Which "S" letter to use when transliterating to Hebrew?
June 9, 2012 4:32 PM   Subscribe

When you transliterate from English to Hebrew, how do you determine the "S" for names?

If your name was Sandra, Sabrina, Sachi, or something that really has no Hebrew equivalent, how do you decide which letter to put in front? Is it more common to use a Samech or a Sin? Is there a standard convention for this, or do you just pick one?
posted by juniperesque to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Samech is standard for an S.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 4:44 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

My name is Sabrina, and when I did this in college I chose Sin, because I thought it was prettier. The rabbi's wife said Samech was more traditional but Sin was okay, too, and it was really just a matter of preference.
posted by brina at 6:12 PM on June 9, 2012

Echoing 2 commenters above.

Also keep in mind that in Israel people spell things every which way. My last name has a standard Hebrew spelling. But before I was aware of this, I Hebrew-spelled it my own way. Later I changed it to the standard so as not to look like a yokel. Still later I find there are plenty of Israelis who spell it my made-up way.

That said, though, I would still go with samech unless there's a compelling reason why not. (Say if being named Crystal marks you as a redneck in the U.S....why make matters worse with Krystal?) Try to find a real native speaker and/or student of Hebrew literature and/or Yiddishist. Though the name in question may not have a straight equivalent, there may be interesting philological considerations on the rest of the name, not just the initial letter. Just for example, re: Sandra, I would want to spell it like the Yiddish name Sender (Alexandra) but with a Heh at the end. Or maybe the Cassandra approach to Sandra appears somewhere in the rabbinic literature. That kind of thing.

This is not even to touch the numerological considerations (google gematria) that fall outside philology.
posted by skbw at 6:43 PM on June 9, 2012

I mean Sender is the Yiddish AlexanDER, not Alexandra, sorry. A Sandra might want to feminize Sender with a Heh.
posted by skbw at 6:45 PM on June 9, 2012

Best answer: ס (samech) is used for transliteration
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 7:50 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Modern Hebrew is generally written/printed without the nikkudim (vowels and other pronunciation signifiers). So when sight-reading a page, unless you know the word has an uncommon pronunciation or letter choice, you tend to pronounce it the way that is most common - If you use a sin, people unfamiliar with the name will be more likely to mispronounce it when reading it. A samech won't give you that problem.
posted by Mchelly at 8:17 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anyone reading it with a sin under normal (no nikud) circumstances, will think the name is Shandra, Shabrina etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:51 PM on June 9, 2012

Caveat: if the transliteration using a samech might be read as an unflattering Hebrew word then use a sin, and deal with the occasional mispronunciation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:17 AM on June 11, 2012

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