How Do I Spell That Libyan Dictator’s Name?

I admit it.

I never cared if I was consistent in the way I spelled the name of Libya’s dictator. I got away with it for years.

After all, transliterating Arab names into English with a consistent spelling is hard enough, but Gaddafi’s in a league of his own. Last year, ABC News posted 112 ways to spell Gaddafi.

The Christian Science Monitor says Gaddafi himself bears some responsibility for that:

Normally, news outlets will just go with whatever spelling the subject prefers, but this particular subject hasn’t settled on a single Roman orthography for his name.

Instead, Libya’s Brother Leader lets a hundred flowers bloom. The banner at the top of his official website spells it, “AL Gathafi.” But if you go deeper into the site, you’ll see it variously rendered as “Al Qaddafi,” “Algathafi,” and “Al-Gathafi.” Adding to the multitude of his spellings is the increasingly ironically named “Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights.”

And that’s just the surname. Variations on his given name include Muammar, Moammar, Mu’ammar, and Moamar, and many others. Once you’ve settled on how to spell his first and last names, you then have to decide whether you want to add the Arabic prefix “al-” before his last name. Which can also be spelled “el-.” And then you have to decide whether the prefix should be capitalized.

Now, SEO matters. I have to tag my posts, find old entries, and make it easier for people to find related content. Hence my  (mild) angst.

Turns out I’m in good company. An Irish Times editors note seeks to clear an unspecified “controversy” among readers (their choice of Gadafy doesn’t raise my hackles). And LA Times reader’s rep Deirdre Edgar went to the trouble of quoting the paper’s style manual, chapter and verse, to explain why her paper is in a minority using Kadafi.

If you’re following developments on Twitter, you’re better off just searching on Libya. Here’s a sampling of the divergent spellings Edgar found.

And me?

I’m sticking with Gaddafi, because it’s easy to remember and used widely enough. As for the first name, I’ve managed to duck the issue by never using it, or referring to Col. Gaddafi.

But I’d like to add one more spelling variation to the already crowded and confusing mix: k’Daffy.

It’ll kill my Google search rankings. But given the brutal dictator’s nutty streak (where are his beautiful female body guards now?) sometimes, you just gotta stand up for your principles.

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