Spell: Real Life

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As a general rule, Arabic transliteration sucks. This stems partly from the fact that Arabic today has numerous varieties/dialects, most of which have many ways to pronounce words that are spelled the same in the regions that use the Arabic alphabet. The name Muhammad has almost a dozen different forms, ranging from simple transliteration differences (Muhammad vs Muhammed) to, um, "Mehmet" (the standard Turkish form). A "j" sound in standard Arabic might be a hard "g" sound in Egypt; what sounds like a "d" on the Gulf might sound more like a "z" in Lebanon.

The language also has several sounds that correspond to no obvious Latin letter—the consonants alif and ayn are often represented by single quotes curling in differing directions, but most non-scholarly sources leave them out entirely! Just as bad, Arabic distinguishes between 2-4 differently articulated versions of consonants like "s," "d," and "t" that the Latin alphabet has no handy way of representing. The "Ds" in "Saddam," "Saudi," "nadir," and "Qaddafi" are four wholly different consonants in Arabic.
  • And then there's the Qur'an/Kuran/Koran/Alcoran. You'd think that, if anything, the title of the most important book in the Arabic language would have a consistent Romanization, or even one that was more common or popular than the others...but no. Likewise, Muslim/Moslem (the latter, though being a legitimate and older transliteration, is nowadays disliked by Muslims due to its similarity with a word meaning "oppressor").
  • For this reason, most Westerners know Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, one of the most famous Muslim leaders of the Middle Ages, as Saladin.
  • Colonel Muammar/Muamar/Moammar Khadafi/Quaddafi/Gaddafi/Gadhafi/Qadhdhaafii/etc., dictator (now deceased) of Libya. (Some sites jokingly add "may his spellings be many" to most attempts at translitering his name.) A 1986 article in The Straight Dope showed that the Library of Congress had identified 32 different spellings in use. If you look up "Qaddafi, Muammar" in the Library of Congress Authorities database, you can currently see fifty-four variants in the Latin script, and nine in the Arabic. Wikipedia has more information, including a chart.
    • Up to Eleven in M John Harrison' s SF classic "The Centauri Device", where an expy of Ghaddafi is claimed to have "a thousand different spellings from Qattafi to Khedaphey". (That's a bit high, maybe a few diacritics are thrown in for good measure.)
  • Usama/Osama/Oussama bin/ibn/ben Laden/Ladin, as well as Al Qaeda/Al Qaida. The latter can also vary the capitalisation of "Al", whether or not it's hyphenated and whether or not there's an apostrophe (or a backtick) after the "Qa" syllable. By way of illustration, The BBC uses "al-Qaeda", CNN uses "al Qaeda", the Guardian uses "al-Qaeda" and "al-Qaida" interchangeably and the Times uses "al-Qaeda" and "Al-Qaeda" interchangeably, none of which are correct; القاعدة‎ should be transliterated as "Al-Qa'ida". The ع is what's called a "pharyngealized glottal stop", "voiced epiglottal fricative", or "voiced pharyngeal fricative".
  • T.E. Lawrence explicitly made a point of rendering Arabic names as inconsistently as possible in his writings, to emphasize that there's really no good way to do it.
  • Qatar is pronounced as though it should be spelled Kuttur.
  • A similar example of transliteration not matching how the word sounds in Arabic is the way "Jafar" is pronounced in Aladdin. In the correct pronunciation, the first A is the 'ayn, a sound that doesn't exist in English, and the second one is a short A. In the Aladdin pronunciation, the first A is short, and the second A is practically an alif. Then again, it's not like they did the research about anything else, either.

    Ancient Egyptian 
  • Ancient Egyptian was written without vowels, and in many cases the vowels that went with each word are unknown. Those vowels known by Egyptologists had to be painstakingly reconstructed using various linguistic methods, from ancient transliterations, cognates, Coptic, etc.
    • When Egyptologists want to transliterate a word directly, they can only transliterate the consonants, leading to unpronounceable goodness like nb-ḫprw-rˤ twt-ˤnḫ-jmn ḥḳ3-jwnw-šmˤ. So they make up arbitrary pronunciations for day-to-day use, i.e. turning the above into "Nebkheperure Tutankhamun Heqaiunushema" which weren't actually how his names were pronounced in ancient Egyptian. But there are many different ways to make each word pronounceable, and equally many ways to express a reconstructed ancient pronunciation, depending on the mother-tongue of the Egyptologist. Add to that the sometimes close, sometimes rather off ancient Greek and Roman pronunciations, multiple ways to transliterate those Greek names, and the occasional Coptic cognate or Babylonian transliteration, and you get a complete mess. Most Egyptian names have 5 or 10 different spellings.
    • The best part? The Egyptian scribes weren't consistent either. The language was written for thousands of years and evolved over time — eventually using three different writing systems, then evolving into Coptic with yet another writing system (based on, but not exactly like, uncial Greek)—and scribes from later periods likely didn't know how the language had been pronounced hundreds or thousands of years before their lifetimes. They often preferred to reproduce exactly the original spellings when copying an old text, but would make mistakes when dealing with very unfamiliar spelling styles. (English-speakers, imagine trying to copy a handwritten chapter from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, when you can barely make out what it says, and can't easily guess at the words that are faded or missing. Then imagine it's also in a different alphabet.) Apparently, later scribes didn't really know what to make of all those consonants and syllables appended to the ends of words in older texts, since later forms of the language turned those endings silent. This led to all kinds of what was probably outright misspelling, and of course muddies things further for today's Egyptologists.
      • Oh, and both Ancient Egyptian and Coptic had multiple dialects. Most of the dynastic period dialects were unofficial and therefore rarely written down, making their occasional cameos additionally confusing.
    • For example, "Anubis" is the Greek name of an Egyptian god of mummification and the dead. The usual hieroglyphic spelling is transliterated, most directly, as jnpw (or ynpw). That's four consonants and, presumably, three or four unspecified vowels. The evidence is actually that the name was originally pronounced something like *Yanāpaw, and then by the 1st millennium BCE it was more like *Anup. So "Anubis" is really not that far off. It is, nonetheless, a relevant example, because when it comes to Egyptian names we are often forced to chose between one of the many semi-arbitrary Egyptological pronunciations (Anpu, Inpu, Yanupu, etc) and the Greek version (Anubis). Or the reconstructed Egyptian pronunciation (*Yanāpaw, *Anup), but no one seems to bother with that. And the Romans called him Mercury too.
    • For another example, here's how many ways one particular deity's name has been spelled: ḳbḥsnnw.f, ḳbḥsnnwf, ḳbḥsnw.f, ḳbḥsnwf, Kabahsenuf, Kebechsenef, Kebehsenuf, Kebhesenuef, Qebehsennuf, Qebehsenuf, Qebekh-sennuf, Qebesenuef, Qebhesennuf, Qebhesenuf, Qebh-sennu-f. None of the above is a reconstruction of the actual pronunciation.

