The Pronunciation Question

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

The Short Answer

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

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 Dan is pronounced like “Don.”

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 that 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.”