Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah: How to Spell It Right

HanukkahHanukkah starts early this year; the eight-day Festival of Lights begins tonight. But could you ever have imagined a holiday that had more variations on its official spelling?

Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukka, Hanuka, Channukah, Hanukah, Chanukkah, Hannukah, Chanuka, Hanaka ... this could drive any word nerd to the psycho ward. Which version is correct? Who's the ultimate authority on the English spelling of this Hebrew word? If only it could be as easy as "Yom Kippur."

So it's time to consult the experts. Unfortunately, they all disagree.


The one source that we pretend is an expert on all things even though it really shouldn't be considered as a 100 percent factual source (thanks, Internet!), Wikipedia gives a brief linguistic lesson on why there are so many variations of the spelling, for all you Hebrew newbies.

It is most commonly transliterated to English as Chanukkah or Hanukkah, the former because the sound represented by "CH" ([χ], similar to the Scottish pronunciation of "loch") essentially does not exist in the modern English language.

Also, the letter "chet," the first letter in the Hebrew spelling, is pronounced differently in modern Hebrew and classical Hebrew. And guess what? Neither of these sounds is represented in English. Awesome.

Mahalo.com, a how-to site, did the work for me and found all the authorities on spelling and what their version of it is. To make things difficult for us linguistic lovers, none of them can seem to come to an agreement:

    * Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Hanukkah
    * Manischewitz: Chanukah
    * Hallmark: Hanukkah
    * American Greetings: Chanukah and Hanukkah
    * Hebrew Union College: Chanukkah
    * Jerusalem Post: Hanukka
    * Rabbinical Council of America: Chanukah
    * The Kabbalah Centre: Chanukah
    * Oxford English Dictionary: Hanukkah
    * American Israel Public Affairs Committee: Hanukkah
    * Tikkun: Chanukah
    * Society for Humanistic Judaism: Hanukka
    * Judaism 101: Chanukkah
    * Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: Chanukah 

So, if you want to base it purely off popularity, Google Trends lists "Hanukkah" above "Chanukah" today, which seem to be the two most common spellings. Mahalo.com also made a list of how the spellings rank according to Google. As a disclaimer, I can't find out what year they did this, and I can't verify because Google has seemed to replace their total results number with "Happy Hanukkah! (celebrated Dec 1 through Dec 9)." Not helpful, Google engineers, not helpful at all.

   1. 12,700,000 for Hanukkah
   2. 2,440,000 for Chanukah
   3. 739,000 for Hanukah
   4. 631,000 for Hannukah
   5. 465,000 for Chanukkah
   6. 377,000 for Hanuka
   7. 359,000 for Chanuka
   8. 191,000 for Channukah
   9. 163,000 for Hanaka
  10. 119,000 for Chanukka

So, if you're a Merriam-Webster follower and prefer to go along with what most people use, then you should start spelling the holiday as "Hanukkah."

Or you could completely throw everyone off and spell it "Janukah," which is how they do it in Spain. L'chaim! (Or is it la chaim, le chiam, or l'chayim?)

How do you spell Hanukkah?


Image via SpecialKRB/Flickr

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