This etymology, however, is not universally accepted, as the word-play is so obvious, and the association of Japheth with Shem (“dark”) and Ham (“black”) suggests a name on similar lines–either gentilic, or descriptive of race. Japheth has therefore been explained as meaning “fair,” from yaphah, the non-Sem and non-Hamitic races known to the Jews being all more or less whiteskinned. The Targum of Onkelos agrees with the English Versions of the Bible, but that of Jonathan has “God shall beautify Japheth,” as though from yaphah.
The Topical Bible Hub quotes a several dictionaries:
Smith’s Bible Dictionary:
Enlargement. The descendants of Japheth occupied the “isles of the Gentiles,” (Genesis 10:5) — i.e. the coast lands of the Mediterranean Sea in Europe and Asia Minor — whence they spread northward over the whole continent of Europe and a considerable portion of Asia.
ATS Bible Dictionary:
Enlargement, the eldest of Noah’s three sons, Genesis 9:24 10:21, born one hundred years before the flood. He was perhaps the Iapetos, whom Greek legends represent as the progenitor of the Greek race. His seven sons, Genesis 10:2-51 Chronicles 1:5, occupied with their posterity the north of Asia and most of Europe. The probable location of each of the seven is described in its place. In later years the Greeks and Romans subdued large portions of Southern and Western Asia, in accordance with the prediction of Noah, Genesis 9:27. The “enlargement” of Japheth now extends over America also.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
Wide spreading: “God shall enlarge Japheth” (Hebrews Yaphat Elohim le-Yephet, Genesis 9:27. Some, however, derive the name from yaphah, “to be beautiful;” hence white), one of the sons of Noah, mentioned last in order (Genesis 5:32; 6:10; 7:13), perhaps first by birth (10:21; Comp. 9:24). He and his wife were two of the eight saved in the ark (1 Peter 3:20). He was the progenitor of many tribes inhabiting the east of Europe and the north of Asia (Genesis 10:2-5). An act of filial piety (9:20-27) was the occasion of Noah’s prophecy of the extension of his posterity.
Eldest of Noah’s three sons (Gen 9:24; 10:21), Japheth was born one hundred years before the flood. He (Iapetos) was worshipped by the early Greeks. In both the Hebraic and Arabic tradition, he is said to be father of the many nations (Gen 10:1-5) of Indo-European (Eurasian) peoples.
And Japheth had sons of his own (bold):
The ancient Sanskrit vedas remember him as Pra-Japati, the sun and ostensible Lord of Creation. In time his name was further corrupted in his assimilation into the Roman pantheon as Iupater, eventually Jupiter — i.e. not names of Greek, Indian or Latin origin, merely corruptions of the original. Early Irish Celts and early Britons traced descent of their royal houses from Japheth, as did the early Saxons who corrupted his name to Sceaf (sheaf or shaif).
Seven sons of Japheth and their modern-day equivalent according to the Freeman Institute, quoting The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (note significant variations among scholars):
- Javan: Greece, Romans, Romance — French, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese
- Magog: Scythians, Slavs, Russians, Bulgarians, Bohemians, Poles, Slovaks, Croatians
- Madai: Indians & Iranic: Medes, Persians, Afghans, Kurds
- Tubal: South of Black Sea
- Tiras: Thracians, Teutons, Germans, Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, Jutes
- Meshech: Russia
- Gomer: Celtic
- Return to Glory. The Table of Nations: Ham, Shem, and Japheth. Freeman Institute (2016)
Japheth third son of Noah, as depicted in Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum (c. 1553) [Wikimedia Commons]