Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Difference Between Barak and Barack

“You mean, like Barack Obama!”

Well, no. ”Barak,” which sounds the same as “Barack,” is Hebrew for lightning. “Baraka” is Arabic for blessed. I recently read that Barack Obama shortened his given name, which was Baracka (I won’t commit to that as verified truth, so don’t quote me). As in Amiri Baraka, né LeRoi Jones.

“Baruch” is Hebrew for blessing. Baruch is also a common Hebrew name which has nothing to do with my name, as far as I know. It is the imperative form of the Hebrew word to bless. The third-person male past form of that verb (he blessed) is “berech” … which is closer to my name in sound but no closer in meaning. Closer still is "barach," which means "he escaped." (Go figure.) (Thanks to my cousin Ilan for setting me straight on this.)

I don’t know how to say “lightning” in Arabic.

So, when people ask if there’s a connection between Barak and Barack, first I bore them with part or all of that explanation (depending on when their eyes glaze over or I fall asleep on my feet), and then I tell them, “No, probably not.”

But is there an etymological connection? I’ve never heard of one. But maybe, back in the molten dawn of language, before meteorology, before monotheism, before the Channel 7 Weather Report, such unexplained phenomena as incomprehensible lightning bolts provoked terror and drove people to speak to their gods. Quaking in fear at a sky full of fire, they’d offer blessings to whatever deity might be listening. As in, “Jesus Christ, that was a big bolt of lightning!” Or, somewhat more prehistorically, “By Enki, if the next sky fire does not kill me I shall sacrifice my youngest daughter at the full moon!” And from that excited ferment sprang two words which eventually went their separate ways. Maybe.

In any case, my name is not the same as Barack Obama’s.

1 comment:

Barak Ratey said...

Here is another monkeywrench to throw in there. According to Original Hebrew (with diacritic symbols/ vowel points), your name, as well as mine would actually be spelled Ba'rak (a' = long "a").

So, in reality, it is more different than it first appears