The Washington Post

Anwar al-Awlaki or al-Aulaqi? Spellings trip up media, readers

Ever since the leader of a Falls Church mosque was looked to by the media in the early 2000 as an articulate spokesman for American Islam, they’ve had no idea how to spell his name.


Anwar al-Aulaqi speaks in a video message posted on radical Web sites. (Anonymous/AP)

Ten years later, on the day Aulaqi was killed in a U.S. drone strike, The Post stands by the spelling “Aulaqi.”

Other media organizations have come up with their own spellings over time. In 2009, the Wall Street Journal misplaced the “w” in his name, calling him “Anwar al-Alakwi,” and in 2011, the Washington Examiner took the “w” out altogether, calling him “Alaki.”

It is unclear what name was used on Aulaqi’s passport, but a business card Aulaqi once gave to a Post photographer reads: “Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki.”

The transliteration of Arabic words into English is almost always tricky because the sounds can be pronounced several ways in English.

While most of the media declared in May that “al-Qaeda” leader “Osama bin Laden” was dead, the State Department announced that “Usama bin Laden” had died, the leader of “al-Qaida,” according to the Guardian.

On Twitter, one consequence of the spelling confusion was pointed out: “I think the only reason Anwar al-Awlaki isn't trending is that everyone on Twitter has a different way to spell his name.”

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