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Translating Names in Harry Potter (1)

A challenge that translators often face in their work comes from proper names. Any organization, institution, or agency has its own set of titles, department and project names, product or service names, even publication titles. For translators working into English, the problem often fades because so many people worldwide choose to provide an English version of their important work. For translators working out of English, and sometimes those working into English, no official translation exists, and so something must be created.

To explore strategies and techniques for solving the problems proper names present, I am going to use the world of Harry Potter, which has its own personal, place, and other proper nouns, all of which have to be rendered appropriately in the translated versions of the books. Prior to the world-wide success of the Harry Potter books, there were no formal guidelines from the British publisher of the original English-language version regarding the translation of proper names. So in the first book, published under the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S., the various names are rendered in a variety of ways in other languages, most notably in French. So we willl dip into these as examples here.

The personal names of the three main characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, remain unchanged, as is appropriate. After all, altering Harry’s name would alter all the book titles, and much besides. But other major characters undergo name changes, as seen below.

English French
Crookshanks (Hermione’s cat) Pattenrond
Fang Crockdur
Fawkes Fumseck
Filch, Argus Rusard, Argus
Madame Pomfrey Madame Pomfresh
Madeye Moody Maugrey Fol Oeil
Moaning Myrtle Mimi Geignarde
Mrs. Norris Miss Teigne
Nearly Headless Nick Nick Quasi Sans-Tête
Neville Longbottom Neville Longdubat
Ryddle, Tom Marvolo Jedusor, Tom Elvis
Scabbers (Ron’s rat) Croûtard
Wormtail Queudver

The changes work nicely, capturing the feeling of the English original for the French reader. For example, Wormtail’s name immediately conjures an image, which Quedver replicates perfectly in French, whereas leaving the English name, as was done in many other versions of the books, would not produce any particular impression in the reader, particularly not in Japanese, which uses “waamu-teeru” as the name. A lot is lot in the translation here.

Note that the change in Tom Ryddle’s name was necessary to preserve a particularly devious pun in the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The character Tom Ryddle, who goes on to become the arch-villain Lord Voldemort, created his new name using the letters of his given name. In French, Tom Elvis Jedusor can become Je Suis Voldemort, recreating flawlessly the effect in the English original.

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