Tuesday night marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the eight-night Jewish festival of lights which observers celebrate by lighting a menorah nightly. Hanukkah, a Hebrew word, has more English spelling variations than the holiday has nights and the question of which of these many spellings is the correct one is raised annually as people gear up to celebrate the festival. The transliterated Hebrew word has at least 16 different English spellings, according to Time Magazine, the most popular of which are Hanukkah and Chanukah.
The word, which means “dedication” or “induction,” stands in contrast to the names of other Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, which for the most part have a standardized English spelling. Traditionalists typically favor the Chanukah spelling because it more accurately reflects the pronunciation of the Hebrew word, which begins with the letter chet, pronounced in the guttural way that the ‘ch’ in Bach is pronounced, rather than the ‘ch’ in child, according to the Hasidic Outreach group, Chabad.
This pronunciation challenges many English-speakers, however, which may explain the popularity of the Hanukkah spelling. Based on a Google search, Hanukkah is the most popular spelling on the internet, yielding more than 22,000,000 results on the search engine. Chanukah, on the other hand, yields less than a third of those results, with around 6,760,000 hits on Google. On popularity alone, Hanukkah wins.
Spelling, however, is not a popularity contest and the prevalence of the Hanukkah spelling is not the best indicator of its accuracy, according to the Jewish Daily Forward. “Chanukah” comes closest to representing the pronunciation of the Hebrew word, while “Hanukkah” accurately recreates the Hebrew spelling,” according to them. “All the other spellings—Hanuka, Hannukah, Chanukkah and so on—are simply guesswork or jazz improvisation.”
Guesswork or not, every variation of the Hanukkah spelling has its proponents so, whichever you choose, you’ll be sure to find plenty of company.