The Pronunciation Question

As an Israeli by birth, I have the good fortune of a name that is both inherently difficult to pronounce and seemingly misspelled. So, you can be forgiven for wondering, “How am I supposed to say this guy’s name?”

The Short Answer

Dan Shahar is pronounced like “Don Shuh-har.” The accent in the last name is on the second syllable. Most of my friends call me Danny, which is pronounced like “Donny.” In case this strikes you as overcomplicated and perhaps even unreasonable, you should rest assured: I will answer to normally-pronounced “Dan” or “Danny” without any hard feelings.

The Long Answer

As it turns out, Hebrew doesn’t have the sound we use to say the /a/ in “tan” or “can.” The Hebrew equivalent of an /a/ actually sounds more like the /a/ in “father.” Thus, the Hebrew name Dan is pronounced like “Don.” (The name comes from the Bible as one of the original 12 tribes of Israel, but in my case it was the name of the boat on which my parents met.)

Pronounced in its native tongue, Shahar has both of the most difficult sounds to make in Hebrew: the voiceless and voiced uvular fricatives. The second “h” is that guttural chkhckhckh sound that is so often associated with Hebrew. The “r” involves essentially the same mouth position with the addition of vocalization. Perhaps needless to say, I don’t have any interest in hearing English-speakers try to make such noises. Accordingly, I pronounce my last name the way I think makes the most sense in English—“Shuh-har,” with the accent on the second syllable—where the first syllable is like the beginning of the word “shuttle,” and the second syllable is like the beginning of the word “harbor.”