Soon after moving to Cyprus, one thing you learn quickly is that Saint Barnabas is one of Cyprus’ most popular historical figures. Just so you can sound clever when his name comes up, here are some little-known historical facts: Barnabas was not his real name. His real name was Yosef or Joseph. Bar-Nabas was a nick-name given to him by his friends aka the disciples or apostles of Christ. He was a native of Cyprus. It is thought that he went to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel, the great Jewish rabbi with his classmate, Saul of Tarsus. After the crucifixion, Barnabas returned to Cyprus to preach the gospel. The response was so great that he had to get reinforcements and got his old classmate from Tarsus, but that’s another blog. Now you can see why the Cypriots of the Greek Orthodox church so revere Barnabas. His name appears everywhere.
Bar-Nabas is Aramaic for “son (of a) prophet.” It’s like Bar-Mitzva which means “son of the commandment.” A prophet can also mean someone who has encouraging things to say, so he is known as the “son of encouragement.” Apparently, Joe was so much fun to have around, such a positive influence on his friends, that they started to call him, “Hey Bar-Nabas! Always has something nice to say!”
Now that you want to learn some Greek, it would be fun to see how his name works in Greek. Barnabas looks like this in Greek: Βαρνάβας. So you’d think that the Greek version is pretty much like our English version. Well, get ready for a big surprise.
It doesn’t sound like Barnabas in Modern Greek, because there isn’t a single letter that makes the B sound. Yes, I know, there’s the Alpha-bet, and the “bet” stands for beta, the second letter of the Greek alphabet. There’s even beta testing and beta-blockers if you have a heart condition. But there still isn’t a Barnabas in Greek.
The B in Modern Greek is called a Vita (veatah).
So in Modern Greek, Barnabas’s name is Varnavas. See that second “b” in Barnabas’ name in Greek? It looks like this β . That’s the small case Vita.
So remember, when you are in Greek mode, the B is a V. If you forget, let Varnavus encourage you to remember.