French Fighter Jet Names, A Tongue Twister For Many

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Indian Air Force's Rafale fighter jet at Ambala Air Base on Thursday. Source: Twitter

Dassault Aviation’s Rafale means a strong gust in French. The name has always been a tongue twister for many Indians and it is not the first time that Indians are caught struggling to correctly pronounce a French name.

History can be traced back to October 1953, when French-origin fighter called ‘Ouragan’ joined the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Ouragan - Aviatorsbuzz
A representational photograph of an Ouragan, which was renamed as Toofani, by the Indian government. Source: Wikipedia

The word ‘Ouragan’ as it turned out was a bit difficult for Indians to pronounce and so the then Defence Minister translated it to the nearest Indian equivalent. Thus, the French name ‘Ouragan’ was replaced with the Indian word ‘Toofani.’

Today after 67 years later another great French aircraft has joined the IAF and the name has been mispronounced not only by many, including politicians. With many calling it the Rafaeel and not Rafaal (as the actual pronunciation goes), we are waiting to see if the present Raksha Mantri would follow his predecessor in giving the French name an Indian tweak.

Welcoming the Rafale by Indians

In India, every new item purchased is welcomed in a very traditional and religious way and the same happened with Rafale. On September 8, 2019, Dassault Aviation handed over the first fighter to India in a ceremony organised at Dassault Aviation facility in Merignac, southwestern France.

Rajnath Singh, India’s Defence Minister, was quick to add Indian flavour to this ceremony by performing Shastra Puja – a ritual in which weapons are worshiped- in the French port city of Bordeaux on the festive occasion of Vijayadashami, a widely celebrated festival of the country.

This set the right tone for the Indians to prepare for the big day when these fighters joined the fleet of IAF. And it is no wonder that Indians let no stone unturned while greeting these fighters.

Similar spirit was seen across the Radcliffe line in 1980’s when Pakistanis were bewitched by the induction of US made F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft into the Pakistan Air Force. At that time, welcoming roar was so strong in Pakistan that its denizens went overboard by painting buses, trucks, loading vehicles with images of the fighter aircraft.

A farmer in north India with his tractor named Rafale. Source: Nitin Konde

Now, 30 years later that enthusiasm appears to be formed a new wave in India as its citizens have gone bit further than their neighbours in celebrating the Rafale. Particularly, the farmers in the northern part of India have started naming their farming equipment like tractors, ploughing vehicles etc. after the French fighter.

On a preparatory front, Amul released a new doodle to welcome Rafale fighter jets in July 2020 however, hoardings of the similar advertisement was put up in various places in Ambala when the jets entered the airbase.

Representational photograph of a T-Shirt to commemorate Rafale. Source: Nitin Konde


This apart, T-Shirts adorning Rafale image are now becoming a hot selling cakes in the market. Such types of accessories featuring the French fighter are alluring youngsters and online giants such as Amazon and Flipkart have pounced on this opportunity by showcasing accouterments such as key-chains, tea cups, motorbike helmets etc. on their sites.

Representational photograph of a Rafale Coffee Mug. Source: Nitin Konde

However, this doesn’t stop here, a company went ahead and introduced Rafale branded pan masala. In its promotional video, the product was shown with the French fighter which later on was discovered to be an animated F-14 Tomcat of the US Navy.

But the promotion campaign didn’t go down well with the health authorities who forced to go into the shell since it failed to align with guidelines of the health department.


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Nitin Konde is a freelance journalist with an experience of more than a decade. Being a freelancer, he has covered various domains in his field such as Sports, Biotechnology, Defence etc. and has been associated with brands like The Times of India, Vayu Aerospace and Defence Review Magazines. Since the last three years he has been focusing and writing extensively on the defence sector, he is here to share his expertise with our readers on AviatorsBuzz.