Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Write Gaddafi, You Write Qadhafi

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's treatment of his country's people is far from funny, but we word nerds may be amused by the seemingly infinite ways in which media outlets have spelled his name. The Wikipedia page on Gaddafi claims that as many as 112 variants exist. These include:
  • Muammar Gaddafi (used by TIME magazine, BBC News, most British press, the English service of Al-Jazeera) 
  • Moammar Gadhafi (Associated Press, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News)
  • Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi (U.S. Department of State)
  • Muammar el-Qaddafi (the White House, New York Times)
  • Moammar Kadafi (Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times)
The possibilities are summarized in this handy chart, also from Wikipedia.

How about Qezzaffy? No, I'm certain it's Khudhdhafy.

    Reportedly, the dictator writes his own name "Moammar El-Gadhafi."

    Why doesn't a single standard spelling exist? In short, Arabic words are pronounced differently in different regions. These variations lead to variations in transliteration. Simple enough; what's more remarkable is that the American media and even the U.S. government have chosen so many different spellings to represent the name, and that no one spelling has been chosen as the "standard" in the 40+ years Gaddafi's been in power. In fact, the debate over how to spell his name has been raging since at least the eighties.

    The question is, then, why each organization has chosen the spelling it has. Are there legitimate arguments for picking any one over the others? (I chose "Gaddafi" because it's relatively phonetic--to my ear, anyway--and thus easy for me to remember.)

    Know something about orthography or setting style standards? Has your organization had to pick a spelling of The Name? Comment and let me know.