There are multiple romanization systems and the language uses many sounds simply not found in English and other major European languages, and vice versa. Chinese people who do business with foreigners or study abroad also have a habit of taking foreign names that have no relation to their original names. True examples of this trope may occur when someone decides to use an unofficial romanization of his/her name (i.e., makes something up). See the article Why Mao Changed His Name.
  • In Singapore, most ethnic Chinese people have names taking the following order: either Western name(s) - surname - Chinese name, or surname - Chinese name - Western name(s), with the order inverted depending on whether the circumstances are formal or informal. Mainland Chinese and most overseas Chinese can be differentiated in certain ways, such as the Chinese diaspora using dialect names where PRC Chinese would use Mandarin names (Tan/Chan for Chen, Lieu/Liew/Leow for Liao, Ko/Koh for Xu, etc.), and also overseas Chinese sometimes preferring to split two-syllable Chinese names into two words where the romanised PRC Chinese name would be given as one word (Ai Li where a mainland Chinese would use Aili, etc.).
  • In case anyone was wondering, rendering foreign names into Chinese is at least as difficult. Country names are all over the place, ranging from attempts to replicate the sound (Xibanya for España/Spain or Jianada for Canada), to copying one syllable (Yingguo for England; Guo meaning 'country'). People and cities typically get called something that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the original name.
  • Studying Chinese history is a major pain due to this - Jiang Jieshi and Chiang Kai-Shek are two spellings of the same person. For the most part, modern media uses the Pinyin romanisation (i.e. "Jiang Jieshi") because it's way more accurate to what the names sound like in present-day standard Mandarin, which simplifies things. Unfortunately, either you get some historians keeping the Wade-Giles or Cantonese (e.g. Chiang Kai-Shek) spellings out of tradition, or you have to read old history texts. Uh...
  • There is another issue related to the Chinese Language's historical status of the lingua franca of East Asia: they would pronounce a Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese name based on the Chinese pronunciation of the Chinese character form of the name. As (especially) Japanese and Korean are using more indigenous names—not to say Japanese already had that tradition (see Alternate Character Reading)—sometimes the "hanzi form" of the names can only be guessed. The guesses may not be accurate, and disputes have occurred on which is the correct form. Take Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha's Hayate as example: this name, in kun-yomi, can be used for any hanji that means "strong wind." Yet, one dub decided none of those sounded feminine enough for a girl, and decided to go phonetically (Hayatie), and then immediately accused by fans for They Just Didn't Care.
  • In Hong Kong, transliteration of Cantonese is usually not very accurate, bearing only a slight resemblance to the actual pronunciation due to trying to conform to the notoriously inconsistent pronunciation of English, the dominant Western language there, while Cantonese has many sounds that English doesn't have. An example: the current Chief Executive is called Leung Chun-ying. If you thought the u in "Chun" is like oo in "soon", wrong - it's like the u in "up". But for others with the same name, it may be the first instead.
  • Chinese transliteration has several problems, but one of the largest is changes in Romanization: since the 1980s, the official transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese has been Pinyin, which replaced the less consistent Wade-Giles system. (Both systems, though, give little idea of how to pronounce the words! They do have internal consistency, though, so once you learn the system you can apply it throughout.)
    • Some Chinese names became so well-known before the advent of Pinyin that the Wade-Giles spelling is still the more popular one—e.g., "Mao Tse-Tung" is more common than the Pinyin version "Mao Zedong."
    • Taiwan has never fully adopted Pinyin in practice, so most Taiwanese names are still transliterated in the older Wade-Giles.
    • In addition, some Chinese names have been adapted from dialects/varieties of Chinese other than Mandarin. For example, Chiang Kai-Shek and Sun Yat-sen are known by transliterations of their names in Cantonese—in Mandarin (pinyin), they'd be Jiang Jieshi and Sun Yixiannote , respectively.
    • Cantonese (a.k.a., Yue) is the regional language of Hong Kong, and residents there usually go by names transliterated from that language (which doesn't have a single, agreed-upon transliteration method!)
    • Many older Chinese names were adapted by unskilled speakers, from archaic Chinese dialects, through the medium of numerous other Asian or European languages. They'll probably always be "Confucius" and "Mencius" to us, but those names are a far cry from the actual "Khˁongʔ Pa-Tsəʔ" (modern Kong Fuzi) and "Mˁrangs Tsəʔ" (Mengzi).
    • A related problem is that several of China's neighbors (Korea, Japan, and Vietnam) have historically used Chinese characters (for names, for example) but with their own pronunciations and, occasionally, grammar. Speakers of these languages may refer to Chinese names and places with their own pronunciations (and Chinese will refer to names of persons and places in these languages with Chinese pronunciations.) Translating from these languages to a third language can be extremely painful as the translator may not necessarily know what places or names are being referred to, say, in a historical context. (e.g. Pingyang (Chinese) or Pyongyang (Korean)? Hsinking (an old name for Changchun in Chinese) or Shinkyo (Japanese)? Tokyo (Japanese) or Tonkin (Vietnamese)?)

