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Character names in translation (Dutch and Norwegian, so far)


Remember my idea to provide lists of the character names from the translated versions of the books? So far I have created a page for the Dutch names (Dank u, Sandra!) and a page for the Norwegian names (Takk, Siri!). Eventually I will create an index page to all the lists and link to it from the character pages.
If you want to send us a list, please send it in “plain text” if possible. Word processing software like Microsoft Word adds too much formatting. And if you found it on another website please let us know so we can credit them.
Do you have a list? You can send it to me at [email protected].

P.S. The Norwegian translation of “Quidditch” is “Rumpeldunk.” Sweet.


Pensieve (Comments)

  • Sandra

    You’re welcome Lisa! (Geen dank Lisa!)

  • I’ve sendt you a list of the translated words into Spanish. I hope it serves!

  • Moony

    Good job, Sandra! But the list is incomplete, i’m afraid. you can find e.g. the correct name of Zabini Blaise (Zabini Benno, translator made a fault, corrected it in hbp) and a complete dictionary on http://www.harrypotteronline.nl quidditch = zwerkbal; owlery = uilenvleugel, marauder’s map = sluipwegwijzer, …

  • Lisa

    Moony, Sandra sent other names too but the page was so long I only used the character names. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do this.

    Thanks El Cronista! I got your list. Oh, and Stepka, I got your list of Chinese/Pinyin translations too.

  • moony

    On http://www.dreuzels.com they have a translator tool. Maybe you can find the mailadres of the webmaster and ask him/her for tips? It’s a suggestion.

  • Kristin

    Did anyone else notice that in the Norwegian name translations the translation for R.A.B. is R.A.S. and that Sirius and Regulus’s last name of Black is translated as Svaart. I wonder if the same holds true for the Dutch version that it is translated as R.A.Z. (with Zwarts as their last name). Is this just another reason to think that it is Regulus as the mysterious R.A.B.?

  • Kacky Snorgle

    Kristin: Yes, some sites have reported that in every language the initials R.A.B. are always translated so as to match Regulus’s last name. Apparently either R.A.B. is actually Regulus, or Harry’s going to spend half of book seven under the mistaken impression that R.A.B. is Regulus–either way, Jo would have to warn to translators to make the initials match.

  • severusisn’tevil

    What about the “HEavy locket none of them could open” mentioned in OP when Harry, Ron, HErmione, and the Weasleys are cleaning out the drawing room cabinets? Of course, this could just be a red herring, but it’s a thought. What if R A B is an alias?

  • Big_Kelpie

    wow severus how did u think about that locket? I bet it wasn’t posted in all hpfansites just one week after hbp was release

  • Are there any languages you specificly in need of?
    I have a translator on my computer and can get Chinese, Japanese, Greek, and a bunch of other languages.

  • Rioux

    Did anyone else notice that in Norwegian, George’s name is Frank? I wonder how they translate the sweater-switch joke since their names both start with the same letter?

  • Eeyore

    I’ve never quite seen why they feel they need to translate someone’s name. If I were to visit any of those countries, my name would still be the same–I’ve used the Spanish pronunciation of my first name, but I didn’t change it to something else. It is what it is.

    The same with words that Rowling invented or pulled out of obscure old or middle English. None of us knew what they were when we started reading either. So why the translating of things like Quidditch or changing George’s name to Frank. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    (I’m currently reading the Brothers Karamozov, which is a translation, but the names have not been changed to something that sounds British or American, nor would I expect them to do it.)

  • DA Jones

    Well,you have to remember part of the purpose of children’s books is to teach childen to read. If say I’m a Dutch 8 year old and I find a lot of foreign names or words that are difficult to pronounce, such as George. I might not read the book because it is too hard no matter how great the story. Harry Potter has helped more kids learn to read in more languages then probably the bible.

    You’ll notice that almost all translators leaves the truly ‘ethnic names’ names alone. For instance Cho Chang, and the Patils. ‘Cho Chang’ is probably Cho Chang in every Harry Potter book in every language, but Harry Potter which isn’t an ethnic name is not ‘Harry Potter’ in every language in every ‘Harry Potter’ book.

    By the way I love the way Lavender Brown is translated in Dutch. I don’t beleive it is really translated, unless Broom means Brown in dutch.

    ‘Belinda Broom’. That particular translator had imagination. Their really should be a ‘Broom’ witch or wizard in Harry’s classes in even the English books, because it is a fun and easy pun.

    I suppose that in Dutch their must not be many last names or first names that are colors. So there was no way to name her the equivilant of what really means: ‘Purple Brown’.

  • recklesscatlover

    There is a long list of terms/names and how they are translated in many languages in
    Suggest to take a look…

  • Sandra

    Yes, I know the Dutch list is not complete… But I can make a longer list of translations (would be quite a lot of work though 😉 )). Another idea: at http://www.dreuzels.com the meaning or origin of the names in Dutch is also explained. I can translate those, I always think it’s funny to see what the translator did to the translations! It’s not like he always goes for a literal translation. He often just comes up with a very suitable other name. 🙂
    For example: quidditch = zwerkbal
    zwerk is an old-fashioned word for sky, I think you can guess what ball means 🙂

  • Sandra

    Oh, I nearly forgot:
    Belinda Broom –> Broom means bromine or bromide, but I think Wiebe Buddingh’ probably thought this was funny to use, because of the English meaning :).
    (In Dutch “broom” is “bezem”)
    Sorry for double-posting…

  • Sandra

    Oh no!! What’s the matter with me? I also wanted to say that R.A.B. is indeed translated as R.A.Z. (Could be that Regulus has found a book about horcruxes in the Black-house? Doesn’t seem an unlikely possesion for the Black family to me.)

