Is it SH or SCH? Covering the ongoing case of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit (pictured above) in today’s New York Times, Isabel Kershner drops the C most commonly used in the spelling of his surname. As I kindly responded to a journalist friend who’d interviewed me last April (and had mispelled my last name in the same way in a recently published article), in Hebrew, there is no C in SCHALIT.
The SH sound is made by the letter SHIN. The C is a culturally Ashkenazi (specifically German) addition to the name’s spelling. A non-standard Hebrew surname ( derived from the word shlita, or ruler,) the C is frequently added to Schalit when it is written in the Latin alphabet. Thus, one may determine from this where the family that uses the name originally came from: central or eastern Europe.
According to my father, the Schalit side of Gilad’s family is from Poland. Though he initially suspected that the name was adopted in Israel, apparently Schalit’s uncle told Elie that the family name precedes immigration. Our family has also called itself Schalit for as long as anyone remembers. Though we originally hail from Italy, records show that our surname has almost always indulged the Ashkenazi C.
I, for one, have always felt plagued by the name. Not because I don’t like it, but because of how often it’s mispronounced by Americans. Frequently prone to enunciating it phonetically, (for example, SHALL-IT instead of SHAH-LEET) the one benefit of its media repetition (unfortunately, due to the Gilad Schalit case) has been that, on CNN and the BBC, reporters have almost always pronounced it the way Israelis do.
So, living in the US, for the first time, when I meet new people, they now tend to say my last name the right way. And, sadly, nearly always ask me if I am indeed related to the missing Israeli soldier. The answer, as I am wont to say, is no, but that our shared surname brings his family’s pain much closer to home. Big up to the Galil Schalits, with the hope that their son will be returned soon.