  • The Cyrillic letter that looks like a Latin E is called "ye" (as in "yes") in Russian and Belarusian, and is usually pronounced as such (at the beginning of words and after vowels this is evident, while after consonants this actually denotes palatalisation (softness) of this consonant (as other iotized vowels); exceptions are after "sh", "zh", "c" /ts/, which are always hard in Russian, and also in some loanwords like молибден (molibden with hard de, molibdene)note ). This leads to some difficulties with names that contain it.
    • A systematic transliteration would render such names as "Elena," "Evgeny," and "Andreev." this is consistent, but at the cost of correct pronunciation. It's better to insert a "y," and make it clear that the closest way of pronouncing these names in English is "Yelena," "Yevgeny," and "Andreyev" ("Yelyena," "Yevgyeniy," and "Andryeyev" also makes sense). This is official in some transliteration systems, and seems to be more common in fiction (e.g. Nina Myers's Code Name in 24). Author and translator Yevgeny Lukin (well respected for his translations of Barbara Hambly) is another example.
    • Some transliterations (e.g. the standard for transliterating Serbian) use everywhere J instead of Y, hence "Jelena". J is used for this sound in many languages, including all Slavic languages written using the Latin alphabet and most Germanic languages other than English.
    • As in South Slavic and Ukrainian Cyrillic, the letter looking like Latin E really produces the same sound as Latin "e". In Serbian, (consonantal) "y" sound is always indicated by a letter that looks like a "J"note .
    • Russian E letter (Э) is used at the beginning of words and after vowels in loanwords and in words like это (eto, this). It is used after consonants only in few loanwords, like рэп (rep, rap) and in transcription, for example for English short A like in "rap" or "cat" or Chinese final -e like in 的 (дэ/de, 's, of)
  • In English-language figure-skating fandom, more hardcore fans will use the standardized German transliterations for Russian names, despite the fact that all the skaters use the standardized English transliterations professionally.
  • The Russian translation of Ethan of Athos transliterates the names in the title (which are respectively Hebrew and Greek) from English, rather than use the standard Russian forms.
  • The translation of Cyrillic to English led to a rather embarrassing situation for ice hockey player Semyon Varlamov — his first name can also be transliterated as Semen, which was used as his name by most media outlets when he was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2006. The Capitals were quick to correct his name to "Simeon" (another valid transliteration), which stuck until his breakout season with the team in 2009. Following that season, Varlamov changed the spelling to its current form, this time to get the media to pronounce his name correctly.
    • That's due to some spelling peculiarity in Russian; the letter "ё" (iotized "o"), used in his name, is for various historical reasons discouraged from appearance in print, to be replaced by the letter "e", whose respective sound "ye" is not so close. The boundaries between several letters in Cyrillic (both in pronunciation and spelling) have shifted over time, resulting in a couple of words where, in different declinations, a ‘ё’ appears to jump around between the syllables depending on which one gets stressed. These shifts has also lead to the mispronunciation of the last names of Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev (Khrushchyov and Garbachyovnote , respectively). Both names should be stressed on the last syllable.
  • What's more, Khrushchev's name is only six letters long in Russian—Xрущёв—and is pronounced nothing like how the English-speaking world knows it. For one, the "shch" isn't a "sh" followed by a "ch," it's a "sh" with spread lips that sounds rather like an angry cat (pronunciation like English shch is also possible, but archaic).
  • For some reason, in English, we use the French transliteration of Tchaikovsky's name. We could've use Tschaikowski, Chajkovskij, Chaykovskiy, or Chaikovsky, if we wanted (the Cyrillic is Чайкoвский). Maybe the "Tch" just looked better. The same is done with the title of the Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Prokofiev. This seems to be part of an old tradition of Russian things reaching English-speaking countries by way of France.
    • Tchaikovsky wrote music for the ballet, which may be how he came to English filtered through French. His contemporary Chekhov who wrote the sort of thing that appealed to the English taste, like plays and exquisite short stories, came to English directly.
  • Sergei/Sergey Korolev/Korolyov the rocketeer.
  • The many spellings of Chebychev... no, Chebyshov... or Tchebycheff... maybe Tschebyscheff... err, Tjebysjev... Chebyshev... that is, Чебышёв, are a running joke in mathematical circles. Exercise: Set up a computer lab where each computer is named a different spelling of this name.
    • As are the various spellings of Tikhonov... Tychonoff... let's not do this again.
  • Cherenkov/Čerenkov/Cerenkov/Czerenkow radiation in nuclear physics. The first is the standard English transliteration of Черенков; the others are respectively Czech, anglicised Czech and Polish, and can also be found in English language texts.
  • This causes problems when students study Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky/Dostoevsky. The characters names are spelled differently in different translations. Examples include minor differences such as Sonya/Sonia or Dounia/Dunya, or major differences such as Alena/Alyona.
  • The opera singer whose name in modern Romanization is Fyodor Shalyapin preferred for his name to be part translated and part transliterated French-style as Théodore Chaliapine. However, nobody listened, and today most literature writes his name as "Feodor Chaliapin".
    • The French transliteration of Russian names ending in "-in" always adds a final "e" because otherwise it would be pronounced ending in a nasalized "i" according to French pronunciation rules. Thus in French they also spell e. g. Pushkin, Lenin and Stalin as Pouchkine, Lénine and Staline.
  • In Russian, the city now the capital of Ukraine is called Kiev (Kiyev) (Киев), while in Ukrainian, it is known as Kyiv (Київ); the former remains the usual Western rendering. Kharkov (the Russian spelling is Ха́рьков and the Ukrainian spelling Харків) and Lvov (Russian Львов and Ukrainian Львів) also get this treatment; the Other Wiki renders them both in transliterated Ukrainian rather than Russian. Lviv (Russian: Lvov), formerly part of Poland and of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, has gone through a number of renderings, including the German Lemberg and the Polish Lwów.

