If you have chosen an Israeli or Hebrew baby name for your child, you will have to decide how to spell it in English. Here are some of the common issues you are most likely to consider.
- H or CH? If your child’s name includes the guttural chet or chaf, you have no equivalent in English. Write it as “ch” and people will pronounce it like in cheese. Write it as “h” and it won’t be distinguishable from the “heh” sound. Some people who like to be different write it as “kh.”
- Traditional or modern spelling? If you choose a traditional name like Rebecca or Jonathan, there will be an English spelling associated with it. Most likely this comes from the King James version of the Bible. But King James spellings don’t usually represent the modern Hebrew pronunciation. These examples are better represented by Rivka and Yonatan. The spelling you choose will influence how people pronounce the name.
- H or H-less? Many Hebrew names end in an “ah” sound and are represented in Hebrew with the letter “heh.” Since the heh is not pronounced, some parents choose to leave out the “h” in English.
- The Hebrew letter tzadi is easily pronounced in English, but the spelling can be tricky. Options include “ts,” “tz,” or the slightly mispronounced “z.”
- Two vowels together. Many Hebrew names have two vowel sounds one after the other, and they look odd in English. Examples are Yair and Yael (both two syllables) and even Michael, which has three syllables in Hebrew. Some parents choose to place an apostrophe in between the two vowels.
- “Ah.” There is no “a” sound in Hebrew as pronounced in the name Hannah. In Hebrew, the two vowels are pronounced identically, as “ah.” Some parents may choose to reflect that in the spelling.
- “Eh.” There is a sound in Hebrew that is halfway between a long “a” and a short “e.” Yosef is an example and parents who want to ensure a more careful pronunciation might choose to write it Yoseif.
- Ashkenaz or sephardic pronunciation. Most modern Israelis pronounce Hebrew according to the north African, or sephardic tradtion. But most Americans and some Israelis choose not to. An example of an Ashkenazi pronunciation and spelling would be Doniel instead of Daniel, because the “kamatz” vocalization becomes “oh” instead of “ah.” The Hebrew letter Tav, when written without a dot in the center, is pronounced Sav by ashkenazim, so Yonatan becomes Yonasan.