Where did the word 'Jew' originate?

We are variously called Jews, Hebrews, and Israelites.

"Jews" refers to the people from the end of First Temple times, up to this day, because after the Assyrian conquest the Israelites who remained in the land were (and are) mostly from the Israelite tribe of Judah, and the land was then called Judea.

"Hebrews" (Ivrim) actually means descendants of Eber (Ever). Ever was an ancestor of Abraham (Genesis ch.10-11) and the earliest Hebrews were Abraham's uncles and cousins for several generations back. They were among the Western Semites and lived in northern Mesopotamia, near the confluence of the Balikh and the Euphrates.
Abraham (18th century BCE) was called a Hebrew (Genesis ch.14) because of his wider family.

Poetically, however, Abraham himself is called Hebrew because that name (Ivri) also translates to "the other side." Abraham was figuratively on "the other side" since he was the only monotheist (Midrash Rabbah 42:8) until his teachings took root. His ancestors and cousins had slipped into idolatry well before his time, as is evident from Genesis 31:30, 31:53, and Joshua 24:2. For that reason, Jews do not bestow on them the honorific title of ancestors despite the genealogical connection.
We credit Abraham as our first ancestor despite knowing exactly who came before, since it was Abraham who founded our beliefs. Thus, "Hebrews" is often used to mean Abraham and his Israelite descendants, instead of his wider family. In this sense it can refer to the Jewish people.

Link: Abraham's biography

The word "Hebrews" can continue to refer to Abraham's descendants until the lifetime of Jacob. After that, we prefer "Israelites," since Jacob was given that name by God (Genesis ch.35), and it is considered a national title; one of honor. "Israelites" refers to the people (Jacob's descendants) down to the Assyrian conquest (133 years before the destruction of the First Temple), some 2600 years ago. But all the above terms are occasionally interchanged.

Link: Jewish history timeline

Link: Jewish ancestry

Origins of the Word Jew

The word Jew came from the name Judah, who was one of the 12 sons of Jacob, from whom the 12 tribes of Israel are descended.

When the Jews were expelled from the Land of Israel, the tribe of Judah was the last to go and the tribe from which most present-day Jews are considered to be descendants. Thus, they were known as Judeans or Jews.


The most common view is that the Middle English word Jew is from the Old French giu, earlier juieu, from the Latin Iudaeus from the Greek ουδαος. The Latin simply means Judaean, from the land of Judaea. In the Old English the word is attested as early as 1000 in various forms, such as Iudeas, Gyu, Giu, Iuu, Iuw, Iew.

Middle English Jeu, from Old French giu, from Latin Iūdaeus, from Greek Ioudaios, from Aramaic yəhudāy, from Hebrew yəhûdî, inhabitant of Judah, from yəhûdâ, Judah.

A Biblical Explanation

The origin of the word "Jew" is from the Hebrew meaning "Praise."

The name comes from the Bible in Genesis 29:34.

Genesis 29:35 And she (Leah) conceived again and bore a son (to Jacob), and said, "Now I will praise the Lord." Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.

So we see that Jew is the generic term for Judah. The term became common after the first Babylonian exile and the people applied the name to themselves. So correctly applied, it literally means "the people of praise."