Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, put The Times of London right in a letter to the editor Friday about why his friends call him Koh-lin, not Kah-lin.

Philip Howard, the paper's linguistic affairs writer, wrote in a lengthy and learned article about the name Colin on Feb. 22: "He pronounces it with a long o, so as to rhyme with bowling. What can it mean?"Two things are going on here, I think. One is the American wish not to put up with elitist British pronunciations. The other factor is American individuality and the wish to be different in names."

But Powell, who became well-known in America and England for his prominent role in the Persian Gulf war, wrote in his letter:

"Mr. Howard attributes courage to me - and to Americans in general - for choosing to pronounce my name as its spelling looks. I am afraid . . . the truth is not as bold and brazen as he surmises.

"My parents were British subjects and they named me Colin (Kah-lin). Being British, they knew very well how the name was supposed to be pronounced. But when I was a young boy, there was a famous American World War II hero whose name became very popular in the streets of New York City. He was Captain Colin P. Kelly Jr. He was called Koh-lin.

"My friends in the streets of the South Bronx, who heard Captain Kelly's name pronounced on the radio and by their parents, began to refer to me by the same pronunciation. So, I grew up with my friends saying Koh-lin and my family saying Kah-lin. By the way, I lived on Kelly Street.

"I have become comfortable with either pronunciation, but most of my friends call me Koh-lin - much to the regret of most of my British friends who liken this `improper' pronunciation to fingernails sliding down a slate board."