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Off topic: Books: Why translate names?
Thread poster: Alanna

Alanna
France
Local time: 15:24
French to German
+ ...
Sep 22, 2006

Hello,

I don't translate literature myself, but I read it

This is a question I've been wondering about since I started reading books in their original versions after having read the German translations.

From Enid Blython (Darryl Rivers becomes Dolly Rieder) to Harry Potter (in French even more than in German), characters' names are changed, sometimes even places.

Except in the foreword to Brave New World's German translation, I have never found an explanation - except that possibly in children's books, the aim is to make the names pronouncable for children in their own language?

Any feedback is welcome.

Thank you!

Alanna,
curious reader


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Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 22:24
English to Chinese
+ ...
What is the most important when translating literature Sep 22, 2006

Hello Alanna,

Your question is very interesting and your suspection about the pronouncibility is quite justified.

My kids had problems understanding whatever depicted in the Bible. They found the Bible boring. My solution was to read the Bible with them and change the names of persons and places. I even change the titles of offices (for instance, magistrates, governors, etc.) to make them understand the content. With this method, even my wife says that she understands the Bible better now.

Translating literature is not just replacing words for words. There are a lot of factors to be considered. The most important one is to make the contents understandable in the target language which bears and carries a specific culture. For us translators, it is no problem to understand other cultures. But for kids or people who grew up in only one culture with the language of that culture, it could be difficult to understand what is imported in the texts. Our job is to eliminate cultural barriers.

Of course, literature carries not only contents but also forms which are difficult to translate. We try our best to translate such forms as well into the target language, though not always successful. However, it is imperative for a translator to translate the contents. Without the contents, we can never talk about the forms.

I would suggest you to try to translate a specific piece, "Form und Stoff", in Brecht's "Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner" into another language. Then, you will see what happens when you are translating literature. It is sometimes even necessary to translated the name "Keuner"!

Have a nice weekend!

- Wenjer


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Miia Mattila
Finland
Local time: 16:24
English to Finnish
Children's books are also read aloud Sep 22, 2006

and I think this is one reason for translating names. If the foreign names are difficult to understand while reading, try reading them out loud - especially if you don't have a clue on how to pronounce them Yrjö is a nice example in Finnish

I remember reading dozens of Nancy Drew books when I was a child. After a number of years, I found out that the Finnish name Paula Drew was in fact a translation. This I find quite odd, since I remember always stopping when the name was written, and wondering how it should be said. Nancy, on the other hand, would not be odd to Finnish readers.



[Edited at 2006-09-22 20:31]


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Melina Kajander
English to Finnish
A complicated matter... Sep 22, 2006

This is such a complicated issue - in general I'm against translating names, but then there are other matters defending it, some of which have been mentioned above...

For example, I know that the Finnish translations of Harry Potter books (which, unlike some people think, are not just children's books) have been praised for their ingenuity, but as I have read them in English I don't recognize most of the characters, places, etc. if translated... So, it would e.g. be difficult to discuss them with someone who has read only the translated versions. This was just an example, it goes for most translated works where names have been translated. So in a way, translating names, places etc. can erect cultural barriers more than eliminate them...

[Edited at 2006-09-22 19:51]


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 07:24
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Localization vs. globalization Sep 22, 2006

I think that when you change names of people and places, you are going beyond translation into localization and you lose the original flavour of the book. By leaving the names untouched, on the other hand, you promote globalization, i.e., an understanding of different cultures and languages.

With historical material, for example, you wouldn't want to change the names of people and places to adapt the story to modern times - that would take away the essence of the book. When you change the names, the book is no longer just translated, it is 'translated and adapted'.

Children, with their capacity for phantasy, can easily transpose themselves into different times or environments. Think of the enormous popularity of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Dinosaurs, and Dragonology (the 'latest thing' according to my grandson). If anything, names that are difficult to pronounce should have a footnote added.


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Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 22:24
English to Chinese
+ ...
Eliminating Cultural Barriers Sep 22, 2006

melinak wrote:

... So in a way, translating names, places etc. can erect cultural barriers more than eliminate them...


Well, Melinak, would you have problem knowing who it is meant when the muslims talk about Isa? The kids would have problems with that name, but we well-read translators wouldn't.

I have never had a problem with Jean le Baptiste, Johannes der Täufer, Juan el Bautista or John the Baptist. But my kids would have problem if I talk to them about John or Jean the Baptist. Juan and Johannes are all right for them, for they are used to Spanish and German.

What kind of cultural obstacles would we encounter having different names for the same persons? Actually none, once we get used to them.

Many names do have a meaning in the original language. When translating them, we Chinese translators would try to pick out Chinese characters which explicate the meaning and at the same time are similarly pronounced as in the original language. Or else, we just invent names according to our (tacit) naming rules. This practice enhances understanding of the contents of a translation.

