My Inner Pedant

That Obama won the election can only be good for my blog. There will probably be a big rush of questions about Arabs and Muslims now, even though Obama is neither. So my inner pedant will get to shine.


First up: there has been much talk about Obama’s “Arabic” name. There has been much speculation about how the Arab world feels about Barack Obama. But nobody has broken it down into a lesson on spelling and transliteration until me.

There’s an Arabic name Barak. Undoubtedly Obama’s first name derives from it. Or I suppose it could be derived from the Hebrew Baruch, but it seems less likely and I don’t know Hebrew. Let’s say Barack is from the Arabic.

When Arab newspapers transliterate foreign names into Arabic, they usually represent all the vowels with long vowels. For example, they would spell Megan ميجان with a long ‘e’ sound and a long ‘a’ sound even though the second vowel in Megan is hardly pronounced. If Megan were an Arabic name, it would be spelled the way it’s pronounced, which is ميجن.

Now to Barack. The Arabic name Barak is spelled براك. But when Barack Obama’s name appears in Arab newspapers, it is transliterated باراك.

To me this indicates that they do not perceive Barack Obama’s first name as an Arab name in the sense that they do not perceive Barack Obama as an Arab. And he’s not an Arab, so they’re right.

(Hussein, of course, is a fine Arabic name, and Obama is a Luo name.)

Incidentally, while researching this I found a guy on the internet who thinks that Obama’s name proves he’s an Arab, and that practically proves he’s a terrorist. I will not link to his site, but if you’re interested, you should be able to Google it.


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Filed under arab, arabic, arabist, language, pedantry

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