The Phoenician letter appears to be named after a sword or other weapon. (In Biblical Hebrew, zayin (זין) means sword, and the verb lezayen (לזיין) means to arm. In modern Hebrew, zayin (זין) means penis and lezayen (לזין) is a vulgar term which generally means to perform sexual intercourse and is used in a similar fashion to the English word fuck, although the older meaning survives in "maavak mezuyan" (armed struggle) (מאבק מזוין) and "beton mezuyan" (בטון מזוין) (armed, i.e., reinforced concrete). The Proto-Sinaitic glyph according to Brian Colless may have been called ziqq, based on a hieroglyph depicting a "manacle".
Zayin is also one of the seven letters which receive a special crown (called a tagin) when written in a Sefer Torah. See ʻayin, gimel, teth, nun, shin, and tzadi. It is one of several Hebrew letters that have an additional meaning as a noun. The others are: bet [ב, the second letter] whose name is a grammatical form of the word for 'house' (בית); vav [ו, the sixth letter] whose name means 'hook' (וו); kaf [כ, the eleventh letter] whose name means 'palm [of the hand]' (כף); ʻayin [ע, the sixteenth letter] whose name means 'eye' (עין); pe [פ, the seventeenth letter] whose name means 'mouth' (פה); qof [ק, the nineteenth letter] whose name means 'monkey' (קוף); shin [ש, the twenty-first letter] whose name means 'tooth' (שין); tav [the twenty-second letter] whose name means 'mark' (תו), and several other Hebrew letters whose names are ancient Hebrew forms of nouns still used, with a slight change of form or pronunciation, as nouns in modern Hebrew.
The letter is named zayn/zāy/zāʾ). It is written in several ways depending on its position in the word:
Position in word:
The similarity to rāʼ ر is likely a function of the original Syriac forms converging to a single symbol, requiring that one of them be distinguished as a dot; a similar process occurred to jīm and ḥāʼ.