They can be traced back to the very same root -- both were ultimately derived from the Hebrew name Ya'aqov. The definition of Ya'aqov isn't certain, but the most widely accepted meaning is "heel-holder."
Both Jacob and James are quite popular in the U.S. right now. Jacob has been the #1 name in the nation since 1999, while, throughout that same time period, James has hovered just inside the top 20. (The tables were turned a few decades ago, though. While James reigned as #1 from 1940 through 1952, Jacob ranked much farther down on the list, close to 300th place.)
There are equivalent names for Jacob and James in both Italian (Giacobbe, Giacomo) and Spanish (Jacobo, Jaime). In other languages, though, there is only one derivative of Ya'aqov. Examples are Hagop in Armenian, Iago in Welsh, Jaagup in Estonian, Jacques in French, Jakob in German, and Jakub in Polish.
Back in English, nicknames for Jacob include Jake and Coby, and nicknames for James include Jim, Jimmy and Jamie.
Some famous people with the names Jacob and James are:
- Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebecca, ancestor of the twelve tribes of Israel
- Jacob Miller, reggae artist
- Jacob D. Beam, diplomat
- Jacob Bigelow, doctor and botanist
- Jacob Epstein, sculptor
- Jacob Lawrence, painter
- Jakob Meisenheimer, chemist
- Jacob A. Riis, journalist and humanitarian
- Jacob H. Schiff, banker and philanthropist
- James I through James V of Scotland
- James I and James II of England (who were also James VI and James VII of Scotland)
- James I and James II of Aragon
- James Madison, James Monroe, James Pole, James Buchanan, James Garfield, and Jimmy Carter, U.S. Presidents
- James Dean, actor
- James Earl Jones, actor
- James Franck, physicist
- James Taylor, musician
- James Chadwick, physicist
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