When you’re an Arab American, you sort of give up on ever having your name said or spelled correctly without you having to say or spell it out yourself first—so in honor of Arab American Heritage Month, we’re breaking down the syllables and the sounds of 25 common Arabic names that non-Arabs are constantly mispronouncing. Loosen up your jaws, lift up those eyebrows, and throw a little phlegm behind it: We’re going to have you speaking like a natural and dancing the Dabke in no time. Yalla—grab some kibbeh and let’s go!
Khouloud (or Khulud), which means “immortal” in Arabic, is pronounced “huh-LOOD,” where “LOOD” rhymes with “food.”
This one trips up even some Arabic speakers. For those that stumble, it’s “too-FEEK,” not “two feet.”
It’s not “food” or “fah-ODE”—Fouad is pronounced “FOO-ahd.”
Some spell Tarik with an i; Flip or Flop star Tarek El Mousa spells it with an e. Either way, it’s pronounced “TAH-rick.”
Arabic speakers are probably waiting for DJ Khaled to one day scream on the mic, “It’s not ‘kah-lid’! It’s ‘HAH-lid’!” In Arabic, the k is silent. (Khaled himself pronounces the k, but once said, “Some people call me ‘ka-LEED,’ they don’t know how to pronounce it,” adding that in Palestine, where his parents were born, “they would say ‘HAH-lid.’”)
Bashar means “bringing of good tidings” and is pronounced “buh-shar.”
Geologist and space photographer Dr. Farouk el-Baz is a pioneer and a legend; the Egyptian American scientist was a key part of the Apollo moon missions. So don’t drop the ball when you say his name: It’s pronounced “fa-ROOK,” where the second syllable rhymes with “duke.”
Model Gigi Hadid’s real first name is Jelena. As she explained toVogue in 2015, “In first or second grade, there was a girl named Helena and it got confusing with the teacher who had to call out our names, and so the teacher asked my mom [Yolanda Hadid], “If I needed to call Jelena a nickname, what would it be?’ And my mom was like, ‘I call her Gigi sometimes,’ and the name stuck.” (Gigi had also been Yolanda’s nickname as a girl.) Gigi’s last name is pronounced “ha-DEED.”
Bushra, pronounced “BOO-shra,” translates to“good news” or “good omen” in English, and is a popular girls’ name in Turkey. It’s so popular you can think of it as the Arabic version of super common girls’ names in America—like Olivia or Emma.
The mispronunciation of Hatem—which is correctly pronounced “HAT-em”—is doubly hard for Arabs whose first and last names are Hatem. The scientific term for this phenomenon is tautonym, and in linguistics, it’s more like reduplication.
Comedian, actress, and self-proclaimed “disabled diva” Maysoon Zayid doesn’t just blow minds with her clever comedy and insightful wit—she breaks TED Talk records like they’re glass ceilings: Maysoon’s TED Talk, “I Got 99 Problems … Palsy Is Just One” was one of the most popular of 2014, and her name is pronounced “MAY-soon.”
Nesreen is pronounced “ness-REEN” and translates to “wild rose.” The spelling of the name can vary from Nesreen to Nesrin, Nesrine, or Nasreen depending on the country.
If you want to say Rana like an Arabic speaker, it’s “RAH-nah.” If you want to skate by, “RAH-nuh” is passing.
Whether spelled Khoury or Khouri, this name always pronounced “WHO-ree.” As with Khalid, the k is silent.
Anwar is an Arabic name meaning “light,” and it’s pronounced “AHN-war.”
“Jay-MILL” has a little spice to it, but this popular boys’ name is pronounced “jah-MEEL.”
Murad—pronounced “moo-RAHD”—translates to “wanted, desired, or wished for.” If the name rings a bell, check the products on your vanity: Odds are you may have a dab of moisturizer or cleanser from Murad Skincare, which was founded by Dr. Howard Murad in 1989.
You might be tempted to pronounce Isam—which means “protection or security” in Arabic—“ih-sahm,” but it’s properly pronounced “eh-hee-SAHM.”
Spelling bounces between Mazin or Mazen for this popular boys’ name, but no matter how it’s spelled, it’s pronounced “MA-zen”—like the “a” sound in “cat”—not “MAY-zen.”
While you may call her Sam for short, the name Samira is pronounced “sah-MEER-ah,” not “sam-EYE-ra.”
Hanadi is a girls’ name that translates to “beautiful face” or “lovely smell,” but when spelled out phonetically—“huh-NA-dee”—it doesn’t look beautiful or lovely.
Lawyer and activist Amal Clooney was born in Lebanon and has dual Lebanese and British citizenship. Her first name is pronounced “ah-mull” in Arabic, though her husband George pronounces it “ah-MALL.”
Are you a logophile? Do you want to learn unusual words and old-timey slang to make conversation more interesting, or discover fascinating tidbits about the origins of everyday phrases? Then pick up our new book, The Curious Compendium of Wonderful Words: A Miscellany of Obscure Terms, Bizarre Phrases, & Surprising Etymologies, out June 6! You can pre-order your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or Bookshop.org.