  • Siri

    Rioux: Fred & George’s (Fred & Franks)sweaters are decoreted with “Fe” and “Fa”. Rather ridiculous, I know …

  • Don’t try: the Most Awful Translation Award goes for Spanish publisher 😉 they have translated wrongly 2 TITLES of 6 and cause more problems than no one. No mention that latin fans have the most late translation… ¬¬ I envy all you.

  • Big_Kelpie

    @DA Jones: I was eight when i started reading the books in spanish which has no name “translated”(it has a few spells, ithink) ans i had no problem with any name, i “pronounced” them in my head diferently but even english speaking ppl had problems with some like hermione . Of course, I was already studying english at that time. Most Names dont have translations, some do like Thomas and Tomás but as they aren’t pronunced the same way, thay shouldn’t be translated, it’ that simple.

  • Bandersnatch

    Generally, I agree with you Big_Kelpie (and Eeyore earlier), but there are occasions when “translating” the name is appropriate, I think. If the English name is meant to remind readers of similar-sounding English words, then a translator may decide to change the name so that it sounds like the corresponding words in the new language.

    For instance, to an English-speaker, Slytherin has connotations of sly (a characteristic that Slytherins have) and also slithering (since snakes are connected to the Dark Arts). I assume the second connotation is what the French translator was going for when he/she changed Slytherin into Serpentard.

    Siri: Fred’s and Franks’s sweaters read “Fe” and “Fa”!? What are they, elements of the periodic table? 🙂

  • Sandra

    About translations: I just like the English ones best of course :-). But I think that for Dutch kids who don’t speak English yet most English names are just inpronouncable. Lucky for Dutch kids, the Dutch translator comes up with very funny suitable translations. Actually, I only read the Dutch translations just to see how things were translated :). (Had a lot of fun with that!)

  • *cough*
    I’ve been collecting those for a couple of years, you know …

  • Lisa

    ginny321, Someone just sent Chinese/Japanaese/Korean in Pinyin, so I don’t need those. Greek would be great!

    Viola Owlfeather, dass ist wirklich AUSGESEICHNET! Everyone take a look — the Eulenfeder website’s charts work like a database.

  • … and I urgently need to update HP International with all the lists of names that have been piling up in my mailbox over the last couple of months.
    By the way, Bjørn Aas has written another excellent overview over the Norwegian translation: http://home.online.no/~bjaas/potter/

  • olivier

    Danke schoen Viola! Now I can again talk “shop” with my nieces – of whom one reads in German, the other in French… and I stick to th English version. And now I can know whom the’re talking about…. thanks!

  • Theodore

    I’m greek , I can make a list but i dont fully understand what names you want? every magical item? every character’s name? both?

  • journeymom

    I notice the Dutch version lists Irma Pince but not Eileen Prince. I’d be curious to see Eileen’s translation. Might be significant in Deathly Hallows. Would one still be able to get the Dutch version of ‘I’m a Prince’ from ‘Irma Rommella’?

    Which leads me to the other translation that I don’t understand. Can one spell “I Am Heer Voldemort” (in Dutch) from ‘Marten Asmodom Vilijn’? If not, how did the Dutch version account for that part of JKR’s plot?

  • Antoon

    ”Marten Asmodom Vilijn” becomes ”Mijn naam is Voldemort”.

    Asmodom is a variation of Asmodee, which either means good-for-nothing, or is a name for the devil. Vilijn sounds the same as vilein, which means mean, nasty.

  • journeymom

    That’s perfect! Thanks Antoon.

  • Maxim

    Eileen Prince in Dutch is “Ellen Prins”.
    And I’m sorry, but I have to disappoint you: you can’t make ‘Ik ben een prins’ of Irma Rommella.

  • Stelmarta

    I can take down some names from the Arabic translation, but they are generally just phonetic transliterations. To start you out, Harry Potter is هاري بوتر.

  • Torill

    Yes, the translation question…ooo, it’s been one of my pet peeves for a long time – brace yourselves for an
    overlong post, folks!

    First, though, let me say that I do not believe the translators get any classified information from Jo. Once they make the decision to change the names in the books, they are forced to constantly check and recheck anything to do with names, to be sure it will add up in their translation. So when some initials show up in the English text that fit an already known name in the series, of course the translators will pick up on that, and see to it that it fits in their language too! They know they must cover their bases, or else run the risk of finding themselves in serious trouble by the seventh book. Should it turn out that RAB was a red herring after all, they will have no problems in the seventh book if they have follwed Jo’s lead, and changed the RAB initials to fit the initials for Regulus Black in their language. Then all they will need to do is to continue to do the same as Jo does: give the new character a name with the same initials as Regulus’. I am sure they are smart enough to realise this without having to be told from the book’s author!

    Ok. Translating names… I do not believe any kid able to read will put down a book with a difficult name in it, if they find the story in the book interesting enough to follow. It is a thing adults might think children will do, though, so it may well be one reason why some publishers have chosen to translate the names in the Potter books.

