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New French PM's name causes Arab giggles

From Kindah Shair, CNN
May 18, 2012 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jean-Marc Ayrault's last name sounds like a rude word in Arabic slang
  • Arab broadcasters are trying to figure out how to handle the name on air
  • We "have to deal with it" and be professional, an Al-Arabiya editor says

Abu Dhabi, UAE (CNN) -- France's new Socialist government is already causing ripples throughout a Europe struggling to balance government budgets without making ordinary people's lives miserable, but it has created a completely different problem in the Middle East.

The prime minister's last name, it turns out, sounds like an Arabic slang word for penis.

His name is Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Pronounced properly in French, the last name is very much like a moderately rude Lebanese and Palestinian term that is widely understood in the Arabic world.

The name has left broadcasters trying to determine if they should pronounce it as the prime minister does -- "ai-roh" -- or if they should resort to voicing the "L" and "T" in the written word.

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An editor at the pan-Arabic network Al-Arabiya said the network would pronounce the name in the French way.

"We cannot change names, so we have to deal with it and live with it. We have to be professional," said the editor, who asked not to be named because of the subject matter.

Al-Arabiya is writing the name in Arabic in a way that makes clear it is not the offensive word.

CNNArabic decided to pronounce Ayrault's name by voicing the last two letters in the written word.

The French Foreign Ministry said it was aware of the issue but had no comment. The office of the French president, sounding amused, referred CNN questions to the prime minister's office, which had no comment.

The story echoes reports that two years ago, Pakistan wanted to appoint an ambassador to Saudi Arabia whose name sounds like an even more offensive word for penis in Arabic.

But Pakistani diplomat Akbar Zeb denied the story, telling the Globe and Mail in Canada, where he is posted, that there had never been a plan to send him to Riyadh.

CNN's Rachel Ramsay contributed to this report.

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