As an avid newsreader, and an individual with a keen interest in global oil flows, I have been keeping a close eye on the Libyan rebellion over the past several months. I have learned a lot about the North African nation, its demographics, geography, and history, not to mention a great deal about its several dictators. What’s that? There’s only one Brother Leader? What about the King of African Kings, or the Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Arab Libyan Popular and Socialist Jamahirya? It seems that the only things more plentiful than the brutal despot’s self-proclaimed titles are the multitudes of spellings I’ve seen in the press. The confusion doesn’t reside with his last name alone; it extends to his first as well.
Part of the problem is that there is no accepted method of transliterating Arabic names to Latinized alphabets like that used in English. The Colonel himself does little to help the situation; in public he refuses to speak in any language other than Arabic (though he is rumored to be fluent in both English and Italian), and even when he does spell it out for us Westerners he is less consistent than a Kevin Smith movie. On his own official website, it is spelled Al-Gathafi, that is until you scroll down the page, where you will see it spelled Al Qaddafi, or Algathafi. Even his deeply ironic Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights deviates from the ‘official’ spelling.
Whom can we trust? After decades in power, and countless headlines about his support of terrorism, and then his support of the war on terrorism, the press must have figured out how to spell this deeply confusing man’s name, mustn’t they have? Wrong again. Between 1998 and 2008 the New York Times, AP, and Xinhua (try reading a Chinese newspaper once in a while) have used 40 different spellings of the name. In recent days, AP and CNN have used Moammar Gadhafi, the New York Times spells it Muammar el-Qaddafi, Reuters and the BBC think it is Muammar Gaddafi; there is simply no consensus. I suspect that proprietors of newsprint and ink suppliers would support the acceptance of Mulazim Awwal Mu’ammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Qhadafi.
As a wanted terrorist, and sometimes honoured guest, surely the U.S. government knows how to spell his name, right? The State Department favours Qadhafi, though the Library of Congress list 72 alternate spellings, themselves favouring Qadhdhafi… Yeah, that’s right. One would think that at 72 possibilities, the list is exhaustive; not so. ABCNews.com compiled a list of 112 possible ways to spell the name.
Now that the Libyan rebels have taken Tripoli, the mystery many finally be solved once and for all. Inside the Colonel’s Bab al-Aziziya military compound, his eldest son’s passport has been found. The spelling? Gathafi. I guess the answer was right in front of everyone’s nose, on his official website, but somehow this spelling is one of the least used of the seemingly endless list of possibilities. Now only one question remains. Will the press adopt the correct spelling and make it a whole lot easier to Google Gathafi related news? Seriously, I think even Google’s head spins when it tries to come up with their “Did you mean:” options.