Where did the names of English letters come from, and why are they all monosyllabic (except for “w”)?

I don’t know too many languages, but the ones I know have more elaborate names for their letters than the monosyllabicity of names for English letters. (E.g. – I’ll pick on Greek here – ay instead of alpha, bee for beta, etc.) How did these short names evolve, and when?

Further, why do nine of the letter-names (B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V, Z) end with “ee” (as in “bee”), while six others (F, L, M, N, S, X) begin with “eh” (as in “ef”)? And why do (H, K, Q, R, W, sometimes Z) have less orthodox names? (Is “ar” for “R” a corruption of “ehr”, perhaps?) “J” needs to be different, so as not to be confused with “G”. The remaining ones (vowels, incidentally: A, I, O, U, Y) I understand as not possible to fit into any regular pattern.

Maybe the answer is simply that letter-names, like the language, are not logically created; rather evolved erratically. But I want to make sure. Does anyone have any answers?


IIRC the Greek names for the letters came from earlier semitic languages where the symbols were based on pictures, alpha=ox (you have to turn A upside down and squint to see an ox’s head) etc

English didn’t really need words for letters unless you were trying to teach children to read, so simple names that (almost) matched the sounds made sense.

ps. Reciting the names of letters in foreign languages classes went out of fashion in schools – because it would confuse the pronunciation of the sounds. Which is annoying when any trip/call to a foreign country involves pronouncing flight numbers, email addresses or part numbers.

Source : Link , Question Author : Daniel , Answer Author : mgb

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