Getting a Hebrew tattoo with a name’s initials is one of the more unique and uncommon Hebrew tattoo trends.

Many people also assume that the process of transliterating (“translating”) initials into Hebrew for a Hebrew tattoo is simple and foolproof, and consists of nothing more than converting the letters in the source language into their corresponding letters in the Hebrew language.

Unfortunately, this is not so. In fact, the process is rather more involved, due to the fact that the Hebrew alphabet is far from parallel to most other scripts. This means Hebrew has letters which have no direct parallel in, for instance, the English alphabet, and vice-versa.

This incompatibility is a result of two main issues – differences between the sound systems of the two languages, and differences in the ways the two alphabets represent even those sounds which are parallel.

Common issues that arise when transliterating initials from English to Hebrew include:

  1. Some English sounds don’t exist in Hebrew, but there is usually still a way to write then in the Hebrew alphabet using apostrophes, which was added for this purpose.
  2. Some English sounds can be written with two different Hebrew letters. However, this does not mean that you can choose the Hebrew letter that you like best. 99% of the time, there is only one correct option, either due to a transliteration rule or because of an existing established spelling.
  3. English often uses the same letter for two different sounds, or uses a letter combination, such as “sh”, to represent a single sound. In these cases an initial can only be transliterated if the full name is known. For example: The initial C is the names Carrie, Cecil and Charity represents 3 different initial sounds which would be written in Hebrew using 3 completely different letters.

So how does one obtain an accurate transliteration of initials into Hebrew?

Here are a few important points to keep in mind for your initials Hebrew tattoo:

  • As always, speaking to a professional Hebrew translator is the best option.
  • Let the translator know the full name, and not only the initials.
  • Add the exact pronunciation of the name, especially if it is not well-known.
  • Check whether there is a Hebrew origin to the name. For example, if you are looking to tattoo the initial of “Jonathan”, you will find that the Hebrew origin of the name is “Yehonatan”, and each of these options will use a different Hebrew initial letter.
  • Remember that the standard way to mark initials is Hebrew is with a particular use of the double quotation mark.

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