    But if you check what children do read, you will see that this is a huge misunderstanding. Syndicated mystery stories, like the Hardy boys or Nancy Drew, are translated – very slopplily and in a hurry – without any changes of the names in them at all. And children, both in Norway (my country) and the rest of the world, devour those books like candy anyway, not at all turned away by their foreign names. So I think translating the names in the Potterbooks for this reason is a mistake, yes.

    The only valid reason to translate the names in my opinion, is indeed what you point out, Bandersnatch. Some of Jo’s names – far from all! – have puns in them, or hints at some traits in the person’s character – like “Mundungus”, which Jo says means “tobacco”. A few of the names even pertains to plot, like “Sirius Black”, which sounds like “Serious Black” and may make us believe he really is as evil as he is made out to be at the beginning of PoA. While the star Sirius of course is sometimes called the dog star, hinting to his animagus form – which again represents crucial parts of his character.

    These kinds of puns and clues may be lost to a reader who does not understand English if the names are not translated.

    You could of course solve this problem by providing foot notes explaining the name the first time it appears in the books – or print a list of names carrying special or double meanings at the end of each book, with explanations.

    The problem with this is that footnotes interrupt the flow of your reading, plus the explanation in the footnote or in the list at the back might make you aware of the clue in the name too early. Instead of having the pleasure of realising later on that there was a clue in the name, you would have an intruding, schoolteacher-like translator hanging over your shoulder and constantly nudging you to notice things in special ways. I don’t know if I would have liked to have things pointed out to me that way!

    When I read, I want to be totally absorbed in the story, I don’t want to have the “verfremdung” effect of constant footnotes working as reminders: this is a book, not the real world of your imagination, and it is edited and translated and the author has carefully constructed the whole thing and put clues and red herrings in the book all over the place! No, I want the pleasure of discovering these things myself..

    So, yes, I can see the translator’s dilemma. And I am not sure what I would prefer. Because there is one huge problem involved in changing the English names: Rowling’s books are very situatedThey do not happen in a neverland behind the star to the right, in a totally different universe behind the wardrobe wall, or in a distant mythological past. They are firmly placed in real space and time, in our world, the real Great Britain, and in real time, our modern time.

    This realism is a huge part of their charm and appeal, in my opinion, and a great asset of the books. The only “suspense of disbelief” you need to do while you read them, the only thing you need to accept as real against your real world knowledge, is the fact that some people among us – ordinary human beings – are born with the ability to do magic. That’s all. The rest of the story is dead realistic, from the moral issues facing the characters, their weaknesses and flaws, all the way down to the exact geographical placement of the Leaky Cauldron (Charing Cross road, London, UK.)

    This is skewed and ruined somewhat when the names are translated. In the Norwegian version, we are asked not only to believe in the existence of secret societies of wizards and witches within each real nation of the world – but also to believe in the existance of some strange, fictional Britain where people run around with Norwegian-sounding names!

    What this does, is underlining the fact that “this is all make-believe, kids, not the real Britain!” which is the exact opposite of what the original books do. And I do believe – no, I want to say it stronger than that: I know Norwegian kids at a fairly young age are fully aware of the fact that foreign kids have foreign names, are aware of the fact that there are many languages and nations in the world. Trying to hide this fact in a series not written for pre-schoolers, not even mainly for eight-year olds, is somewhat silly…

    And now, over to a rant about “ethnical” names mentioned earlier in this thread. Another of my pet peeves… Indeed, Cho Chang, Fleur Delacour etc. do keep their origianl names in the Norwegian translation, while all British sounding names are changed. I do seriously question the wisdom in this.

    To me, this only serves to make the already too strange make-believe world created by the translation even stranger. The ethnical origin of Cho’s family can be guessed by a Norwegian kid while reading the books, but not Seamus Finnigan’s. This creates a weird effect when reading about the Quidditch World Cup where Seamus sits among the Irish supporters. Until then, we had no idea he was Irish, because somehow, an Irish name of a Hogwarts student is not seen by the translator as “ethnic” enough, therefore changed into something “Norwegianish”.

    So Seamus has a Norwegian-sounding name, but the Irish national team he is at the World Cup to support, have all kept their original Irish names! Strange universe indeed, this Potterworld, eh?

    I also protest the idea that English names are not “ethnic”. Of course they are. Ron Weasly is an ethnic name indeed, revealing to the reader that his family’s ethnical origin is most likely English. Ethnicity is not something pertaining only to “foreigners”. Who are foreign or not depends on your own ethnicity, you know. The English and the Amercians are foreign to me, as they are to the Chinese or the Indian. When the books are translated to Chinese or an Indian language, Cho Chang or Parvati Patil wouldn’t be “ethnic” names any more, would they? But then, if all the English names are changed into Chinese names as well, differences in ethnic origin evident in the original text will be blurred.

    Of course it is tempting for a person of English origin to believe that to be English is nothing special, only ordinary human, while those of foreign origin are the ones with an “ethnicity”. Manay people in Norway suffer from the same misunderstanding as well, I assure you! But this is what is called an ethnocentric attitude – and it is not an attitude you will find in Jo’s books in my opinion.