Cultural barriers arises only when we read something whose contents are unfamiliar to us. Names are just for one. I would have problems reading Tove Jansson's stories of the Moomins in Spanish, if I hadn't read them in German first, where they are called Mummins. My kids would go crazy if I read the stories with Mummins' names in Chinese, or they would just giggle all the time. As to the contents of the stories? My kids wouldn't have problems at all.

Eliminating cultural barriers? Being a translator for quite a long time (including the time when I was not full time translator), I know that it is not possible even when all people speak the same language. Obstacles can be names, but names are not the only ones which hold people back from reaching out to/for each other. Our job as transaltors is to help people reaching out to/for each other. Believe me, by making the names pronouncible, we help people (especially kids) understanding the contents a lot. As to the unfamiliarities in contents or forms, we resort to other means to make them clear to the readers, including comments, annotations or even rewritings. That is why literature translation is more difficult than translating a technical text book --- the former involves knowledge in cultures.


[Edited at 2006-09-23 13:12]


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:24
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Pun names usually have to be replaced by different puns Sep 23, 2006

I am thinking of the Asterix books, in which the names of the characters in French are almost always some kind of pun. The published English versions are very good, with the names also being puns, often quite different but still relevant and funny. They would not be nearly as good if all the names were left in French.

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lidius  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:24
German to Spanish
+ ...
Question about Herr Keuner Sep 23, 2006

I would suggest you to try to translate a specific piece, "Form und Stoff", in Brecht's "Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner" into another language. Then, you will see what happens when you are translating literature. It is sometimes even necessary to translated the name "Keuner"!

Hello Wenjer,

I know that "Herr Keuner" means like "Herr Keiner" (Nobody) and, after I've read your post, I've also read "Form und Stoff" (a great little "story" about a "Lorbeerbaum"), but I don't understand why it would be necessary to translate the name of the character precisely in this case . Could I ask you why do you think so?
Please, dont' take the question as a criticism, if it sounds like this, it'll be because of my poor english. It's only curiosity (It's not sure, but I'll probably have to write something about the stories of Herr Keuner).

Thanks in advance,

Lidia


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:24
Italian to English
That's quite right, Jack. Sep 23, 2006

Jack Doughty wrote:

I am thinking of the Asterix books, in which the names of the characters in French are almost always some kind of pun. The published English versions are very good, with the names also being puns, often quite different but still relevant and funny. They would not be nearly as good if all the names were left in French.


Sometimes the change doesn't even have to be radical.

In the Italian version of Disney's 101 Dalmatians, "Cruella DeVille" becomes "Crudelia Demon", a slight but necessary tweak which which works very well indeed.

And the translators didn't have to do anything at all with Bambi, which derives from the Italian "bambino" anyway

Cheers,

Giles


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Melina Kajander
English to Finnish
About cultural barriers... Sep 23, 2006

To Wenjer Leuschel:
I'm sorry you didn't understand my point. Maybe it would help if you read my post again.

But I will just quote Tina Vonhof here, as she probably said it clearer than I could:

Tina Vonhof wrote:
I think that when you change names of people and places, you are going beyond translation into localization and you lose the original flavour of the book. By leaving the names untouched, on the other hand, you promote globalization, i.e., an understanding of different cultures and languages.


As an atheist I cannot really comment on the issues regarding religion you raised; my comments were about literature, not religion. And of course one can never eliminate *all* cultural barriers even when speaking the same language (living in what's probably the world's most multicultural city, London, I know it only too well.) But it's clear that if you know what the other person is talking about, it's easier to understand him/her... Again, what Tina said.


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Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 22:24
English to Chinese
+ ...
Right! Sep 23, 2006

Jack Doughty wrote:

I am thinking of the Asterix books, in which the names of the characters in French are almost always some kind of pun. The published English versions are very good, with the names also being puns, often quite different but still relevant and funny. They would not be nearly as good if all the names were left in French.


Right! Just think of Donald Duck's nephews. They have distinctively different names in every European language. I believe that's because of different feelings evoked by sounds and meanings, say, puns.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 15:24
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
why translate names? Because we're in a creative industry Sep 23, 2006

Alanna asked: why translate names?


Why not be creative? Prinz Dorf. a real baaaad one: König Schiele. Rot Kelchen-Haube.

Mean to say, you all said it all. And it can also be over-stated (see above).


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Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 22:24
English to Chinese
+ ...
Some Explanation Sep 24, 2006

melinak wrote:

I'm sorry you didn't understand my point. Maybe it would help if you read my post again.

But I will just quote Tina Vonhof here, as she probably said it clearer than I could:

Tina Vonhof wrote:
I think that when you change names of people and places, you are going beyond translation into localization and you lose the original flavour of the book. By leaving the names untouched, on the other hand, you promote globalization, i.e., an understanding of different cultures and languages.


Hi Melinak,

I understand Tina and your posts. Tina was talking about "localization & globalization" in some sense. However, understanding of different cultures and languages doesn't come from keeping the names and places in the original language, while globalization goes hand in hand with localization. We wouldn't be able to achieve globalization without localizing contents. This is my opionion. To make people understand the contents, we translate in ways that somehow make it easier for people to understand different cultures and languages, don't we?