  • The vast majority of Greek historical and mythological names have come to us in their Latinized form—since the English language arose in a Western European civilization, virtually all its classical learning was filtered through Rome and the Latin language. So the actual Greek forms of such names as Alexander, Ulysses, Achilles, and Ajax are Alexandros, Odysseus, Akhilleus, and Aias. There are also the occasional pairs of Greek and Latin versions that are completely different or only somewhat similar, like Mars for Ares or Hercules for Herakles. A fairly reliable system for backtracking into Greek from Latin is to replace all c's with k's (ch > kh too), replace final -us with -os or final -a with -e (though that's not always right), and change all ae's and oe's to ai and oi.
  • Likewise, the Greek language has no letter 'c', but the corresponding letter (and phoneme) is K, kappa. Hence Kirke, not Circe, and Kirk-eh, not sir-see!note 
  • Because Greek has existed and evolved over thousands of years, its pronunciation has changed as well: Socrates probably pronounced the initial sound of phileos ("friend") like the p in English "put"; by St. Paul's time, it had probably become an "f." By the reign of Constantine, beta was ceasing to get pronounced as "b," and was starting to acquire its Modern Greek value of "v" as in vase. So no transliteration can be wholly faithful to every version of Greek throughout the millennia.
    • This is especially noticeable with what is called iotacism. Essentially, three letters and four digraphs that originally were all pronounced differently are now all pronounced like iota, the ee in "speech." There are now no less than seven different ways to represent that sound in Greeknote , which causes problems for transliteration. Should they all be transcribed identically, reflecting the pronunciation but causing problems with homophones, or should they be transcribed faithfully to script, which would reflect the way they are written and avoid homophones (as well as making certain words more recognizable), but would almost certainly lead to them being pronounced wrong? There's no right answer.

