12 December 2009

Chanukah: How do you spell it?

Ever wonder why there are so many ways to spell Chanukah? Is there one correct spelling?

Chanukah, Hanukah, Hanukkah, Hannukah, Channukah ....

This what it looks like spelled in Hebrew. Very simple. Five letters. No variations (although some scholars say there should be a dot under one or two letters, which messes up graphic design).

The names of the letters - from right to left - are CHET - NUN - VAV - KAF - HEY.

Five simple letters, so many transliterated spellings.

According to one site, here are the 2005 Google rankings for various spellings. The second column of numbers is Tracing the Tribe's search today, followed by a few that weren't ranked in the 2005 post: :

- Hanukkah: 12,700,000 - 8,940,000
- Chanukah: 2,440,000 - 2,990,000
- Hanukah: 739,000 - 486,000
- Hannukah: 631,000 - 793,000
- Chanukkah: 465,000 - 269,000
- Hanuka: 377,000 - 239,000
- Chanuka: 359,000 - 234,000
- Channukah: 191,000 - 140,000
- Hanaka: 163,000 - 141,000
- Chanukka: 119,000 - 86,800
- Hanukka: 95,100 (2009)
- Channukkah: 82,300 (2009)
- Hannukkah: 55,200 (2009)
- Januca (Spanish): 118,000 (2009)
- Hanouka (French): 61,500 (2009)

Jewish genealogists may have an easier time understanding this dilemma as we are familiar with transliterating names from other alphabets into English.

To my mind, it is rather simple and it is why Tracing the Tribe chooses to use Chanukah, which represents the word as written in its proper Hebrew characters.

The first letter is pronounced CH (the guttural KH) which is the same as in chutzpah, chazer, and christmas (well, not really, just wanted to see if you were awake!).

It is not pronounced as in chipmunk (see right for a cartoon character, either Chip or Dale - I could never tell which was which)). Although it's a cute little forest animal, it doesn't generally celebrate Chanukah. I seem to remember an Alvin and the Chipmunks perhaps doing something related to the holiday. Here's a Chanukah video parody of their Christmas Song.

There's only one K and one N in the Hebrew spelling - so why do some variations use two of one or even both in English? I have no idea and think it's silly.

Click here for more analysis of the variations, including a neat table of all the variations that author found in 2005. That posting refers readers to a funny point-by-point comparison of Christmas and Chanukah, click here.

For a great discussion on why there are so many spellings, click here for a National Public Radio (NPR) episode of "All Things Considered." It is a winner!

For Tracing the Tribe readers who may still be a bit perplexed about this holiday or who may wonder about getting started in Jewish genealogy, here's a post from Diane Haddad at Family Tree Magazine's Genealogy Insider blog.

Diane posted these suggestions:

-- Learn the history and traditions of Hanukkah, from the History Channel

-- The story of how Hannukah has evolved over the years

-- Descriptions of potato latkes and how they became a traditional Hanukkah food (according to this author, there’s more to it than just eating a food containing oil)

--Another winner is this site all about Sufganiyot (doughnuts, a tradition on Chanukah).

Diane also listed the following for those researching Jewish ancestors:

-- free JewishGen collection on Ancestry.com

-- Footnote's Holocaust records collection (free through the end of December).

And resources on FamilyTreeMagazine.com include:

-- Online resources for Jewish research (free article)

-- Ties That Bind: Seven research strategies, accessible to Family Tree Magazine Plus members, written by Tracing the Tribe's author.

-- Jewish heritage research guide (digital download, ShopFamilyTree.com)

Have a great holiday!

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