    The fact that Cho or Padma and Parvati have families who may have originated ouside Great Britain is not made to be a point in the books at all. They are just ordinary Hogwarts students like any other student. This again reflects the actual modern British society which is made up of several ethnic groups, none of them to be seen as more “foreign” or “ethnic” than the other.

    When, on the other hand, the Norwegian translator keeps the geography of the books, lets things happen in Surrey and London in the Norwegian translation too – but alters all the ethnical English names into Norwegian-sounding names, while the characters of any other ethnicity are left with their original names – I think he furthers an ethnocentrism in the Norwegian books that you do not find in Rowling’s original. He does, in effect, although I am sure not in conscious intent, point out to the Norwegians and say: look, Cho is foreign, but Seamus is ordinary…he is just like you are, even if he lives in Britain, while she is something exotic..

    And now you may wonder why I have written throughout this post (I hope) “Norwegian-sounding”, or even “Norwegianish”, and not simply “Norwegian”, when talking about the translation of the English names…

    Sadly, this is because of the idea the Norwegian translator must have had, that while translating these books he could have a field day and come up with as many silly make-believe names he could think of, just because Jo has a name or two out of the ordinary in her books.

    It is increcible what he tries to get away with as a name in Norwegian sometimes, when the English original is something perfectly ordinary!

    “Colin” for instance, is a name any British boy could be called without anyone lifting an eyebrow, wouldn’t you agree? Well, the poor boy has to suffer the ridiculous name of “Frodrik” in the Norwegian version. I tell you, this is not a name, it is a joke, no parent in their right mind would ever call their son something like that – and the Norwegian books are full of these joke, fake names, or strange nicknames, or too explanatory or obvious names.

    I will not bore you with a list – it is too long, and will carry meaning only to Scandinavians, but it is sad, I tell you, really sad. Sirius Black is one example though – Sirius is kept of course, or else the association with the Dog Star would be lost – but the last name is changed to Svaart. Which is utterly ridiculous in my not so humble opinion.

    “Black” translates directly into “Svart” in Norwegian – this is not really a surname though. Adding an extra a does not make it any more so, only gives it a kind of mock oldfashioned form of spelling. If you took it literally, double aa is the oldfashioned way of spelling Ã¥ – and SvÃ¥rt is not even a word, and has nothing to do with svart, or black.

    While on the other hand, you have a reasonably common surname meaning “dark” in Norwegian, namely “Mørk”. Why not use that, then, and get a name in Norwegian that sounds just as ordinary as Black does in English? Why try to be cute, or funny, or what it is he tries, when Rowling does not? Grrrr.

    And rumpeldunk sweet? Sorry, but no. Maybe a little cute or funny – but is Quidditch that? I get the associations of “quick” and “ditch”from the word quidditch, which both say something about the nature of the game; while the sound reminds me of “swish” – the whole thing comes across as something you can believe is fast and dangerous!

    While the word “rumpeldunk” in Norwegian sounds like something very slow, awkward and clumsy (- any Norwegians around here get what I mean when I say it reminds me of “humpetitten”?) I just hate that word “rumpeldunk”, and I know I am not the only one….

    All this, together with the fact that most spells are translated from latin into something “Norwegianish” as well, has the effect of making the books seem a lot more childish in Norwegian than they do in English. In my opinion. And now I will stop this rant, I swear…

  • Lisa, I coudn’t get the Greek names.
    Are there any other languages you need??

  • Jayni D.

    Torill, I’m with you. Admittedly, I am Canadian, therefore English is my native tongue; however, if I were reading a book written by a Norwegian author, I would expect the translation to English to keep the Norwegian names. It just makes sense.

    It must be difficult to be a translator and figure out how to translate things like plays on words, etc. But names? No need to translate those.

    In Canada, there is a very popular children’s character named BENJAMIN created by a French author, Paulette Bourgeois. Benjamin is a perfectly legitimate and reasonably common name in English, but the English translators have seen fit to change his name to FRANKLIN. To me, that is bizarre!

    So, if any translators out there are reading, take Torill’s comments to heart, won’t you? For the most part, names DO NOT NEED to be translated.

    And by the way, I love the word Quidditch. It’s delicious. It’s also a made-up word, so I see no need to translate it either.

    Well, that’s my rant! :^)

  • qiang

    Torill, I agree that if I’m reading a book that has been translated to english, I usually prefer to see the foreign names retained. But in some cases you lose something if the original names are imbued with meaning, or in the case of JKR, have puns or hints in them. I feel pretty strongly that the translators should try to retain the ‘sense’ of JKR’s names, as HP is pretty extreme in how many of its characters have very suggestive names in some way. It’s kind of like the wordplay in HP—come up with similar wordplay in the translator’s language, don’t just translate the english exactly since that will no longer make sense.

    Then you have cases in which you really cannot retain the english names, eg logographic languages like chinese, you can’t just plunk the english word in there in roman characters. (why not, you say? Imagine reading an english book with chinese names IN CHINESE CHARACTERS. English readers are not used to reading chinese so would constantly have trouble figuring out whose names were whose.) So the names have to be put into characters. In this case the translators can do a phonetic translation or try to do one via meaning, and that is when it gets really interesting, since it is very very clunky sometimes to do phonetic translations in character languages since you have to try to do it BY SYLLABLE and some syllables just don’t exist in the language, and some syllables can be represented by more than one character, and all characters have meaning of their own…there is no one straightforward way to do it, so there already the translators are creating different translations of the names by necessity. So in these languages it is not even possible in any way to just leave the names as english…and in these languages it is quite different from european ones and I don’t see any way what you are saying can apply (though I do agree with you for the most part when talking about languages closer to english, as I said).

