Ients or Jents?

Origins of 'Ient' - by Victor Ient

In the English Births, Deaths & Marriages records, the name 'Ient' (or 'Jent') seems to have appeared first in 1879, with the first marriage of Karl G Ient. I found it listed under the index letter 'I' but this was before the records were computerised[1]. Records were written by hand then, and with the 'scroll' form of handwriting it could have been J or I. In summary, the name could be Jent, meaning Jent with a 'J' or Jent with an 'I'.

Both forms of handwriting could be interpreted as either a J as an I. Why was this? Well, all records were handwritten and the 'scroll' shapes of the style of writing at the time makes a 'J' look very like an 'I'.

If it was JENT - it was not pronounced 'Gent' as in English but as 'Yent' as in Johansson, Jenson. These are pronounced 'Yohansson' or 'Yenson' – as you would pronounce the Danish cheese Jarlsberg. Evidence for the correct pronunciation of Jent comes from the 1800s in America, where in some instances the name of our Ient cousins became spelt Yent – to reflect the pronunciation.

So why is it IENT in England? There is no actual evidence except in the records from the late 1800s – here we see the 'I' with the 'capitals', top and bottom, being used, thus quite definitely 'I'. This is presumably to reflect the wishes of Karl, who wanted his name to be pronounced correctly, so 'I' was the choice. Why 'I'? Well, Karl was a stonemason and therefore quite probably could read Latin (anyway, Latin would certainly have been taught in schools in Germany), so 'I' would have been a natural choice. In early Latin there was no J – the alphabet consisted of:

As you see – no 'J'. According to my research, J was a later 'outgrowth' of I and used to give a sound of greater consonant force, particularly as the first letter of some words. So I and J are interchangeable, and, perhaps because of the Latin origins, I looks like the old J when written in the old 'pen and ink' scroll style. From a documentation point of view, a change would simply appear as a misreading of the records – I and J looking so similar.

Whatever the reason; for Karl it would ensure the name was pronounced as near to 'Yent' without using the Y. It would thus avoid the Ient family name sounding like the 'Gent' in gentlemen.


[1] More recent computerisation has lead to archiving 'old style' I into J.