Yer man’s name

In the world of 24 hour rolling news, it sometimes feels like there’s an expected outcome to many stories and a timeline for reaching the end point and moving onto the next thing. Accordingly, developments in Libya’s capital Tripoli aren’t moving fast enough towards the (western) narrative’s inevitable resolution.

While I’ve been waiting, for months I’ve been noticing the diversity of spelling of the Libyan leader’s name. The BBC use Gaddafi, the Irish Times stick to Gadafy, while other outlets favour Qaddafi or Al-Qadhafi or el-Qaddafi.

In moments of confusion, turn to Wikipedia for enlightenment (and often further confusion) …

Transliteration of his Arabic name

Because of the lack of standardization of transliterating written and regionally pronounced Arabic, Gaddafi’s name has been romanized in many different ways. Even though the Arabic spelling of a word does not change, the pronunciation may vary in different varieties of Arabic, which may suggest a different romanization. In Literary Arabic the name مُعَمَّر القَذَّافِي can be pronounced /muˈʕammaru lqaðˈðaːfiː/. Geminated consonants can be simplified. In Libyan Arabic, /q/ (ق) is replaced with [ɡ]; and /ð/ (ذ) (as “th” in “this”) is replaced with [d]. Vowel [u] often alternates with [o] in pronunciation in other regions. Thus, /muˈʕammar alqaðˈðaːfiː/ is normally pronounced in Libyan Arabic [muˈʕæmmɑrˤ əlɡædˈdæːfi]. The definite article al- (ال) is often omitted.

“Muammar Gaddafi” is the spelling used by TIME, BBC News, the majority of the British press and by the English service of Al-Jazeera.[285] The Associated Press, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News use “Moammar Gadhafi”. The Library of Congress uses “Qaddafi, Muammar” as the primary name. The Edinburgh Middle East Report uses “Mu’ammar Qaddafi” and the U.S. Department of State uses “Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi”, although the White House chooses to use “Muammar el-Qaddafi”.[286] The Xinhua News Agency uses “Muammar Khaddafi” in its English reports.[287] The New York Times uses “Muammar el-Qaddafi”. The Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times of the Tribune Company, and Agence France-Presse use “Moammar Kadafi”.[288][289]

In 1986 Gaddafi reportedly responded to a Minnesota school’s letter in English using the spelling “Moammar El-Gadhafi”.[290] The title of the homepage of algathafi.org reads “Welcome to the official site of Muammar Al Gathafi”.[291] A 2007 interview with Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi confirms that he uses the spelling “Qadhafi”.[292]

An article published in the London Evening Standard in 2004 lists a total of 37 spellings of his name, while a 1986 column by The Straight Dope quotes a list of 32 spellings known from the Library of Congress.[293] ABC identified 112 possible spellings.[294] This extensive confusion of naming was used as the subject of a segment of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update on 12 December 1981.[295]

In short, the alternative spellings for each part of his name are shown in brackets:

Alternative spellings for each part of Gaddafi's name

Not all are possible, as some alternatives are most probably combined with others, or even impossible with others (for example, simplification of geminated /mm/ usually implies simplification of /aː/).

Simple, eh? Next time someone spells my name Allen, I may not even mention it.

Update – Seamus Conboy reminds me that West Wing’s Leo McGarry had issues with the Libyan leader’s name too.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

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