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What's in a Name?


Am I the only one who is irritated by inconsistent and erroneous English spelling of street and place names on Israeli signs? Are other readers also perplexed that the holy city of צפת may be rendered as Safed or Zefat or Tzfat or Tsfat or Zfat? In recent months, while walking or driving around our neighborhood in Raanana, I have collected examples to share with you, along with a few from further afield.

Around the corner from our apartment is a sign that manifests different spellings on each side of the very same sign: one side shows Har Sinai while the obverse reads Har Sinay! Clearly, someone is indecisive.

Louis Brandeis was the first Jewish member of the United States Supreme Court and was also a leader of the American Zionist Association. There is a three-block street in Central Ra'anana named for him, and within these three blocks, street signs spell his name Brandeis and Brandes, and in Hebrew ברנדייס and ברנדיס. How hard would it be to be consistent?

Our neighboring city, where my son and his wife reside, appears on nearby highway signs as Hertzliya, Hertzliyya and Hertsliya. South of us is the town of Bnei Brak, or is it Bene Brak, Bne Brak or Bene Beraq? The nearby town of Kfar Saba might appear as Kefar Saba or Kefar Sava or Kfar Sava.

Another genre of misspelling is what I call "lost in translation". The notable scholar Joseph Klausner was born near Vilna. Klausner is rendered phonetically in Hebrew as קלאוזנר or קלוזנר. The latter Hebrew spelling is then translated back to Klossner, which is how his name now appears on Raanana street signs. Another example has the name of the founder of Hadassah, Henrietta Szold, being translated into Hebrew as סולד which was then translated back into English as Sold (see above) . An outrageous example of this genre of errors was spotted in Jerusalem by my son Sam. The noted American Zionist leader Stephen Wise (initially Weisz in his native Hungary) is portrayed on the street sign as "״שמואל (סתיפן) וייז which is then rendered back into English as "Stiphan Wayyz St"! 

On occasion, a sign shows what must be a simple typo. When driving south on the Ayalon Highway, look out for the sign announcing RoKchah Blvd, rather than Rokach (and what's with the upper-case K in the middle of the name?!) 

A widespread inconsistency concerns the Hebrew letter'ק', which may be transliterated as a "K" or a "Q": hence Kiryat Shemonah or Qiryat Shmona. Is the central town on the Golan Heights Qazrin or Katsrin or Katzrin? I guess you can take your pick.

These are just a few choice examples of inconsistent or erroneous transliterations of place names. I call upon the Academy of the Hebrew Language, founded by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, to produce an official list of the approved English spelling of Hebrew place names, after which the Knesset should enact legislation requiring the use of these spellings on all street signs, as well as on maps and in navigation programs. I look forward to a time of harmony in our signage, which might aid the progress towards harmony amongst Israelis.



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Thursday, 25 July 2024

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