    I have read HP in english and two other languages including chinese, and what I think works best is when the translator tries to retain a sense of what JKR had in mind with a name, eg ‘Zha Zha’ for ‘Winky,’ which literally means ‘wink-wink’ and is so much better than if the translator had just called her ‘Wen-Ke’ or something. Also good is Sirius who is called ‘Tian-lang-xing’, which means ‘heavenly wolf star’ and is the chinese name for the star Sirius. Even names that are translated phonetically often have some creativity, like Voldemort, Marvolo, Merope, and Morfin all use the same character ‘mo’ for the M sound, which means ‘evil demon’ (they are Fodimo, Mofoluo, Morou, and Mofen in pinyin). In this case they are translated phonetically but many different characters could have been used for the ‘m’ sound and the translator chose that one. Thus the translator was quite creative and I think in this case it was a very good thing.

  • DA Jones

    Toril that was a long post, but as Ron would say it was brillant. It is interesting what you say about Seamus. I did notice that they translated his name in Norwegian and I was wondering about that. The fact that the translator translated it is probably a clue that they really don’t now what is coming. Most likely the translator wanted to be consistent and therefore translated Seamus’s name as he did all the other “English” names and then got caught when Rowling decided to make a minor plot point out of it. This is odd because so far Seamus is the only character in the books so far whose ethnicity has mattered. Although I have a hunch that it may matter with the Patils in DH.

  • Antoon

    Yes, Torill, I agree as well.

    I understand that in Chinese, a translator should probably take a certain freedom in order to avoid a lot of clumsy phonetic representations. But in Dutch, the story would have been more credible if the names would have been untranslated. I must admit that some translations, like Gladianus Smalhart for Gilderoy Lockhart, are really good, maybe even better than the original. But the translations do take something away from the authenticity of the story; the translated book seems to be more childish.

  • Torill

    >>qiang: Torill, I agree that if I’m reading a book that has been translated to english, I usually prefer to see the foreign names retained. But in some cases you lose something if the original names are imbued with meaning, or in the case of JKR, have puns or hints in them. I feel pretty strongly that the translators should try to retain the ’sense’ of JKR’s names, as HP is pretty extreme in how many of its characters have very suggestive names in some way. It’s kind of like the wordplay in HP—come up with similar wordplay in the translator’s language, don’t just translate the english exactly since that will no longer make sense.

    qiang – I agree with this – or, as I tried to say in my overlong post above, I do appreciate the dilemma facing the translators. I am not sure I have a good solution to suggest either.

    Sometimes the word play will be impossible to get over in the new language, because there will be no word combination in this language carrying the same double meaning as the English language does. Then you would be better off keeping the name as it is in my opinion, instead of trying to make up a different kind of joke on your own. But, of course, there are cases when you can get the meaning across by changing things a little, like in my example “Mørk” for “Black” above. That is keeping the meaning by changing the word, and I wouldn’t have objected so strongly to that as I do to the completely ridiculous creation of “Svaart”, which is neither a name nor a word! (Although anyone will get the not so subtle hint of “svart” in that fantasy name of course…)

    One way of solving the very real translator’s dilemma you point out, would be to keep the ordinary English names with no double meaning in them as they are, while changing those names where there are a play with words or a double meaning of some kind. When translating these names, you could try and let them sound “English-like”, to render them compatible with the ordinary English names you kept.

    Of course, a translator might very well feel that this would make the whole thing a bit clumsy and awkward, with some real English names and some strange hybrids mixed together.

    Like I said, I really do not know any good solution to this dilemma. No matter what you do, something will get lost in translation. And it is easy for me, who understands English pretty well, to say: “keep the names as they are!” since I understand most of the double meanings anyway…

    The chief reason why I am so furious with the Norwegian translation, is not so much the actual translation of the names, as it is the fact that it is done so poorly, with so many silly “joke” names and puns the translator made up himself – he has not been faithful to the original, but gone off on a tangent and created his own, inferiour version with his own stupid jokes. I can’t forgive that… And I definitely see no reason whatsoever to translate the latin of the spells into some sort of mock Norwegian-Latin that is neither here nor there! If English kids are supposed to be able to read Latin, then Norwegian kids should be able to do it too! Also, they should know that magic spells in the Potterverse are built on Latin….

    I do appreciate the difficulties in translating from a phonetic to a character based written language, though! You explain this very well, and from what you say, it does sound like your translator did a very good job with it. Lucky you!

  • Bandersnatch

    Torill said:
    >And I definitely see no reason whatsoever to translate the latin of the spells into some sort of mock Norwegian-Latin that is neither here nor there! If English kids are supposed to be able to read Latin, then Norwegian kids should be able to do it too! Also, they should know that magic spells in the Potterverse are built on Latin….

