Latin Alphabet Letter Origins

This page lists the known origins of each of the alphabet letters. Most people know the English language uses the Latin alphabet as it’s a descendant of Latin. We can actually trace the providence even farther: Latin evolved from Greek, Greek from Phoenician, which in turn was derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Table of Contents

Letters inside guillemets, like ‹this›, means that it’s relatively new or used semi-exclusively in modern English.

A B C D E FGH IJK L M N O P Q R S TUVWXYZ


A

Proto-Sinaitic glyph of an Ox’s head, Phoenician letter “aleph”, Greek letter “alpha”

B

Egyptian Hieroglyph of a house floorplan, Phoenician “beth”, Greek letter “beta”

C

Egyptian hieroglyph of a staff sling (early weapon somewhat similar to a Lacrosse stick), Phoenician letter “gaml”, Greek letter “gamma”

D

Egyptian hieroglyph of a door, Phoenician letter “daleth”, Greek letter “delta”

E

Egyptian hieroglyph of a person praying or calling another person, Phoenician letter “he”, Greek letter “epsilon”

F

Egyptian hieroglyph of a mace, Phoenician letter “waw”, Greek letter “Digamma”

G

Variant of Latin “C”, introduced by Spurius Carvilius Ruga (first Roman teacher at a private school) to distinguish the “Hard G” (as pronounced in the word Goose) from the letter “C”

H

Egyptian hieroglyph of a fence Proto-Sinaitic letter “ħ”, Phoenician letter “heth”, Greek letter “heta”

I

Egyptian hieroglyph of a person’s arm, Phoenician letter “yodh”, Greek letter “iota”

J

Introduced later in Roman numerals to be used in place of an “I” when two or more are at the end of a number, such as in the case of 23: XIIJ instead of XIII.

Latin based Languages such as Italian, French, and German used “I” and “J” interchangeably (similar to print versus cursive) until the 15th century when new pronunciations for words gained favor. In English, the current pronunciation of “J” was borrowed from French and came into popularity around 1600 AD

K

Egyptian hieroglyph of a hand, Proto-Sinaitic letter “kap”, Phoenician letter “kaf”, Greek letter “kappa”

L

Egyptian hieroglyph of a shepherd’s staff, Phoenician letter “lamedh”, Greek letter “lambda”

M

Egyptian hieroglyph for water, Phoenician letter “Mem”, Greek letter “mu”

N

Egyptian hieroglyph for snake, Phoenician letter “Nun”, Greek letter “nu”

O

Egyptian hieroglyph for eye, Phoenician letter “‘ayn”, meaning eye, Greek letter “omicron”

P

Phoenician letter “pey”, meaning mouth Greek letter “pi”

Q

Phoenician letter “qoph”, Greek letter “qoppa”

R

Egyptian hieroglyph for head, Phoenician letter “resh”, Greek letter “rho”

S

Egyptian hieroglyph for tusk, Phoenician letter “shin”, Greek letter “sigma”

T

Asterisk like marking or signature, Phoenician letter “taw”, Greek letter “tau”

U

Latin originally used “V” to represent the letter U’s pronunciation; “vpon” versus the modern spelling of “upon”. Around 1400 AD, “U” started to replaced “V” at the beginning of words for style purposes.

V

Phoenician letter “waw”, meaning hook or spear Greek letter “upsilon”

W

English borrows the pronunciation (as with the word worse) from Old German where it was written as two letter U’s or V’s connected together.

Around 1400 AD, it became a separate letter in the Latin alphabet: the pronunciation of the letter’s name, “Double U”, is from the first form that was used, “uu”.

X

Greek letter “chi”

Y

Phoenician letters “waw” and “gimel” Greek letters “upsilon” and “gamma” Middle english letter “yogh”

Modern English combines the Greek usage to use “Y” as a vowel, as with Greek loan words such as “system”. When later used as a consonant, “Y” replaced the now extinct letter “yogh”

Z

Phoenician letter “Zayin”, meaning “weapon” Greek letter “zeta”