Monday, November 19, 2007

שׁוֹשַׁנָּה אֲבִגָיִל and the Problem of the Dagesh Forte

It's official: We named our daughter שׁוֹשַׁנָּה אֲבִגָיִל. (She had to have a name before they released her from the hospital on Saturday, but for a variety of reasons involving a newborn baby it has taken me awhile to post the name here.)

The trouble with choosing Hebrew names is that one must decide how to spell them in English. Transliterating the middle name, אֲבִגָיִל, is straightforward and, because it appears in 1 Samuel 25 as the name for King David's second wife (formerly married to Nabal), and is relatively common in English, everyone knows how to spell and pronounce Abigail.

Unlike Abigail, שׁוֹשַׁנָּה is never used as a proper name in the Hebrew Bible. Strict adherence to the rules of transliteration would result in Shoshannah. We decided to do away with the final 'h' because it is silent, but the dagesh forte (the raised dot) in the 'nun' (נּ) created a small dilemma. The dagesh strengthens the consonant, which is normally represented in transliteration by a doubling of the letter--in this case, two n's. t. observed that the double 'n' might help in English pronunciation since English speakers expect the 'a' to be a long ah vowel before a double consonant, and a short eh vowel before a single consonant. The single consonant could have people pronouncing her name 'Shoshane-ah' instead of 'Shoshawnah. I preferred Shoshana to Shoshanna, however, and reasoned that the name was common enough for this not to be an issue. And so we went with Shoshana.

(A google search confirmed that the spelling Shoshana is more common than Shoshanna. I suspect this is because it is a predominantly Jewish name. Since Modern Hebrew is written without vowels or dageshes, the dagesh does not play a role in transliteration.)

It turns out that Shoshana is not at all common in these parts. No one seems to have heard the name before or to be sure how to pronounce it. I haven't heard 'Shoshane-ah' yet, but 'Shoshahnah' is a common first attempt. For the record, Shoshana is pronounced 'Shoshawna.'

In case you are wondering, Shoshana is the Hebrew word for lily (apparently including the water lily or lotus; see Song of Solomon 2:1-2; Hos 14:6). Although it is not used as a proper name in the Old Testament, the Greek transliteration of Shoshana appears in the story of Susannah in the Apocrypha; in Luke 8:3 a Susanna is included among the women who traveled with Jesus and the twelve and "who provided for them out of their resources."

Abigail means "my father was delighted." Fitting.


ErinOrtlund said...

I know Dr. Vangemeren had a daughter of the same name. Very fitting for a biblical studies scholar! I'm sure Eric is wishing he had thought of Hebrew names for ours. Can't wait to meet her!

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Since the second qamatz is gadol (and taking into account that dagesh forte), shouldn't the pronunciation be "Shoshannaw" rather than "Shoshawna?"

d. miller said...

You are quite right, Anonymous, that the qamats at the end of Shoshana is long and that in Biblical Hebrew the accent falls on the last syllable. Our stressing the penultimate syllable is a concession to English, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard that the accent on a proper name falls on the final syllable (nor have I ever heard a proper name pronounced that way). Interesting.

d. miller said...

There are exceptions (e.g., segholate nouns), but Hebrew words are typically accented on the final syllable. In the Bible, of course, Shoshana is not a proper name.