    Hebrew and Aramaic 
Various names in religious works and other ancient literary sources often end up with multiple English equivalents:
  • Most Biblical names come to us through numerous imperfect filters. For example: the Hebrew name would get transliterated into Greek, often changing its pronunciation in the process. A Roman scribe would adapt the Greek version of the name into the closest Latin equivalent. Englishmen would learn the name either in an Anglicized form of the Latin, or through Norman French scribes who had first changed the Latin into what they considered a more pronounceable form. It's like a linguistic version of the "Chinese whispers"/"telephone" game: by the end of the transliteration chain, English speakers have inherited a name that may only vaguely sound like the Hebrew original. This is how "Yəshuʕa" became "Iēsous," than "Iēsus," and then "[pron.] Jeezus."
  • The transliteration of the name of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible is a matter of some controversy; "Jehovah", "YHVH", "YHWH", "Yahweh", and many more versions have been used throughout history.
    • Justified for this one, since Jews would write the consonants of the Tetragrammaton, but insert different vowels in order to who which title of God's should be spoken instead of the Name. Jehovah is a transliteration of YHVH (J=I=Y, V=W), but with the vowels of a different word entirely inserted.
  • The Jewish holiday of [CcKk]?[Hh]an{1,2}uk{1,2}ah? (Chanukkah and variations, for those not familiar with regular expressions).
    • Few Jews would particularly care how you spell it as long as it's recognizable.
  • Jesus appears as Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs) in the Gospels (Koine Greek); this derives from either the Hebrew יהושע (Yehoshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic ישוע (Yeshua). Both mean "Yahweh/Jehovah rescues". Most languages derive his name from the Latinised form of Ἰησοῦς, which is Iesus.
    • Yehoshua/Yeshua is also translated "Joshua". So yes, Josh, our Lord and Savior.
  • Basically, anything with a "j" in it is a result of the fact that "j" used to sound like "i" or "y" (the latter being how a J is usually pronounced in several European languages). When that changed, they didn't change the romanization, they changed the pronunciation. Usually. "In the Latin alphabet, Jehovah begins with an I!"
  • There is often confusion over Hebrew ה he, ח ḥeth and כ khaph. They were three separate consonants in the Middle Ages, but the consonants were simplified in different ways depending on the dialect of Hebrew, or when another language loaned a Hebrew word or name. He and ḥeth were usually loaned into English as <h>, and khaph as <ch> (pronounced as /k/). In Modern Hebrew, he became /h/, but ḥeth and khaph became chet and chaf, pronounced something like the "ch" in loch or Bach and usually spelt either <ch> or <kh> (though the modern chet is spelt <ẖ> in formal contexts). With these somewhat ambiguous pronunciations in English and Modern Hebrew, unless you're familiar with Hebrew spellings, it can be hard to glean which consonant was originally used. To make things more confusing, כ is also kaph (pronounced /k/), which sounds just like Modern Hebrew ק kuf, which was a separately-pronounced consonant qoph in the Middle Ages. Yeah, Hebrew is fun that way. Transliteration of Modern Hebrew spells both of these <k>, and English traditionally uses <c> for kaph and <k> for qoph. Though this <c> and <k> are pronounced the same even in English, the <k> was conventionally used to emphasize qoph as an emphatic consonant, audibly harsher than kaph. This may be one of the earliest recorded uses of Xtreme Kool Letterz. Still, by separate tradition (loan via Greek and Latin), there are even some Hebrew names with qoph in English that are spelt with <c>, such as Cain.
    • On the same note, is the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet, ת, pronounced /s/ or /t/ (sav/tav)? If it's the former, how do you know when to use sav instead of ס samech or ש sin (though ש is also shin), and if it's the latter, when do you use tav instead of ט tet? Other pairs that can cause confusion are א aleph and ע ayin, both used for when a word either starts with a vowel sound or has two vowel sounds in a row (as well as to stand in for vowels in loanwords from other languages), and ב bet/vet (in its latter capacity) and ו vav...except vav can also be used to make an "o" or "oo" sound, the latter of which can also be made by a "traditional" (read: placed underneath the consonant when it's written at all, which is rarely) vowel and therefore could also be conveyed with aleph or ayin.
  • Hebrew has a few transliteration conventions (possibly in the same vein as Arabic), and none are official. This is most annoying with road signs because the signs can use a different convention than, give or take, a map. And it's not obvious that one street should be another. For example, names that start with a J will have a confusingly different spelling when the convention to start with a Y is used, even though they're pronounced the same.
    • Loanwords that have the English "ch" sound (as opposed to the sound made by ח and כ as detailed above) render it using ץ/צ, tsadi (or is it tzadee? And yes, those are both the same letter; tsadi is one of five letters that has a "final" version used exclusively at the end of words), which makes a /ts/ sound.

  • This one gets complicated: in the Canadian Arctic, aside from dialect differences from west to east, you also have different foreign influences. When Inuktitut is transliterated using the Roman alphabet, you get a situation where spelling in the Eastern Arctic, influenced by Scandinavian whalers and the presence of the Danes in Greenland, uses things like "j" and "u" where the same words in the west, influenced by English and Scottish traders, use "y" and "o". Then it gets even more complicated because Protestant missionaries in the east then introduced the syllabic alphabet, while Catholic missionaries in the west kept the Roman alphabet. Then when the syllabics gets transformed into the Roman alphabet, you get an even different spelling.

  • Prior to and during World War II, Tokyo was Romanized as "Tokio" as often as not (this is still considered correct in German, Spanish, Italian, and Finnish). The word doesn't even work that way, because the correct pronunciation has two syllables, "toe-kyo", while the "Tokio" spelling implies three, "toe-kee-oh" (though it's often pronounced that way in English, anyway).
    • It is actually possible to translate all letters of the syllable based scripts Hiragana and Katakana directly to roman letters, however the spelling "Toukyou" seems just completely wrong.
  • Antique maps go completely mad trying to work out transliterations of Japanese. Edo (the former name of Tokyo) shows up as Yedo, Yedso, Jedo, Jyedso, Edzo... Shikoku, the southern island, fares even worse. Also, to further the confusion, Ezo (or Edzo) is the old name of Hokkaido.
  • The name of a certain ethnically Korean voice actress from Japan can be romanized as either "Romi Paku" (her name transliterated from Korean to Japanese to English) or "Romi Pak" or "Park" (her name in Korean transliterated directly to English).
  • This restaurant in Portland, Oregon is named after its signature specialty, a Japanese favorite that may be unfamiliar to Americans ... especially if they expect it to be spelled "curry" as in 99% of other contexts.
  • Similar to the note below under Chinese, Japanese also famously has issues trying to render words in European languages. It actually was worse when Japan first started dealing with other countries during the Meiji Restoration; their solution at first was to simply pick kanji that would be pronounced as close to the original word as possible. For the most part, this was eventually abandoned and katakana was pressed into service for this purpose instead, although some remnants still exist — "Bei" and "Beikoku" (literally, "rice country") are still occasionally used in kanji to designate the United States (the kanji for rice, at the time, could also be pronounced "A").
  • There's also the name of the country itself. Usually said "Nihon" in modern Japanese, "Nippon" is the formal spelling/pronunciation, dating back to a time when the current /h/ phoneme was realised as /p/; just to complicate matters further, when the country was first reached by Europeans, the same phoneme was /ɸ/, giving rise to "Nifon". Most linguists trace the English word for the country back to an older Chinese dialect via Malaysia. The modern Mandarin word for Japan is "Riben", and once you know 'R' in Mandarin is pronounced like the "ge" in "judge", 'I' is pronounced 'uh', and 'ben' sounds more like the English word 'bun', you can see how 'Nihon' became 'Japan'.
  • "Hari-kari" (properly spelled and pronounced "hara-kiri") is an old romanization mistake that dates back to the 19th century.

