Proper Names:  Why are they spelled differently?   Bsharri, Becharre, Besharre?

One of the challenges I have faced while researching the Jacob’s family history is the inconsistent way that proper names are spelled.  The reason for this is because the names of people and places are transliterated differently. 

The town of Bsharri is an example of this inconsistency.  At first I couldn’t figure out why it was spelled several different ways.  I wanted to chose one consistent way for me to spell it and I decided to go with the spelling Bsharri. There was no particular reason I chose that spelling other than that was the way Wikipedia spelled it, and that’s where I saw it first, but you will find Bsharri written in English a few different ways. 

When I picked up Amos Jacobs book “Make Room For Danny”,  I noticed that he and his writer used the spelling Becharre.

Both are a transliteration and neither are correct or incorrect.

This is the case with pretty much nearly every proper name.  In order to check records you have to check 3 to 5 different spellings of each name before you can be sure that the record is not there.  

In case you missed my post on transliteration earlier, here is a quick summary:  

Transliteration 

Transliteration involves rendering a language from one writing system to another.  Though it sounds similar to translation, they are two different processes with very different goals. 

Here’s a look at what transliteration is and why it’s used.

What Is Transliteration?

Transliteration is utilized when a word or phrase must be conveyed in a language with a different writing system. Think of writing words in Russian or Japanese (which originally use Cyrillic and Kanji, respectively) by using Arabic letters.
Keep in mind that transliteration doesn’t really render the words in a new language — just a new format.

For example, when you go to a Chinese restaurant, the menu might feature Chinese characters that you don’t understand. When those characters are transliterated, they approximate the Chinese word’s pronunciation using Arabic letters. 

If you can’t read or speak Chinese, you still won’t understand the transliterated language. Only when that Chinese word on the menu is translated into English will you be able to comprehend it.

One detail to note when it comes to transliteration: While many words have standard spelling when transliterated, proper nouns often end up being spelled differently. For example, you’ll find that Muhammad can be spelled several ways, with Mahomet, Mohamed, and Mohammad being a few common spellings.

The Differences Between Transliteration and Translation

Many people assume transliteration is equivalent to translation. However, there are some important distinctions. 

Translation allows words in one language to be understood by those who speak another language. Essentially, translation of a foreign word involves interpreting its meaning.  

On the other hand, transliteration makes a language a little more accessible to people who are unfamiliar with that language’s alphabet. Transliteration focuses more on pronunciation than meaning, which is especially useful when discussing foreign people, places and cultures. 

Therefore, if you need to read text in another language, and are more interested in pronouncing it than understanding it, you need transliteration. But if you want to know what it means, you need translation services. 

Uses of Transliteration

Transliteration is more prevalent than you may have realized. Whenever you read about international news, you should be thankful for transliteration! We’re guessing most people would be rather confused if news articles were peppered with references to 京, الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام, or Мосва instead of their Arabic-alphabet equivalents: Beijing, ISIS or ISIL, and Moscow.

On top of restaurant menus, as mentioned above, transliteration is also used in many other places. This includes libraries, as it allows people to perform searches for content in different writing systems; the academic world, for research papers and in language learning; and also in everyday language. Words like karate (Japanese) and pajamas (Urdu) were borrowed by the English language.

There is often a need for transliteration of a language, either in tandem with or in place of translation.  

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