  • Bandersnatch

    Sorry, for some reason my last message, which began by quoting Torill, didn’t go through. Here’s what was meant to follow the quote:

    Well… just to play devil’s advocate here. Is Norwegian a Romance language, in that it is derived ultimately from Latin? I don’t know, but I would think not. But English is, and therefore Latin or mock-Latin spell words can sometimes be understood by an English-speaker even if he knows no Latin — or at least the incantation can suggest related English words.

    A good example would be the Cruciatus Curse. In Latin, “crucio” means “I torture.” (I think that’s correct.) But even if an English-reader didn’t know that, he might recognize words like “crucify” and “excruciating (pain),” which are of course derived from the same Latin root — and those word-associations would paint a picture in his mind.

    If there are no Norwegian words related to pain or torture that sound anything like “crucio,” then the experience will not be the same for the Norwegian reader. The spell will truly be an unknown word. (Again, I’m assuming that Norwegian is not a Romance language. For all I know, maybe the Norwegian word for torture *is* “crucio.”)

    A solution might be to indeed use a sort of mock Latin-Norwegian, in such a way that the spell words sound a bit like Latin (to preserve Jo’s intent), but also sound a bit like Norwegian words (in the way that Jo’s spells sound a bit like English words).

    An even better example would be “wingardium leviosa.” To an English-speaker, that immediately suggests “levitate the wing-feather.” If a Norwegian-speaker reads “wingardium leviosa,” does anything come across?

    I’d be curious, Torill, to hear some examples of the sorts of spell-translations that are bugging you. I am quite interested in the dilemmas of translation (but I don’t know any Norwegian).

    PS: In the Classical Greek translation of Philosopher’s Stone, Quidditch is called something which translates to “Icarus-ball” — which I always thought was pretty clever.

  • Bandersnatch

    Of course, if Norwegian is really distant from Latin, then I could see how a hybridization of the two might just sound ludicrous, neither fish nor fowl. Perhaps this is what is bugging you.

  • Torill

    Bandersnatch – maybe the Norwegian translator did think along the lines you point out – but it seems to me that his credo is to change and translate anything, no matter what, and I can’t see that he even considers the problem of getting across to kids in Norway that spells in the Pottervers actually are Latin. I think this makes the books lose some depth in Norwegian, as our kids are deprived of the thrill it would have been for them to first meet the spells only as fun and exotic magic words, then later, when they grow older, discover how these words are actually for a large part genuine Latin.

    Also, Norwegian kids meet foreign languages at a very early age, since we belong to a very small language group. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I do believe this makes us more ready to accept and investigate foreign sounding words than might otherwise have been the case…

    Norwegian does not beloong to the latin language group, no, like Italian or French does – but neither does English – both Norwegian and English belong to the germanic language group. But I believe English has a larger influx of words of French origin than Norwegian has, so more words in English than Norwegian are “latin-like” perhaps.

    That is not to say that you cannot detect any Latin influence in Norwegian. Since Latin was the preferred language of scholars all over Europe up until the 19th century, Norwegian too has a fair few words that are latin in origin.

    I think that if the translator has indeed wanted to “norwegify” the latin a little, to give kids a chance of guessing what the spells might mean from their names only, while still understanding that they are Latin spells – he has done a very poor job of it!!!!

    The “Crucio” spell you mention is a good example – the word for torture in Norewegian is “tortur”, very close to the English word as you can see, and has nothing to do with the Latin “crucio”. But we have the word krusifiks – the Crhistian cross symbol, which of course is derived from the Latin.

    The translator has chosen to call the cruciatus curse the “martyrius” curse – building on martyr, which is the same word in both English and Norwegian (something that makes want to yell at him: if Rowling had wanted to call it the Martyrius curse instead, she would have!!) – then gluing on an “us” to make it sound latin-ish. Which is something you often do with words in Norwegian if you want to joke around and make a kind of mock latin just for the fun of it…

    But if he had wanted to take the challenge you point out seriously, he should have stayed a lot closer to the original Latin, and only made the spelling more Norwegian. He could have called it the Krusiatus curse, which could have hinted the krusifiks connection – he could have made it even clearer and called it the Krusifiks curse if he thought the former was not enough – then spelled the actual spell word “krusio” ….Then I think kids in Norway could have caught on just nicely…

    Of course, this method will not always be possible. Priori incantatem for instance, would be difficult to change like that – English kids will of course understand both “prior” and “incantation” but we don’t have anything similar in our language here.

    That doesn’t mean I am willing to accept “Hexus Historicus” which again is this silly “mock latin”, made by gluing an “us” ending to Norwegian words, and use “x” instead of “ks”. Here I think it would have been better to either translate it into some real Norwegian, or keep it as it is.

    And here comes the moment where I have to be fair – some of the translations of the spells are pretty inventive and not too bad – I have of course picked among the worst examples.. (well, I didn’t mention “Fælefeum fyttiflatium” for “Peskipiksi Pesternomi” which really is among the worst – but that was mostly because it would take an essaylength post in itself to explain it – the Norwegians around here are hereby invited to cringe with me, and the rest of you must forgive the intern joke… )

    What irks me the most, though, is still the horrible jokey names Rowling never intended. I could have lived with it if it were only the spells. But it is hard to accept things like Petrea Parkassen for Pansy Parkinson. Parkinson is an ordinary last name, right? No puns or double meanings there? You English speaking people tell me if I am wrong. If I am not, I cannot for the life of me understand why he has given her this jokey non-name in Norwegian, with the built-in reference to the piece of clothing I think you call a “parka” in English….