There are three major Romanization systems for Korean resulting in a lot of confusion.
  • The figure skater Kim Yuna's name (김연아 which actually rhymes with "fun ah") would be spelled "Kim Yeon-a", "Kim Yŏn-a", or "Gim Yeon-a" under each system. She herself spells it the way she does because it's very hard to get anyone foreign to pronounce it correctly, and settles for people pronouncing it "Yoo-na", which is actually a different name in Korean (유나).
    • If she had just doubled the N, there probably would be fewer people who mispronounce it.

  • A fair amount of Roman names fall into this trap, as archaic Latin used C for the hard "G" sound and Classical Latin didn't have the letters U or J.note  The common Roman names Gnaeus or Gaivs were abbreviated Cn and C respectively and some helpful Latin transliterations replace I used as a consonant with J, Gnaeus/Cnaevs Pompeius/Pompeivs Magnus or Caius/Gaivs Julius/Ivlivs Caesar are just two examples of the C-G, J-I, and U-V confusion.
    • The C-G confusion began quite early, around the 2nd century AD. Since the Romans didn't have sound recordings they didn't know that "Caivs" was originally pronounced the same as "Gaius", so parents who chose to use the old-time spelling pronounced it the way it looked, creating a new praenomen. While everyday Romans wouldn't have noticed the consonant shifts, their scholars did. This is how modern historians know about it, despite the same lack of said sound recordings.
    • The Romans got their alphabet from the Etruscans, who apparently did not hear a difference between /k/ and /g/; ‹C› was their version of Greek gamma.
  • The English weren't helpful about this back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Thinking that names like "Marcus Tullius Cicero" and "Gnaeu—Cnaeu—(whatever) Pompeius Magnus" were too much in the way of mouthfuls, they "helpfully" reduced a number of famous names to short nicknames. Which have, in the main stuck. That's why we talk about "Pompey" instead of Pompeius Magnus, "Livy" instead of "Titus Livius," or "Vergil" (or "Virgil") instead of Publius Vergillius Maro. Cicero seems to have escaped relatively unscathed — nobody talks of "Tully" anymore.
  • Even pronunciation is a hassle — Gaius Julius Caesar, whose name we pronounce roughly like "Guy us (or Gay us) Julie us Seizer", would have been pronounced by him and his contemporaries as Guy-oos Yoo-li-oos Kye-sarrr. V's were pronounced with a "w" sound, giving a humorous "real" pronunciation to the Roman general (and failed rebel against Nero) Vindex — who did not "clean up." And then don't even get into Ecclesiastical Latin, which is pronounced more like Italian.
    • A mnemonic could be that Caesar was Kaiser, not Seizer (Kaiser being a German derivative of Caesar and not a false cognate).
    • Cicero (him again!) is generally pronounced Sisero in English, but Kikero in Latin, similar to the way Caesar's name has changed since then. The funny one though is in Italian, where it's "Cicerone", pronounced "Chi-cheh-row-neh"—preserving the original meaning of his name, "chickpea."
  • In the Middle Ages, spellings could vary widely, as Medieval Latin was used alongside various languages developing from it such as French or Italian. As an example, the same person could be referred to as Godfrey, Godefroy, Gaudefroi, Godfrid, or Gaufredus in different manuscripts.

  • Ghengis/Genghis/Chinggis/Cinggis/Chingis/Jengis/Jhengis/Zingis/Zhingis/Shingis/Dshingis and, above all, Dschinghis Khan! It should be noted that Chinggis is the closest the the Mongolian spelling and pronunciation, and is generally what Mongolists use. It should also be noted that despite what English people say, "Khan" is not pronounced "Kaan", but with the Russian "x", which kind of like your expelling a popcorn from your throat.note  Or you could just say "Haan". Period-correct Mongolian would be Chinggis Khagan, with the g pronounced as a farther-back version of the voiced equivalent of the kh. [1]
  • Although not a problem in modern times, older academic texts on Mongolia used q for kh and j for y with inconsistent frequency. This headache can be resolved by using the Russian alphabet or, if too far back for that, looking at the ancient Mongolian syllabary's spelling of the name/word, which will yield the correct pronunciation. The lack of accent marks in the language, though, still trips up many people. For instance, Erdene is pronounced er-deh-nay, but as there aren't accent marks in Mongolia, this is something you're just expected to know.

  • "Lemon" and "Chemistry" were originally Persian words (which are adapted from Arabic per se). Lemon was līmū (via Arabic laimūn) and Chemistry was kimiyagarey (via Arabic kīmyā'). Ironically the latter word is re-adapted by Iranians from Latin via French and changed into shimey.
  • Algorithm derives from surname of the scholar who coined the term algebra, Al-Kharazmi.
  • Renowned Avicenna is actually called "Abu-Ali Sina".
  • Iranians themselves have issues with spelling errors. The Classical Arabic for which the Arabic alphabet was developed lacks five common sounds in Persian (ch as in chimney, g as in gate, p as in purge, v as in valet, zh as in Brezhnev), and so the Arabic alphabet needs additional letters to write Persian. Therefore names containing these sounds can have multiple spellings.

  • Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski (actually Krzysztof Kieślowski) has also caused many foreigners to look very carefully how to transcribe his name.
  • Non-Poles frequently leave out the diacritical signs that can be attached to the letters a, e, l, n, o, and z, which usually leads to interesting mispronunciations. In the past some Polish names were re-spelled phonetically to compensate for this. For instance General Dabrowski (with a hook attached to the "a", which turns it into a nasal "o"), who is mentioned in the Polish national anthem, was usually spelled "Dombrowski" or "Dombrowsky" by non-Polish contemporaries and historians.

  • Thai Parents will often pick English nicknames for their kids, and they don't relate to the Thai name necessarily.

  • The title of Czar has at least 4 different spellings.
  • The capital of The Republic of Georgia (not the state of Georgia, USA), T'bilisi or Tbilisi or Tiflis.
  • During the 2006 Winter Olympics, certain English language broadcasts referred to the host city of Turin by its Italian name Torino. This is a somewhat interesting case, as an earlier spelling was Turin, in the Piedmontese language (the local language to that area). It's only since Italy has been unified that the Italian name Torino has been used. Both "Turin" and "Torino" are recent variations. Thank Jupiter we don't have to call it by its Roman name, Augusta Taurinorum (formerly Castra Taurinorum).
  • Many Dutch last names have various spellings, 'van de Berg' for example has also the 'van den Berg', 'van de Bergh', and 'van den Bergh' variations. (They all mean 'from the mountain'. Yes, those things that don't exist in the Netherlands.) There are many other examples.
  • "Trivandrum" (English) vs. "Thiruvananthapuram" (Malayalam).
  • Burma/Myanmar. Weirdly, because of differing Romanizations, non-rhotic dialects and regional variants in pronunciation, these are in fact the same word in the country to which they refer. The ruling junta passed the Adaptation of Expression Law in 1989 establishing Myanmar as the official Westernised version of the country's name. Many countries, including the UK, continue to call it Burma as a way of showing they do not recognise the junta's right to rule. The BBC refers to Burma on its domestic programming and Myanmar on the World Service. This is probably why the country is consistently referred to as "Myanmar (Burma)" on maps. Specifically, Burma is an approximation of the country's name in the colloquial dialect, Myanmar in the formal dialect. (Neither dialect bears a great deal of resemblance to how it's written, mranma — Burmese spelling hasn't really changed since the fourth century. By comparison, English spelling hasn't changed drastically since the sixteenth century.)
  • For those of you who aren't familiar with the Miami Heat superstar, we can forgive you if you misspell his first name, but seriously, it's on his birth certificate and driver's license as Dwyane Wade. What's even worse is that it's Dwyane Wade... Junior. That's right, it's a second-generation misspelling.
  • The city of Lee's Summit, MO was originally supposed to be Lea's Summit. Also a misspelling, but made worse by the fact that it was assumed to have been named after Robert E Lee, having been founded in the early 1870s.
  • Pick an Alastor. Any Alistair. For every Alestaire with two As, there's five more Alisdairs with Ds. Aleistors the world over, we salute you and your ridiculous amount of ways to spell Alystor. Spot the Odd Name Out: Alastor is an unrelated name.
    • It's worth noting that Alastair/Alistair/Alaster (and variants thereof) originate from the Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic name Alasdair—which is in turn a Gaelicisation of "Alexander"—hence the variation in spellings. "Alastor" is unrelated because it is derived from the Greek for "avenger" ("Alexander" is Greek for "Defender of Men"—quite the opposite thing).
    • Aleister Crowley made up that spelling for numerological reasons.
  • Willam Chakspere. Shaxberd. Shakspere. Shake-Spear. He's known to have spelled his own name at least a dozen different ways; other people have provided even more.
  • Georg/George Friedrich/Frideric/Frederick/Frederic Haendel/Händel/Handel
    • Haendel and Händel are identical. The ae variant is used if you don't have the a-umlaut symbol in your type library.
    • Many educated and/or aristocratic Europeans of 18th and 19th centuries simply used the local variant of their name when working or living in another country. Thus, Georg Friedrich Händel, a German working in (and later naturalized in) Britain became George Frideric Handel (albeit with an unusual spelling of his middle name). His sovereign was King George II in England and Georg Augustus, Kurfürst von Braunschweig-Lüneburg, in Hannover. There are many others.
  • A Fleming (well, Hainaulter, but who remembers where that is?) writing in French, Jean Froissart, when writing his famous chronicles of the Hundred Years War, uses some truly odd spellings of English, Scottish, and Spanish place names in his Chronicles. Like 'Asquessufort' for 'Oxford.' These are usually fixed in translation, though many are still indecipherable. Some might just be copyists' errors made while taking dictation.
  • One guy from 'Not Always Right' obviously doesn't know the other spellings of his name, we call him Pheven
  • This trope was intentionally invoked by future Formula One champion Nelson Piquet back when he was still in karting: in the first place, he used his mother's maiden name, Piquet, in the second, he spelled it 'Piket'. Both had been done to avoid detection by his father, who disapproved of Piquet karting.
  • The Assyrian/Akkadian word Ashur runs into issues, as it's spelled as Ashur, Assur, Aššur, and A-šur, plus probably a few more. Considering it was one of their capitals and also chief god, it's a word that pops up all over the place, especially in the names of a lot of their kings. Therefore, you get things like the name Ashurbanipal in English, where the more correct (or as close as you can get) spelling would be Aššur-bāni-apli.
