Like a dog worrying a bone, I have to go back to that list of 87 supposedly official ways to spell the name of the Libyan president in English.
It’s probably best to start with the first name first. Unless I missed one or two, 79 of those ‘spellings’ start with his first name, which we’ll render as Mu’ammar. One of the other spellings starts with his way-out-of-date title, Mulazim Awwal, which means first lieutenant. He hasn’t held that rank since sometime in the mid- to late-sixties. Time to update your encyclopedias, fellas.
Another eight spellings start out with the name ‘Umar, spelled Omar on this list every time. The Wikipedia page does not list this as part of his name, so I don’t know where that came from. Could be a mistake, could be he dropped it from his name at some point.
Back to the 79 names that start with Mu’ammar. Every one agrees that it starts with an ‘m.’ That’s good. The next consonant of his name in Arabic, though, represents a sound that doesn’t exist in English. It’s often transliterated with an apostrophe between two vowels. Then there’s the question of whether the first vowel sound should be represented by an ‘o’ or a ‘u’, just like the initial vowel of Osama bin Laden’s name. A universal system for transliterating Arabic to English would come in handy at times like these. So far we have مع
Once we pass that stage, we’re back on solid ground again with another ‘m’ sound. There is no disagreement on that. However, in some versions the letter is single and in some versions the letter is double. In Arabic, this makes a difference. In English, we pretty much ignore the distinction. Now we have معم
And then the last syllable. Obviously, it’s an ‘ar’ sound. I guess to some people it sounds like ‘er’ and to some people it must even sound like ‘a’, as they have left off the ‘r’ entirely. I would strike that one from the list, because that’s just lame. And there’s his whole first name, معمر
Now on to his last name. First thing is do we use the al- prefix or not? And if we use it, do we capitalize it? Apparently the colonel’s own preference is to omit it. Also, is it al- or el-?
Next is the first initial of his last name. It is a ق and would usually be rendered ‘Q’, except that in certain dialects that letter is pronounced ‘G’ instead. Libyan dialect is one of them. So it stands to reason that people conversant in Libyan dialect would render it with a ‘G’ while those not aware of that difference would render it with a ‘Q’.
Apparently some parties chose to render that sound with a ‘Kh.’ I do not know why. To the best of my knowledge, there is no dialect that pronounces that letter that way. I’m going to guess that that transliteration comes directly from people who think that since ‘kh’ is a sound in Arabic, ‘kh’ is every guttural sound in Arabic. They are wrong. I’ve already moaned about people who think that since ‘kh’ is a sound in Arabic, that all ‘h’s should be ‘kh’s. They’re wrong.
Good heavens, some of these spellings are atrocious. Kadafi with a K? No way.
One thing everyone agrees on is that the vowel should be an ‘a.’ Yay. So we’re up to معمر ق
This is tiring. Okay, next letter is another letter we don’t have in English, but we have the sound. It is the sound of the ‘th’ in the word ‘the’. As you can see, there are a few different ways to represent it, including ‘th’, ‘dh’, ‘d’, and ‘z’. And the issue of doubling consonants raises its head again. English speakers seem to think ‘dhdh’ looks weird. Okay, now we’re mostly done. معمر قذ
Everyone seems to agree that the next vowel is an ‘a’. Thank goodness. At least one weirdo stuck an apostrophe in there for no apparent reason. People are strange. This time the vowel is what we call a ‘long vowel’ and therefore you can see it. Here it is: قذا
Two more letters to go. A regular old ‘f’ sound is next. It looks like everyone went with ‘f’ and not ‘ph’, but they could have gone there. That would have doubled the number of possible spellings. I kind of wonder why nobody did. معمر القذاف
One letter remains, and this is an easy one. The long vowel ‘ee’, which most people rendered ‘i’ but a few rendered ‘y’, and once again they could have multiplied the number of spellings by rendering it with an ‘ee’ or an ‘ie’.
And there it is, the whole name: معمر قذافي