Hebrew is a Semitic language and contains many letters and sounds not easily pronounced by non-native speakers. Parents wishing to choose a Hebrew or Israeli baby name will want to consider some of the possible difficulties and avoid choosing a name that will be hard for others to read or pronounce.
- “R” sounds. The letter “resh” in Hebrew is not equivalent to the English “R.” The Hebrew resh is more of a trilling sound, closer to the Spanish. Many Hebrew names include it at the end of a word, like Gur (cub), and it simply doesn’t sound the same. Hebrew names beginning with a resh, like Rotem, work better.
- Guttural “Ch.” Another sound that doesn’t appear in English is the guttural h, the one that sounds like clearing your throat. Like the “resh,” those who didn’t learn it as a child may never master it. This sound is represented by two different letters in Hebrew, chet and chaf. To confuse things further, those from a North African background pronounce the two slightly differently.
- Vocalization. Many of the vowel sounds in Hebrew and Israeli baby names are similar to those in English. Keep in mind that most of them are not represented by letters like in English, but in vocalization symbols that may or may not be written. For example, there are two names represented by the letters Aleph, Vav, Resh, Yud: Uri, and Ori. Both mean my light. Tzadi, Vet, Yud, Heh represent the biblical names Tzivyah and Tzviyah, which may both mean female deer or possibly beautiful.
- Mispronunciations. Even native speakers often mispronounce Hebrew names. The name Oshrit (happiness), spelled Aleph, Shin, Resh, Yud, Taph is often pronounced Ashrit. This comes from a misunderstanding. The vocalization of the kamatz, appearing under the aleph, is usually pronounced “ah.” But in certain grammatical situations it becomes a “small kamatz,” and is pronounced “oh.” Israelis care about the grammar and meaning of their words, and don’t often make up names out of the blue.
- Missing sounds. The letter heh is often represented by an H in English, but modern Israelis don’t pronounce it in every case, even when it appears at the beginning of a word. So the names Hadar (glory) and Adar (name of a Hebrew month) could be pronounced identically in Hebrew. Yahel (brings light) will sound very similar to Yael (ibex).
- Two vowels together. When Hebrew and Israeli baby names are spelled out in English, it’s common for two vowels to appear together. This can be confusing for non-native speakers of Hebrew. Some people choose to use an apostrophe. Examples include: Micha’el (Michael, who is like God), Ya’el (ibex), Ya’ir (he will light).