    • Half the problem with this seems to be either people not being able to type/print diacritics or simply pretending they do not exist.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche. There is only one true way to spell it, but in order to learn it, one must be initiated in the Order of Artists' Philosophers.
  • Spelt/spelled, seen on this very page. (And be careful not to misspell "misspell" as "mispell", otherwise it will be both misspelt and misspelled. There's nothing worse than misspelling "misspelling".)
  • Melonie Diaz, spelled like the fruit. Easy to remember, considering...
  • Actress Natascha McElhone. You will see her first name spelled without the C several times on this website.
  • Panettierre, Pannettiere, Panaterre, Panttiere... it's amazing Hayden Panetiere — sorry, Panettiere hasn't changed her last name by now (some spellings even have an "e" instead of the "a"). "Panetierre" is the most common one, used by among others The New York Times in their review of Scream 4, the BBC in this video of her on BBC Breakfast promoting Alpha and Omega (a cap of which provides the trope image), and the end credits of Bring it On: All or Nothing; her last name has also been known to be spelt at least two different ways in the same piece by people writing about her. It's even spelt wrong elsewhere on this very site! And as for the Incredibly Lame Pun aspect ("Hayden Pannacotta," "Hayden Planetarium," "Hayden Panties," and so on)... basically, she owns this trope.
    • If it's possible to subvert this trope, her Twitter account does so — it's intentionally listed @haydenpanettier (because of the fake accounts under her proper name).
  • Serial Killer Ottis Toole.
  • There are a ridiculous number of people who mispronounce the A in Adolf Hitler's name.
  • The House of Habsburg/Hapsburg. Whilst the former is the traditional German spelling (and is thus used on Wikipedia, among others), the latter was the more common Anglicization until relatively recently.
  • The spirit distilled from grain and/or malt is generally spelled "whisky" in Scotland, Wales and England, and "whiskey" (with an E) in Ireland and much of the United States. (This is not counting all the European languages which spell it "wisky," without the H.) To aficionados, this distinction can indeed be Serious Business.
  • Jake Gyllenhaal talks about it here. His name is misspelled various ways, most commonly Gyllenhall.
  • In Denmark, the letter "Å" and "Aa" is pronounced the same. It's common to hear people point out that their names are with "Aa" rather than "Å", or the other way around.
  • The department store J. C. Penney is frequently seen with the second E missing.
    • Or with periods; the store spells its name as "JCPenney."
  • The historian Anne Chambers writes about Grace O'Malley (a female pirate of the 16th century) that her name appears in contemporary documents as Grany O'Maly, Graney O'Mally or Grany Imallye, Granny Nye Male, Grany O'Mayle, Granie ny Maille, Granny ni Maille, Grany O'Mally, Grayn Ny Mayle, Grane ne Male, Grainy O'Maly, and Granee O'Maillie. In modern Irish it's Gráinne Mhaol.
  • German umlauts ä, ö, ü are a constant source of fun... except for the poor English typesetter who can't find them in his box. They either get resolved to the equivalent ae, oe, ue or the dots go into limbo immediately. Thus the Handel/Händel/Haendel example above. Woe to immigrants like Kurt Gödel. A similar case is ß, which should be written as "ss" when not available.
    • English-speakers also frequently run into trouble with "ei" and "ie" in German (and to a lesser extent in English) because in English both combinations can be pronounced like "ee" or "aye" (among other things), while in German "ei" usually is pronounced as "aye" and "ie" as "ee". This can lead to hilarity when Germans see Nightcrawler address a woman as Leibchen ("bodice, undergarment"), not Liebchen ("my dear, darling") or seeing a sausage called a Weiner ("cryer", from weinen "to cry") instead of a Wiener ("Viennese").
  • The name of a mountain range in northeastern Minnesota has been variously spelled as Mesabi, Missabe, Mesabe, Mesaba, etc.
  • Beverl(e)y Road, a street in Brooklyn and an enduring subject of arguments between New York Subway fans (there are two stations on different parts of the street).
  • Buffalo Bill's name has also frequently been misspelled as Bufalo, Bufallo, Buffallo and not only by non-English speakers.
  • The spelling of last names in 18th-19th century France was actually pretty inconsistent, so you've got a literal case with Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout, referred to as "Davoust" (the s is silent) in some contemporary writings (some people also used "Davoût"). To complicate things further, his family's name has been spelt "d'Avo", "d'Avout", "d'Avoust" and so on (the apostrophe was lost during the Revolution), and Davout's descendents reverted to using "d'Avout".
    • From the same era, General Thiébault provides another example in his Mémoires, where he includes the copies of the official documents relating to his arrest under the Revolution. His name is spelled differently on each one ("Thiébaud", "Thiébaut", "Thiébauld"...).
    • This problem also happened with many German names at the time. For instance during his lifetime Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's family name was spelled Goethe, Göthe or even Göte. A well-known 18th-century philosopher and mathematician was during his lifetime spelled both Leibniz and Leibnitz; today the former is the standard spelling in German, but until fairly recently the latter was the standard in French. (To make matters worse, Leibniz's father wrote the name Leibnütz).
  • For many years, signs along Middle Belt and Beech-Daly Roads in metropolitan Detroit have spelled them "Middlebelt" and "Beech Daly", respectively. When signage along Interstate 96 was redone in 2014, many people complained that the signs for these roads were misspelled. The Wayne County Road Commission defended itself by saying that "Middle Belt" and "Beech-Daly" were correct, and all other signage had been wrong the whole time.
  • Session guitarist and Record Producer Dann Huff tends to have the second N dropped from his first name in a lot of liner notes.
  • The French computer game publisher Loriciels dropped the final S from the company name when redesigning their logo in 1989.