What’s In a Name?

Gadhafi is dead. Sorry, I meant Kadhafi. Again, apologies, Qadaffy.

For so many years we have tried to spell the now deceased dictators name. It’s been in Saturday Night Live (sadly I cannot find a clip online). It’s been in the West Wing. So how can it be done?

The problem is that his name is in Arabic, which uses a different alphabet and so for the English-speaking world, transliterators must assign Latin alphabet characters to try and replicate the sounds in his name, some of which are unique to Arabic. Ever notice how the holy text of Islam is spelled often Koran or Quran? Just take that same problem and extend it further into a guy’s name.

This graphic, from Wikipedia, shows how the different parts of his name can be transliterated. And very quickly one can see why nobody really knows how to spell the name.

How to spell "the guy's" name.
How to spell "the guy's" name.

The next graphic is from Breaking Copy and depicts the most common ways of spelling the man’s name. The design of the piece is certainly more about entertainment than conveying a learning. But, it goes to illustrate the variance by major respected news organisations, all of whom are reporting on the man’s death. Credit for the piece goes to Daryl Lang.

Breaking Copy's infographic on the issue
Breaking Copy's infographic on the issue

And as a retrospective, news of his death and the liberation of Libya made me think back to my own graphic about some of the very first airstrikes in post from back in March.

Detailing the Libyan Crisis as of 20 March
Detailing the Libyan Crisis as of 20 March

But, anyway, he’s dead now. So the question is what name does he use on his headstone…

Author: Brendan Barry

I am a graphic designer who focuses on information design. My day job? I am the data visualisation manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. (This blog is my something I do on my own time and does not represent the views of the Fed, blah blah blah legal stuff.) And with my main interest in information design—be it in the shape of clear charts, maps, diagrams, or wayfinding systems—I am fortunate that my day job focuses on data visualisation. Outside of work, I try to stay busy with personal design work. Away from the world of design, I enjoy cooking and reading and am interested in various subjects from history and geography to politics to science to the arts. And I allow all of them to influence my work.

Leave a Reply