As an atheist I cannot really comment on the issues regarding religion you raised; my comments were about literature, not religion. And of course one can never eliminate *all* cultural barriers even when speaking the same language (living in what's probably the world's most multicultural city, London, I know it only too well.) But it's clear that if you know what the other person is talking about, it's easier to understand him/her... Again, what Tina said.


I am not a Christian, either. I regard the Bible as literature and read it in several languages since my childhood. It is fantastically written and translated as literature in many languages. However, it wouldn't be easy to make people of different cultures and languagues understand the contents without having the names and places translated in ways that they can pronounce.

Sure, you understand other person better when you know what he/she is talking about. But would you understand Chinese people when they are talking about the story of "Yesu and Maliya Modala" if you haven't even read the Bible in languages you are in? Yesu and Maliya Modala happen to be Jesus and Maria Magdalena!

In such cases, nobody would care how Jesus was orginally named and everybody would understand the stories in the Bible. I am wondering which culture(s) and language(s) get involved in the globalization of Christianity and whether it is important or not to keep the names and places in their original languages.

I believe that I understand your opinion perfectly. However, I stand for my opinion in the discussion. That is, you need to "translate" names and places in order to transport the contents (meanings), sometimes.

- Wenjer


[Edited at 2006-09-24 04:06]


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Krys Williams  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:24
Member (2003)
Polish to English
+ ...
I agree with Jack Sep 24, 2006

There are cases where names have some association or are based on puns. I'm thinking, for example, of Under Milkwood with some of the delicious punning names such as "Organ Morgan" who is " always playing with his organ!", or "Polly Garter", with her many children. To my mind, simply reproducing the names rather than trying to convey the same meaning in the translation implies a certain loss.

To reproduce the name as it appears in the original may create difficulties if the reader of the translation has no clue how they should be pronounced. I personally do sound out a lot of what I read in my head and it is difficult when I do not know how a name should be pronounced. On the other hand, I would prefer to struggle with a name in an unknown language than be faced with the ghastly phonetic rendering that is so popular with some translators.

[Edited at 2006-09-24 09:48]


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Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 22:24
English to Chinese
+ ...
Why rename? Sep 24, 2006

lidius wrote:

Hello Wenjer,

I know that "Herr Keuner" means like "Herr Keiner" (Nobody) and, after I've read your post, I've also read "Form und Stoff" (a great little "story" about a "Lorbeerbaum"), but I don't understand why it would be necessary to translate the name of the character precisely in this case . Could I ask you why do you think so?
Please, dont' take the question as a criticism, if it sounds like this, it'll be because of my poor english. It's only curiosity (It's not sure, but I'll probably have to write something about the stories of Herr Keuner).

Thanks in advance,

Lidia


Hi Lidia,

The specific story of a "Lorbeerbaum" tells us the importance of having the contents transported with the forms. But it is obviously not proper to keep the forms in expense of destroying the contents.

I am not sure wether it would be proper or not to translated "Herrn Keuner" into English as "Mr. Nobody" or into Spanish as "Señor Nadie," becasue I am neither an English nor a Spanish native. But I know it is important to rename "Herrn Keuner" in a proper Chinese translation. Otherwise, the translator would have to add an explanation to his translation for that name to make it clear to the Chinese readers.

You were asking "why it would be necessary to translate the name of the character precisely in this case." That is just the same question I was asking. Why not have the name "Herrn Keuner" translated in another way to transport it's meaning into your language and culture? Is it all right for you with this view point?

I do not believe that we could achieve better understanding of cultures by keeping all names untranslated in their original languages. I am of the opinion that it is our job as translators to have the contents/meanings translated, even when we have to rename persons and places into target languages to better fit their forms (phonetically, semantically and semiologically).

For instance, when I was translating Fernán Caballero's collection "Cuentos y poesías populares andaluces colleccionados" (Sevilla 1859) into Chinese, I had to rename a lot of persons and places. I even had to rewrite some sayings in Chinese to have the contents tranported, especially when it comes to a tale like "La señora Fortuna y el señor Dinero" or "La señora Miseria."

How could I keep the names, Fortuna, Dinero and Miseria, untranslated to transport the contents of the tales into Chinese? No way! Not to say transporting the moral and funniness of the tales. (To tell you the truth, I needed to read German translations of those tales to make sure that I understand the contents of them. And I found out that the German translators of those tales resorted to the same means as I do. How could it be otherwise?)

For the same reason, I had to make up a Chinese name for Herrn Keuner to transport the meaning of the name without having to explain the etymology of "Keuner" separately in a comment.

I hope that this answers your question. I really don't believe that keeping names of persons and places helps understanding cultures and languages in general and in specific. It helps readers that way only when they are already in the languages and/or the cultures somehow. For common readers in another culture with another language, we need to resort to other means to help them understand the contents of a foreign culture.

- Wenjer


[Edited at 2006-09-24 04:16]


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