (“She [a dove] came again that evening to Noah, and brought in her beak a twig with a green olive leaf”). From Genesis 8:11.

The first OED example for the noun “evening” with much like the modern spelling is from Layamon’s Brut, a Middle English poem written sometime before 1200:

“Riht to þan euening þa fleh Cadwalan þe king” (“King Cadwalan escaped right into the wet evening”). In Middle English, the “v” sound in the middle of a word was written as “u.”

The short form “eve” appeared in writing for the first time in The Owl and the Nightingale, a Middle English poem believed written in the late 12th or early 13th century: “Thu singest from eve fort a morȝe” (“Thou singest from eve right to morn”).

As for the name “Eve,” it’s derived from biblical Hebrew, where the first woman is referred to as hawwa in Genesis 3:20. The name became “Eva” in Latin and Greek translations of the Bible, and “Eve” in later French and English translations.

The meaning of the original Hebrew name has been the subject of much scholarly debate over the years. We discussed the issue extensively in our 2016 post, but here’s a brief summary.

A common suggestion is that hawwa means “life” or “living” or “life giver,” assuming a connection with the Hebrew haya (to live) or hay (living).

However, biblical scholars have questioned such a connection, saying there’s no direct linguistic link between hawwa and the other two words.

Some scholars say hawwa may have been a play on those other Hebrew words, or perhaps the words were indirectly connected through other Semitic languages.

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