I Say BaRACK, You Say BArack

Barak and Deborah from the Book of Judges

As the luck of the Irish would have it, I have learned something new today.

Boy, am I embarrassed! It looks like I have been pronouncing President Obama’s first name wrong all this time. Apparently, it’s not Barack, it’s Barack. Silly me for thinking that it was derived from the Semitic root of b.r.k. (in Hebrew that would be the letters bet -reish-kaf and in Arabic ba-ra-qaf), with the meaning of “blessing” or “blessed.” I was sure that the President’s first name was the equivalent of the Hebrew name Baruch, but I was also open to the possibility that it could be a version of the Hebrew name Barak, which comes from the root bet-reish-kuf and can be translated as “lightning.”

Ehud Barak

You may recognize this latter option as the appellation of certain military leaders of Israel, both historical and contemporary. Barak ben (son of) Avinoam was the commander of the prophetess Deborah’s army in the Book of Judges, and Ehud Barak has been on the Israeli leadership scene for decades as both a military general and a politician.

Well, I can throw out all those educated assumptions about President Obama’s given name and chalk up all the time I spent over the past couple of years giving the little linguistics and etymology lesson above to non-Semitic language speakers to a bunch of wasted effort. Now, if anyone asks me about the origin of “Barack,” I’ll just direct their attention to the highly illuminating video by the Corrigan Brothers shown below.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and early good wishes for a joke-ful April Fool’s Day!

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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One Response to “I Say BaRACK, You Say BArack”

  1. altonwoods Says:

    I’ve looked it up and the “O” is a prefix, bama means to “fall from the sky”.

    Luke 10:18 (King James Version)

    18And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.

    Jesus would’ve spoken this as “I beheld Satan as Barak O-bama”

    enjoyed your writing!

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