Dec 4, 2023 - World

Why you should spell "Hanukkah" this way, according to a rabbi

Illustration of the Hebrew word for "Hannukah" surrounded by H's, N's, K's, and C's.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Depending on who you ask, the Jewish festival of lights can have different English spellings.

What's happening: "Hanukkah" (the spelling we've been using at Axios) comes from a Hebrew word, and there are a few ways people write it in English.

When you write "Hanukkah" (or "Chanukah" or "Hanuka" or "Channuka," etc.) you have four choices to make, Rabbi Sarah Krinsky of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., tells Axios.

Choice 1: Start with a Ch or H.

  • To transliterate (or spell with the characters of another alphabet) the guttural first sound that comes from the Hebrew letter Het, Krinsky tends to go with the "H" — sometimes with a dot underneath it.
  • Her personal preference is to save the English "Ch" for transliterating Hebrew words that use the Hebrew letter Chaf, which denotes a throat-clearing sound.

Choice 2: Use one n or two.

  • Krinksy uses one n in English because in Hebrew there's only one letter — a nun — that makes the n sound in Hanukkah.
  • "I have no idea why people do two n's," Krinsky says.

Choice 3: Use one k or two.

  • Krinsky's preference for two k's "is a little bit wonky," because only one letter makes the k sound in Hebrew.
  • She uses two English k's to account for the fact that the Hebrew letter kaf has a dot in the middle, called a dagesh, that "signifies that the letter is meant to be doubled [and] it just means there's a little oomph to the letter," she says.

Choice 4: End with an h or not.

  • The Hebrew letter hei at the end of the word is silent, so Krinsky opts for the final English h to account for that.
  • "My name Sarah has an h at the end for that same reason," she says.

But however you spell it, Hanukkah is traditionally about finding light in darkness, commemorating the story of how a little bit of oil miraculously provided light for eight days.

Read more: Why Hanukkah's dates change every year

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