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Ranking Every Single English Spelling of Chanukah. I Mean Hannukkah. Xanaqa?

November 28, 2021 | by B.C. Wallin

It’s time to decide the best spelling, once and for all.

There are too many ways to spell Hannukah! Hanukkah? Chanukah? Khanike? It seems like every year, there’s a new spelling to choose from, usually on a throw pillow that looks like it had no Jewish input. (Why is there a matzo ball on my Chanuqa decoration?)

Maybe it’s because there are always a lot of traditions and practices to choose from. Or maybe it’s because we’re trying to convert a word into English from another language that doesn’t use the same letters or even write them in the same direction.

Well, I think it’s time to do something about this. As we all know, once something has been numbered and ranked, it has to be agreed on and nobody ever has problems with it. Somebody has to have the bravery to rank all the Channukka spellings. So, here we go:

6. The Bad

The worst way to spell the name of… the holiday on which we light chanukiyahs (oh no, how do we spell that one?) is Channukkah. Or Chanuga. Or Khanaqa. The bad spellings. The ones that use too many letters or use odd, alienating combinations of letters. This includes using a Q instead of a K. Stop adding Ns and Ks where they don’t need to go! Calm down!

If you’re the first person to spell Hanica that way, it’s probably for a good reason.

These spellings are off-putting and make the holiday seem even more distant than it usually feels. If you’re the first person to spell Hanica that way, it’s probably for a good reason. Watch out for bad spellings, because they’re out there, as sure as there are holiday items for sale that completely misunderstand what our holiday is even about.

5. The Linguistically Accurate

Just because something’s correct doesn’t mean that it’s right. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) uses an X to represent the ch sound of a Scottish loch or a Jewish letter chet, which means that some people think it’s okay to stick an X in the beginning of… our favorite dreidel-based holiday’s name. Translations (and by extension, transliterations) should prioritize the experience, which is not to say they should get rid of accuracy, either. Calling it Xanukah is upsetting. Sorry, bad vibes. Ḥ is better, at least. It’s hard to figure out how to type Ḥannuka, but the spelling does more accurately mimic the Hebrew feeling.

4. The Traditional Spelling

I grew up with Chanukah or Hanukkah, so those must be the proper ways to spell the name of this oil-filled holiday of ours. Ch feels good. K feels right. Okay, so the Ch vs. H debate can exist. Not everybody can make that scraping, guttural noise with their throat. I don’t mind. As long as things keep going the ways I always knew and never change. Right?

3. The Non-English

Janucá. Hanoucca. Ĥanuko. Chanoeka. When you explore outside of the English language, you find some interesting ways to spell this Jewish holiday, and it starts to do what language should do: it includes. By seeing the name in a new context, we start to get a glimpse at how the holiday of Hanokà might feel in France, Spain, the Netherlands, Madagascar, wherever. When you stop trying to fit Chanucá into your box, you open yourself to seeing the holiday as something more than yours – it’s ours.

2. The Ridiculous

Happy Honk! That’s what’s written on this pillow by Jewish artist Sophia Zohar – more popularly known online by her username Maimonides Nutz (a play on the name of a 12th century Jewish philosopher and an internet meme).

Image Credit: Maimonides Nutz, Spring

It features a goose holding a holiday candelabrum in its beak and is inspired by the greeting card of a six-year-old. Zohar also has merch that simply says “honaka (the Jewish thing).” These spellings have no basis in linguistics or tradition, but they’re a choice. They’re a deliberate expression of trying to spell the holiday in a way that makes you smile. Turning the name into a joke demystifies a hundreds-of-years-old tradition and welcomes you to make it your own. You can find your own space within the holiday.

1. Your Way

Ultimately, the best way to transcribe the holiday into English letters is decided by you. Even in Hebrew, some people spell it with the letter vav or without it. Just like everyone has their own menorah/hanukkiah/candle holder, why not let everyone have their own spelling? You may have 12 different spellings in your home from all of the different merch and decoration available online, but it’s up to you to choose between the extra Ns, the linguistic scholarship, the nostalgic spelling, or something else entirely. As long as it’s yours.

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