With the breaking news today that the 42-year dictator of Libya was finally dead, you may have noticed that there was some inconsistency in the way it was reported. And not just our usual problem with the facts. Depending on the source of a news article, you may have seen his name listed as Gadhafi (our personal choice here at Common Sense Conspiracy), Gaddafi, Al-Qadhafi, Qaddafi, Khaddafi, or even Kadafi. Amazingly enough, these are all technically correct. Each news organization has selected the way they represent Gadhafi’s name in reports over the years. For example, CNN always lists him as Qaddafi, while Fox News opts for the more friendly Gaddafi. To make it even more confusing, his first name is varies as much. Moammar or Muammar or even Mu’ammar. The man with a thousand names it seems. You would think someone like the Associated Press or BBC News would have set some kind of standard by now that everyone would go with, but it varies from news source to news source. Naturally, when you get down to blogs and editorials, it can get even more convoluted.
So, what’s up with the different names? The reason for the discrepancies start with the Arabic language in and of itself. There is no standard way to translate Arabic names to English, especially in a case like this where the pronunciation varies even among different Arabic regions. So, for starters, his name could be slightly different from Arabic region to Arabic region because of dialects and pronunciations. So, first of all, the question is when trying to translate, which Arabic version of his name are you using? From there, you run into the same problems that exist with all Arabic-to-English translations because there is just not a foolproof system for doing this. You may recall a similar phenomenon when Osama bin Laden became everyday news fodder back in the early 2000’s. News organizations varied between Osama and Usama for the same reasons, although in his case, those were the only two variations.
TIME, Newsweek, Reuters, BBC News, Al-Jazeera, and most British media refer to him as Muammar Gaddafi. The Associated Press, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, PBS, and most of Canadian media use “Moammar Gadhafi.” Oh yeah, add Common Sense Conspiracy to that last list. The Library of Congress refers to him as “Muammar Qaddafi.” Many Middle Eastern news organizations, with the exception of world-famous Al-Jazeera, refer to him with “Mu’ammar Qaddafi.” Even in the United States government, there is no set way to represent the name. The U.S. Department of State calls him “Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi” while the White House goes with “Muammar el-Qaddafi.” So, as you can see, there is little consensus on what this man is called in English.
What about the man himself? Back in 1986, he responded to a letter from a Minnesota school in English. He signed his name as “Moammar El-Gadhafi.” Up until then, the “K” had been most prevalent in the West, but after the
letter, most organizations at least conceded the name should start with a “G”. Common Sense Conspiracy has adopted the Moammar Gadhafi version because we figure the man’s own personal spelling was probably as close as we’re gonna get. We did drop the el- off the front of his last name because it is rarely used in America.
Think the title of this article was sarcastic? Not at all. An article in the London Evening Standard in 2004 addressed this very issue. Their findings: there are over 37 different spellings of Gadhafi’s name that have been used in the media alone. Who knows how many there are when it gets down to word of mouth, emails, and post-it notes. Saturday Night Live caught onto the fun, using the spellings as as part of Weekend Update news skit in its 1981 season.
So, when it’s all said and done, how do you spell the man’s name? Just give it a try. As long as you wind up coinciding with one of the 37 possibilities, you are technically correct. Or be like Common Sense Conspiracy and go with Moammar Gadhafi.