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France’s Ayrault Creates Anatomical Challenge for Arab Press

France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault
Jean-Marc Ayrault, France's incoming prime minister, center, arrives for the official investiture of Francois Hollande as France's new president at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 15, 2012. Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

France’s new prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was chosen in part for his fluent German, is proving to be a headache in Arabic.

When spoken, his family name is colloquial Arabic in many countries for the third-person singular possessive form of the male sex organ.

The potential for embarrassment prompted France’s foreign ministry to put out a statement today as Ayrault took office with the recommended spelling in Arabic. The official solution would add the letters L and T to the transliteration. Arabic is a phonetic language where normally all letters are pronounced, unlike French where these two letters in “Ayrault” are silent.

An Nahar, a Beirut-based newspaper, chose that solution. Al Hayat, a London-based newspaper widely considered a reference across the Arab world, published a front-page headline chopping Ayrault’s name to “Aro,” when a more correct transcription would be “Ayro.”

A U.A.E.-based Arabic-language channel has sent an internal note to its journalists, asking them to write his name as “Aygho.”

The Dubai-based Al Bayan newspaper chose to use just his first name on its front-page headline: “Hollande Inaugurates his Mandate by Appointing Jean-Marc as Prime Minister.”

French President Francois Hollande yesterday chose Ayrault as his prime minister just after his own inauguration and just before flying to Berlin for his first visit as head of state with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ayrault, the 62-year-old mayor of Nantes and leader of the Socialist Party’s members of parliament, was a German teacher before going into politics.

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