Unnatural Nomenclatural

Big Picture (great photography blog) posted on Eid al-Adha recently. At the risk of bringing the religious hordes to the comment section of this blog (ed note: as if), the opening paragraph in that post uses a common nomenclature which I personally find extremely bizarre. Specifically,

…the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his young first-born son Ismail (Ishmael)…

Now, I want to say I understand why Ibrahim/Abraham and Ismail/Ishmael are both being used. I also get why the two spellings will continue to be used. Don’t want to offend, clear distinction about which religion is being referenced, the whole history behind each name, etc… blah blah. I get it. Don’t go there. That’s not the weird part.

The bizarre part to me is how this oddity in English nomenclature may have arisen originally. I mean the following is the hypothetical comedic scenario that plays out in my head when I think about logic in the time-frame.

  1. Sometime between the 5th century when ye olde english alphabet was first developed and the early 19th century when the modern alphabet was finalized (thanks Wikipedia), some medieval dude wrote out Abraham and Ishmael for the first time ever in English using this spelling.
  2. Shortly after Muhammad’s death in 632 CE, Caliph Abu Bakr compiled the Quran into a single book (presumably in Arabic and not English).
  3. At some point, some English-speaker decided to write about the Muslim religion in English for the first time ever and, when getting to the part about Abraham and Ishmael, he decided that, “No, even though I know that they are referring to the same persons, I will intentionally spell their names differently so that my readers will know when I’m referring to which religion in my writings. Thus, they will be able to keep track and know its the same people. My writings will therefore be more clear and not less. Besides, there couldn’t possibly be any downstream ramifications of this decision.”


Butterfly flaps its wings…

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4 Responses to Unnatural Nomenclatural

  1. zolltan says:

    I remember there was a slovak national team game on TSN once with twins on the team. But one of them played in Slovakia, so the commentators announced his name how a Slovak would say it (i.e. -icky being read as /itski/), and one of them played for the Flames, so the commentators announced his name how a Calgarian would (i.e. -icky being read as /ikki/). I thought that was hilarious.

    • Zuuko says:

      I just don’t understand this human trait. I mean, why pronounce it differently? how ridiculous.

      • zolltan says:

        It’s not that hard to understand, really. There’s always a tension between pronouncing things “correctly as in the source language” and “the most obvious way in the target language”. I don’t go around pronouncing Van Gogh /fɑn’χɔχ/ or Chara as /’xara/ because people would roll their eyes / get confused. I remember Jay Nordlinger or somebody like that fretting over the fact Sotomayor’s name was pronounced on TV not in an American fashion. But translating names to the point of saying things like “John the Terrible” also sounds odd. People make their choices on different points along that spectrum, and then conventional pronunciation builds up around those initial choices and hardens to one thing or another. For instance, I dunno if Nail Yakupov is gonna end up being pronounced /’neɪl/ or /na’il/ on TV, but prolly there’s gonna be a standard about it. Of course when the subject is a given name which also evolves in the target language (e.g. John), then some sort of us v. them question is also involved…

        So… you ever gonna tell me why reducing the deficit in the US is a good idea?

    • Zuuko says:

      see i get your explanation. that makes sense. but it doesn’t make sense in the context of your twins example. that’s more like a verbal tick almost.

      I may get around to the US deficit or not. Essentially, countries don’t have unlimited borrowing capacities and can only sustain deficits in the short run. US is against that ceiling. While the US should run a deficit for the next few years (particularly to keep the economy going), it does need to start cutting that deficit and backing away from that ceiling.

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