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Libya, and why no one can spell that guy’s name

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What's my name again?

By Cat Viglienzoni — February 25, 2011

Something I’ve noticed amid the media coverage of the terrible violence being perpetrated in Libya as protests there continue… can anyone agree on how to spell their president’s name?

I ran into this with one of my web writers yesterday morning. I was having her write an update on the Libya situation and she asked me how to spell his name. I said how I thought it was spelled (based on the articles I’ve been reading). And then I looked at another reputable news source, and I saw they’d spelled it differently! So I searched my version and sure enough, results came up too.

I’m certainly not the only one who has noticed this. Because of the recent attention to Libya, I noticed more and more posts coming up in the news feeds addressing this very question: how to correctly spell this man’s name. The Washington Post did an amusing blog post about this. And now I’m adding another one to that growing mass of questions in the blogosphere.

So I decided to compile a list of just a few of the most common ways I’ve found this man’s name spelled, along with my source. (Note: Many of the major news sources use the same spellings.)

Here goes:

Moammar Gadhafi – CNN

Moammar Gaddafi – Washington Post

Moammar Kadafi – LA Times

Muammar el-Qaddafi – New York Times

Muammar Gaddafi – Al-Jazeera English

… and let’s not even get into the kinds of mangled spellings of his name I’ve seen trending on Twitter since the protests began.

And because I know you’re curious… here’s what Wikipedia had to say about the issue:

“Because of the lack of standardization of transliterating written- and regionally-pronounced Arabic, Gaddafi’s name has been transliterated in many different ways into English and other Latin alphabet languages. Even though the Arabic spelling of a word does not change, the pronunciation may vary in different varieties of Arabic, which may cause a different romanization.”

So what it really comes down to is that it’s a translation issue. Because of the wide diversity in the Arabic language pronunciations, combined with a translation into any other language with its own alphabet or character system, an array of pronunciations have come to be accepted as “correct.” The Christian Science Monitor reports there is no accepted authority for translating Arabic names, therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that we run into this kind of confusion.

Google, for what it’s worth, seems to lean toward Gaddafi. Perhaps that will end up being the deciding factor someday.

I’m going to leave you with some numbers: ABC News reported 112 ways of spelling his name, while the Library of Congress apparently lists 72. You’d think, since the man has been in power since 1969, that someone would have set a guideline. Or asked him to choose one – after all, it’s his name.

(Photo courtesy: AP Images)

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Written by Cat Viglienzoni

February 25, 2011 at 6:37 AM

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Hey, I liked your post a lot. You should have a twitter button so people can tweet it. If I missed one, I’m sorry!

    Melissa Montoya

    February 25, 2011 at 7:04 AM

  2. […] with Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, my work, rally, WEBN « Libya, and why no one can spell that guy’s name LikeBe the first to like this […]

  3. […] that wasn’t the way you thought his name is spelled, here’s another blog post explaining why there is a […]


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