The Great Name Debate

When Tova was born, Yitzchak and I debated how to spell her name in English.  Tova isn’t her real name, of course, and we wondered which vowels to use in which places, and in which name (she, unlike Shlomo, has a middle name).  We asked five or six people what they thought; I asked Noach to ask his friends what was most widely accepted (Noach, you forgot to get back to me!); I asked a cousin, Yitzchak asked his mother and another friend.  We finally got it down to two possible spellings, and at some point we decided which one to go with.

A few weeks later, when Tova’s Hebrew birth certificate hadn’t arrived, I went to the Ministry of Interior to pick it up and add her to our identity cards.  They couldn’t give us an English copy at the time (not sure why), so they told us to come back.  Of course, we needed the English copy for the consulate.  So, a week before our appointment at the consulate, Yitzchak went to see if he could get an English copy of her birth certificate.  He was able to.

And he came home and showed it to me, proudly.  As I took the paper, I asked, “Did you tell them how we want to spell her name?”  The obvious answer was not long in coming: “Oops.  I forgot.”

But it didn’t matter, because the Ministry of Interior apparently thought the same way we did, and chose the same spelling.

It was then that I realized that my weeks of thinking and debating had been in vain.  It was then that I remembered that the Ministry of Interior decides how you spell your name, or your child’s name, in English.  And if you want to give an unusual spelling, they will often tell you that it’s a different name, and that you can change the Hebrew name to match the English spelling, but you cannot write this English name as a translation of the Hebrew name, because “it’s not the same name”.

Yes, we as parents decide what to name our children.  But the Ministry of Interior decides what the transliterated spelling of each name is.

Which, by the way, is why a last name that contains the letter “o” sounded like “off” is written with a “vav” and pronounced like a long “o” or long “u”.  Because they won’t write it with an “alef”, since that would mean the sound had to be “a”.

Ah, well.  I’ll know for next time not to sweat the small stuff – I mean, the spelling.

2 thoughts on “The Great Name Debate

  1. Our older son always has the English version of his name misspelled – and that’s by people who know the name.
    I think these mistakes happen because it’s arbitrary. They are neither correct or incorrect.


    • That’s annoying. I grew up having my English name mispronounced. But in adulthood, I came to accept my English mispronounced name, while I really don’t like pronunciation my parents gave me.

      It is arbitrary. I guess that’s why there are usual and unusual spellings for each name.

      We were worried about her getting teased because her name looked like some word related to some concept. Kind of like I know someone whose name is חיל, and she spells it Hail. Luckily, she’s not in an Anglo environment.


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