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YHWH (יהוה in the original Hebrew) is one of the gods of Abraham that appears in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and the name for the monotheistic God that the Jews and Christians would later worship. YHWH does not appear to be a Canaanite god, but instead an Edomic one.
A common rendering of the word is sometimes called the "tetragrammaton" (which is Greek for "a word of four letters").
Since God never actually tells us His name, a commandment telling one not to take His name in vain is a little confusing.
There are several views of what YHWH means and where the term originated. The most commonly accepted is that the term comes from "Y" (hebrew yodh י) meaning "he", and the Semitic root "HWH", (Hebrew: he wa he היה ) which means either "to be" or "to create" depending on context, mode and inflection, making YHWH "He who is" or alternately "He who creates." In Exodus 3:14, god states, in response to the question "who are you, that should send me to the people of Isreal?" - "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" "I am what I am".
Without vowels, both scholars of the Bible as well as linguists can only guess on the variation of the root HWH. In context, the word "YHWH" could also mean "He who builds", "He who lives" (the root "to be" has the variation of "to live" "to breathe" and "to build or bring into existence.")
A second theory is based on the linguistic evidence that the Semitic tri-root "HWH" indicates things which fall, or a storm. This argument suggests YHWH might be indicating at Storm god. This highly compelling theory blends with the theory that YHWH was an Edomic Storm God who was adopted into the Canaanite culture.
The original pronunciation is lost to history, because the Hebrew Bible contains no vowels, and of course those who would have known the pronunciation are long gone. Further, it was historically considered disrespectful to speak God's name, outside of the most sacred of settings. Even today, conservative and Orthodox Jews would not pronounce the name out of respect. In practical terms, the pronunciation is probably Yahweh or something fairly similar, and this is the usual translation into English.
To avoid speaking God's name, because that's disrespectful, when Jews read the Hebrew scriptures aloud in prayer, the four letters are pronounced mainly as Adonai (my lord), but also as Elohim (gods - in plural (singular 'El')) in a few cases. Taking the taboo even further, some Conservative and Orthodox Jews simply call God "HaShem", literally meaning "the name." Another common Jewish practice, especially among English speaking Orthodox Jews, is to write the English name God as G-d.
 English Translation
Most English Bible translations represent YHWH as "the Lord" (in small capitals when it stands in for YHWH) and "Lord God" or "The Sovereign Lord" (when it is "YHWH Adonai").
The translation as YHVH is no longer used. It is commonly believed that "ו" has shifted from "weh" to "veh" over the past several thousand years.
 Jehovah v. YaHeWeHe
An earlier, less accurate English rendition of the name is Jehovah, which was formed by a combination of the consonants YHWH and the cantillation marks (vowels) for "Adonai" (that's where the "o" comes from), as the word was written in the Tanakh, so that even the most absent-minded Jew wouldn't pronounce the Sacred Name and be Struck Down in Flame. The "Y" became "J" and "W" became "V" because those were the letters that ancient Latin used to represent those sounds. Despite the fact that English J and V sound nothing like their Latin ancestors, this doggedly incorrect transliteration is still used by certain traditionalist groups and the Jehovah's Witnesses.
At least one religious sect, the Jehovah's Witnesses, insist Jehovah is God's real name and insist on its use instead of God. There are also some sects, including many Christian Identity believers, who insist that "Yahweh" is the proper name.
 YHWH the god
Evidence from archaeological excavations (in the Douglas Adamsian tradition of "The Institute of Taking Impossibly Long Times to Find Out What's Painfully Obvious," as even a cursory reading of the millennia-old Tanakh or Old Testament with a right mind—although we're not sure how often that happens) strongly suggests that YHWH wasn't the only God, just one that Abraham promised to worship so he could take all of Palestine, put the men to the sword, the towns to the torch, and the women to bed. The deal also included sacrificing the good stuff—the gold, silver, wine, and animals—to the LORD, i.e. making His priests rich.
Evidences found in the Canaanite city of Ugarit suggests the ancient Israelites practiced a polytheistic North-west Semitic religion, with a creator god, El. Yahweh was associated with El, and became the "national god" of the Hebrews. There is some evidence of a god "YW" who was the Son of El; YW is generally considered to either be YHWH or be some play on words to make a closer association. El (and therefor YHWH) had a wife, incidentally named Asherah)—amazingly the Mormons got it right for once, and we'll all get our own planet called The Battlestar Galactica, from which humans will evolve in to Cylons and found the Twelve Colonies of Man, and revert to polytheism.
Because YHWH so obviously made such a lousy cosmic protector, killing his own vassals with plagues, Hellfire and brimstone, His patron kingdoms being ground into dust by the Assyrians and whatnot, He was beefed up by a merger with El, making Him not only the particular God of the Hebrews but also THE MOST POWERFUL GOD IN THE COSMOS. It's quite clear through even a cursory reading of the Old Testament (e.g. the First Commandment) that even then the Israelites did not consider Yahweh to be the only god, merely the most important one. Needless to say that He's always mentioned in plural (Elohim), and the single-most repeated phrase in the Old Testament is, "I am the YHWH your Elohim, the El of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
 See also
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Ronald L. Eisenberg. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, p627. Jewish Publication Society of America. 2004.
- ↑ If you want to split hairs, ancient Latin didn't actually have a letter shaped like J -- it used a written I for both the long I vowel sound and the short Y sound. Later Latin scholars invented J as a way to distinguish between these two sounds.