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What do you do with names, which sound impolite or vulgar in your language?
Thread poster: Empty Whiskey Glass

Empty Whiskey Glass
Local time: 11:20
Bulgarian
+ ...
Jul 21, 2003

You may have come accross this sometimes. You have a name that means something impolite or even vulgar in your language.
what do you do in such cases?

Please share your experience.

Sometimes I insert an extra letter or change it so as to avoid any association, if possible. Still, there is no standard method.


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A. Petrunova
Bulgaria
Local time: 11:20
Swedish to English
+ ...
No standard method Jul 22, 2003

Andrey Danchev advises changing the name a little /f.ex. by substitution/ so as it does not sound offensive, etc.
Ex.: Purdy > Ïóðäè/Ïþðäè instead of Ïúðäè.

Anyway, one has to choose the most appropriate alternative for each case. There can be more than one ways to go.


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:20
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Two examples Jul 22, 2003

I can think of two Russian names in past translations of mine which come into this category. One sounds dubious when spoken but is inoffensive in print, the other is the other way round. The first was a Professor Bogorov (stress on the last syllable) which sounds like a rude version of "Go away!" but looks OK in print. The other was a Russian woman named Vagina (stress on the first syllable, hard "g") which sounds innocent enough but looks odd in print. I just left them both in the above forms.

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Pawel Bartoszewicz  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:20
English to Polish
+ ...
Leave the names as they are Jul 22, 2003

I can't imagine changing other people's names just because they sound funny in my language, especially when translating official documents. Names are names and in my opinion should remain unchanged even though they happen to be funny/offensive.
I can think of one such example: my friend's name is Kokot and his name might be a real challenge for Czech immigration officers (in Czech it means "pr*ck").


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Domenica Grangiotti  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:20
English to Italian
+ ...
Embarassing ... Jul 22, 2003

During Football Championships in Italy in 1990 the "doll" which was to become the symbol of the World Championships had to be christened: someone (not very English-proficient, I'm afraid) proposed "bimbo". Although it sounded perfectly all right in Italy, you can imagine why it was not chosen.
The final name was CIAO.

Sorry if my example is slightly off-the-point.
Ciao
Domenica


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invguy  Identity Verified
Bulgaria
Local time: 11:20
English to Bulgarian
Pipi? Jul 23, 2003

Just occurred to me: how do French children accept Pipi Langstrumpf? Honestly, it has never crossed my mind that Pipi's name can be directly associated with 'faire pipi'. What would native French speakers say? I suspect the case could be a good indicator.


To the question:

In my experience as a translator I have been dealing mostly with technical sources, where names are pretty scarce Actually, I can't remember how I have handled such cases (if run across any at all) - but I guess I'd do the following:

1) try to completely dodge the problem by minor phonetic/spelling tweaks; if impossible, then

2) try to 'silence' (by minor tweaks, again) the negative associations at least in the written - or, alternatively, at least in the spoken - name; if this is not possible either, then

3) leave it as it is, but try to use it in a way that distracts from possible negative associations, e.g. always first plus family name, or always name plus title, or at least in a way that does not leave it 'ringing alone' in the reader's/listener's mind.


By all means, names should not be an area of 'creative' interpretation (IMO). I'd go a bit farther and say that accepting a name 'as is' is a matter of ability to accept cultural differences in a natural way.

A pretty important ability for the inhabitants of a global village...


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Daniel Garance
Belgium
Local time: 10:20
English to French
+ ...
Fifi ! Jul 23, 2003

[quote]invguy wrote:

Just occurred to me: how do French children accept Pipi Langstrumpf? Honestly, it has never crossed my mind that Pipi's name can be directly associated with 'faire pipi'. What would native French speakers say? I suspect the case could be a good indicator.

[snap]

1) try to completely dodge the problem by minor phonetic/spelling tweaks;

[snap]

This is exactly what the French translator did-her name is "Fifi Brindacier" in French, which sounds very nice in my opinion.

