Lost in Transliteration: Nowruz/Norouz/Norooz/No-Ruz/ Nauruz?
By Mahasti Afshar
The correct spelling of the Persian word Nowruz/Noruz/Norooz, lit. “New Day,” is an old debate that resurfaced when the United Nations named March 21, the “International Day of Nowruz” and more recently, when the “Nowruz resolution” was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Lack of a standardized transliteration of this celebrated word has elicited questions and comments from many of our readers and members. Hence, this brief note.
Linguistically speaking, Nowruz is the most correct spelling, as it reflects the original Indo-European root that appears as nava (Sanskrit), nav (Avestan), new (English), neu (German), nuevo (Spanish), nou (Romanian), nouveau (French), naujas (Lithuanian) and in derivates such as navin in Persian, meaning “new”.
Nowruz is thus the preferred choice of the international community – UNESCO and the UN – as well as the Encyclopedia Iranica.
Some people reject “Nowruz,” however, because it suggests the sound “now,” instead of how the word sounds in Persian, namely, “no”. To this group, the preferred transliteration is Norouz, Norooz or other variations on that theme. Of course pronunciation doesn’t always follow, or guarantee, spelling, a case in point being “Iran,” which is spelled “correctly” but which many Americans pronounce as “eye-ran”.
To conclude, for anyone interested in standardization, Nowruz seems to be the most reasonable transliteration based on the etymology and its official adoption by the international community.