Nowruz vs. Norooz vs. Nowrooz: An Age Old Debate

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If you're an Iranian, you've likely engaged in an argument or ten regarding the correct spelling of the Persian new year “Nowruz.” In fact, us spelling it as such probably gave you pause.

Nowruz (pronounced no-rooz) is a combination of two Persian words. The first word “now” means new and the second word “ruz” means day; together they mean “New Day.” Nowruz is the name for the celebrations that observe the New Year for many Persian and Central Asian communities. The exact beginning of the New Year occurs when the season changes from winter to spring on the vernal equinox, which usually happens on 20 or 21 March each year. The spelling of Nowruz in English can take many forms, including: Noroz, Norouz, Nowruz and Norooz. For this resource we have used the spelling Nowruz.

This debate resurfaced when the United Nations named March 21st the “International Day of Nowruz” and in 2010, the “Nowruz resolution” was introduced to the US House of Representatives and 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 United Nations – 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.