  • Bandersnatch

    Torill –

    You are certainly correct, English is a Germanic language. But we definitely do have a lot of Latin roots in our words. I hereby freely admit that I don’t know all that much about linguistics. 🙂

    I see your point on the spells that irk you. And indeed I cannot fathom what the reason for changing Pansy Parkinson to Petrea Parkassen — except to give a Norwegian name to a child who is supposed to be from a British family, which as you have already pointed out seems quite silly (who would have thought that Hogwarts in Scotland would have all those Norwegian students!).

    By the way, has your translator altered Hogwarts into something else, or did he leave that as is?

  • Lindsay

    I have to say I find the changes in the American editions more annoying than any of the name translations. It’s not as big of a problem now as it was when the first 3 books were published, but left and right words were changed from British English to American English, and it seems to be for no other reason than the publishers think we’re all stupid here. I can understand the logic behind using “The Sorcerer’s Stone” instead of “The Philosopher’s Stone,” but do I really need to have “Mum” translated into “Mom”? Or “sherbet lemon” into “lemon drop”? Even if I had never known that a sherbet lemon is a candy, from the context alone that Dumbledore always uses candy as a password I’d have known what it was. Thank goodness the publishers started to realize Americans aren’t as stupid as they thought, because now Mrs. Weasley is properly referred to as “Mum” rather than “Mom.”

  • Torill

    Yes, Bandersnatch, Hogwarts is changed too. It is Galtvort. Referring to “galte” which is a male pig… And to your earlier question that I forgot to answer in my long rants above: for some strange reason, “Wingardium Leviosa” is not translated! So if that is not supposed to confuse the Norwegian kids or turn them away from the books, I don’t know why Priori Incantatem should…

  • Jayni D.

    You’re right, Lindsay, about the American versions of the books. I think the British-isms make the books that much more interesting. It would have made more sense to have a glossary at the back of the book for those Americans who don’t know things like ‘jumper’ in Britain is ‘sweater’ in North America. :^)

    Fortunately, Canadian versions are the same as the British editions.

  • pam

    What an interesting and inteligent discussion. You all brought up many ideas that had not occurred to me.

  • Kacky Snorgle

    Responding rather late to Torill’s remarks on Seamus…. I’m American rather than British, but even though I speak English I had the same confusion at first. To my ear, “Seamus” and “Finnigan” are just normal American names. I didn’t make the connection at first that the character was supposed to be Irish–I’ve known people named Seamus or Shamus who weren’t of Irish descent.

    In that sense, the translations of the ethnic names may be somewhat sensible, at least by American standards (I don’t know if it’s different in the UK). It’s unlikely that you’ll find, in America, someone named Cho who’s not Asian, or someone named Parvati who’s not Indian, or someone named Fleur who’s not French–those names aren’t often used by anyone except the ethnic groups that originated them. But it’s quite likely that you’ll find a Seamus who’s not Irish; the name is in common use here. So Seamus’s name *doesn’t* mark him as ethnic or foreign, whereas Cho’s and Parvati’s and Fleur’s do.

    I do agree with you, Torill, that it was a little silly for the Norwegian translators to change all the common British names to common Norwegian names. I’m just saying that they may have done the changing more logically than than you’ve given them credit for. Perhaps it would’ve been more sensible still if they’d moved Privet Drive, Hogwarts, &c. to Norway as well–but I’m not sure they could’ve gotten away with that! 🙂

  • Riveting conversation, here. It would be interesting to note, however, that the Japanese language versions of the books use transcriptions of all the English names into katakana. For spells, on the other hand, both transcription and translation are used in some cases. In this case, the translator does not worry about confusion in names at all. It might have to do with the fact that the Japanese are much more open to foreign influence than some nations, but I would think that there are enough important political figures and celebrities from English-speaking countries who are well-known worldwide for children in many countries to not stumble over the names in Rowling’s books.

  • Torill

    Kacky Snorgle – yes, it is very likely that the translator didn’t get that Seamus was supposed to be Irish and was therefore regretting his translation of the name when GoF came out. But then of course, it would be too late to change it. As was said above, this, too, is a small hint that translators do not get any privileged information from Jo, so we cannot take the change of the RAB initials in translations as any sort of clue. In fact, the Norwegian translator said in an interview on tv that he got no help at all from Jo or her publishers with the translation job, and can never start the translation before the book is out in the shops.

    Yes, things would have been more logical where names are concerned, if he had moved the whole of Harry’s magical society to Norway – placed the Leaky Cauldron in a street in Oslo, and Hogwarts in the Dovre mountains – but as you say, I doubt he would have gotten away with that!!!! Since there are significant differences between Norwegian and British culture, he would have run into other difficulties – like the lack of a boarding shcool system in Norway….

  • Bandersnatch

    The lack of a boarding school system in Norway for Muggles… but wizards have been using one since the year 394. Didn’t you know? 😛

  • Rachel

    Hi Lisa- I have a French Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in front of me. What names do you want?

  • Torill

    LOL Bandersnatch!

  • Templeton

    If any of you happen to own a Chinese edition of the book, what was R.A.B. translated as? Because in Chinese there aren’t initials or anything.