Daniel (once an avid reader of Pipi Langstrumpf)


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:20
Member
English to Turkish
Pipi Unbound Jul 23, 2003

I agree with Pawel that as a rule proper names cannot and should not be changed in translation. There may be exceptions to this rule, however, as in the books where names are invented or chosen to suggest characteristics of the person or the events unfolding in the story. (Some names in the Harry Potter books, for instance.) And children's literature is an area especially rich with such exceptions. For example, when reading outloud the books in The Worst Witch series of Jill Murphy to my daughter, one of my regrets was that all the names had been left in their original form despite they were obviously chosen to suggest character traits (e.g. Hubble, Hardbroom, Chuckle). Still, I cannot be so certain that I would have changed them myself, if I were the translator, because the fact that personal names are usually associated with religious traditions would have left me with many problems. For example, an English character who's very slim and whose name is Peter Thin can easily be made Pierre Mince in the French translation. Turkish rendering however -by the way, I assume that his thinness is a central point in the story, hence his name bears significance- would have been problematic: Although it's possible to use the Turkish equivalent of the "thin" for the surname, there's no native variant of Peter-Pierre, and the translator might well be faced with a choice as to Turkicizing all the proper names -which should not be attempted in most cases, in my opinion- or not.

As for Pipi Langstrumpf, her name in Turkish translations is Pipi Uzunçorap (=Langstrumpf), and this half-translated name doesn't sound queer or awkward as far as Pipi is concerned. Her little name, on the other hand, is a child's word for "penis" in Turkish, but it becomes her so much (with its original phonetics, I mean, not with the Turkish meaning ) that I never realized this coincidence before. Had her adventures been not so elegantly adapted into my native language, I might have thought this earlier (along with other Turkish readers). Maybe here lies the power of a good translation


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Boyan Brezinsky  Identity Verified
Bulgaria
Local time: 11:20
English to Bulgarian
+ ...
off-topic Jul 24, 2003

Jack Doughty wrote:

I can think of two Russian names in past translations of mine which come into this category. One sounds dubious when spoken but is inoffensive in print, the other is the other way round. The first was a Professor Bogorov (stress on the last syllable) which sounds like a rude version of "Go away!" but looks OK in print. The other was a Russian woman named Vagina (stress on the first syllable, hard "g") which sounds innocent enough but looks odd in print. I just left them both in the above forms.


And I thought the story about that woman who married a guy named Vagin and then nearly fell unconscious, when she saw her new ID with the name "Vagina" on it to be just a made-up joke. By the way, for the non-russian speaking people, in Russian this both looks and sounds improper (I wouldn't say offensive).


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Richard Benham  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 10:20
German to English
+ ...
Hear, hear! Sep 10, 2003

Pawel Bartoszewicz wrote:

I can't imagine changing other people's names just because they sound funny in my language, especially when translating official documents. Names are names and in my opinion should remain unchanged even though they happen to be funny/offensive.



I am not sure why the question was even posted. Of course a name is a name, and it is not a translator's job to give people new names.

If dealing with a work of fiction, it should be established first whether the character already has a name in the target language. If not, it might be a good idea, with the author's permission, to make one up.


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María Teresa Taylor Oliver  Identity Verified
Panama
Local time: 04:20
English to Spanish
+ ...
What about Tolkien? Sep 19, 2003

And all those wonderful characters from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings?

I could have died when I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring, with Spanish subtitles, and saw all the names had been translated. I realize that Tolkien's original names all have very instrinsec meanings with the character's personality, and indeed would have been difficult to understand for a child (a movie-goer), but still...

~*T.*~


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Eva Blanar  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 10:20
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Names also transfer feelings Sep 25, 2003

You can't change names in an offical document or in business correspondence, but everywhere else, I think you've got to. It is a must, if it is a book for children, but it is strongly advisable also in literature in general. (And I'd extend this also to names that are too complicated for the local taste.)

To comfort you: changing names occurs also in real life, for the same reason: I know of an ambassador of Hungary who had to change his and his family's last name in order to occupy a position in an exotic country - a very innocent, good-sounding name in all languages indeed, except for one of the main local languages in that country.

The important thing, I think, is to transfer somehow the "feeling" about that name in the original language: don't make a Mr Smith or Ms Jones from all problematic characters.

Have fun (it IS fun)


Eva


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