  • That doesn’t mean that they don’t know what letters are. It was probably just translated as is, and, if the translator picked up on the hint, given a footnote, as is common with Chinese translations of the books.

  • Anna L. Black

    The Russian translation of the first 4 books was completely horrible – moreover, it was done by a few different translators, who didn’t bother to keep up with their predecessors’ work. Luckily (for me), I’ve only read bits of the first book in Russian, but there’s a great site (only in Russian…) that lists most of the places where the translation has nothing to do with the original – click here. Some of the examples look like they were translated literally, word for word, and the result has absolutely no connection to what Rowling meant to say.

    One simple example of this lost meaning: In COS, when Binns is lecturing them, and students start interrupting with questions about the chamber, Binns keeps forgetting the students’ names. But in the translation, his “Miss Grant?” is translated back to “Yes, Miss Granger?”. On the other hand, “Nonsense, O’Flaherty” was kept as it was.
    Another example – the word “House” (as in Gryffindor House) was translated through most of the book as “Faculty”. But there’s a place where it suddenly becomes “College”. Can’t you even stick with your own translation??
    Oh, and Seamus’s name wasn’t translated, but they transliterated it in a way that lost it’s “Irishism” – it’s pronounced as Seemus, not Shaymus (I don’t really know how to write it proprerly, I hope you get my meaning…)
    And, in the GOF translation, there are a lot of characters that have two names – Longbottom is Longbottom in some places, but Dolgopups (A translation of long+bottom) in others; so are Weatherby, Moody, Slytherin, Pigwidgeon, SPEW……

    This site was last updated before OOTP, and OOTP was, again, translated by a different person, so maybe the last 2 books weren’t that awful, I don’t know…..

    Anyway, not to be so pessimistic, the Hebrew translation is actually quite good. Of course, some of the jokes are difficult to reproduce in a translation, but, for example, the “Can I see Uranus too, Lavender?” joke was translated, which is something really difficult to do, IMO.
    Another example of good translation – a dementor was translated as “Soharsan”. “Sohar” is a prison, “Harsani” is destructive. “A destructive prison-guard” is quite a fitting description 🙂 And most of the names were kept, the only ones that got translated were those that had some special meaning which was better conveyed by translating them (mostly names of people who wrote the school books…).

  • Torill

    Oh that sounds really awful, Anna – different translators not bothering to check what their predecessor did, and even having two different translations of the same name in the same book! If that had happened in the Norwegian translation, I think I might have been tempted to buy a gun – and that is coming from an almost-pacifist, lol.

    Too obvious the Russian publisher is viewing the Potter series as nothing but a money machine: translate it fast, get it on the shelves in the bookstores NOW, who cares about quality – too sad….

    “Destructive prison guard” – not too bad, no. But it does miss the point of what these foul creatures do to your mind…that is the worst about the dementors, isn’t it, that they make you demented if you are exposed to them long enough. The Norwegian translator changed it from Dementor to Desperant – desperate is about the same word in Norwegian as it is in English. This was not the worst of what he did – but as “demented” translates directly into “dement” in Norwegian, I do not understand why he needed to translate the term at all.. Oh well, I will never understand how the mind of that man works….

  • Sandra

    Wow, that sounds really bad. I’m glad I’m not a Russian kid who can only read the Russian translation! Is Harry Potter popular in Russia anyway? I can image that a horrible translation can ruin reading-pleasure ;).
    The joke about Uranus was also translated into Dutch. If I remember correctly it was something like: Lavender: “Oh, Professor I’ve got an unknown heavenly body.” Ron: “Can I take a look at your heavenly body too?”

  • Reader2

    Thank you for the link to Russian transaltions.
    I’ve just had myslef a good laugh.
    Russian happens to be my first language, but I was lucky enough to have read “Harry Potter” books in English.
    I sure didn’t know what I was missing with the Ruassian translations.
    Human stupidity endeed has no limits.

  • Clock_Maker

    These list are quite interesting 🙂

  • Woofer

    I have only read GoF in Chinese (because the English version was taking too long to ship) and was HORRIFIED at the translators’ job. It was kinda like what Anna L. Black described: “it was done by a few different translators, who didn’t bother to keep up with their predecessors’ work…Some of the examples look like they were translated literally, word for word, and the result has absolutely no connection to what Rowling meant to say.” Yeah, but the Chinese translators were kind enough to through in handfuls of footnotes.(though it’s never the same is it?)

    Another thing I hate about the Chinese version is that lots of names were translated (strictly) phonetically, which is a bad idea because perfectly normal names turn out twice as long as names would usually be, and very shred of meaning would be stripped from them. Some names are just plain gibberish…no wonder Chinese kids constantly refer to certain events to make it clear who they’re talking about(Cedric Diggory! SAI-DE-LI-KE DI-GE-LI. No? The one who got killed in the graveyard). Personally I think the Taiwan version did a better job.

  • fanny

    just a quick note defending translators; my mum was once upon a time translating some horrible horse-bording school books from English to Swedish, and the publisher’s forced her to change names, because they though the books wouldn’t sell as well with ‘foreign’ names, the kids wouldn’t identify with them. not that there’s been much to worry about HP selling.

    also, out of interest, how did translators get round the “I am Lord Voldemort” re-arranging of letters? the swedish one has changed his names a bit and had him spell it out in Latin.