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TRANSLATING PEOPLE’S NAMES




 

Anthroponyms are usually rendered through transcription or transliteration: Thomas Heywood – Томас Хейвуд, George Gordon Byron – Джордж Гордон Байрон. These days preference is given to transcription. (In the last century it was possible to see and hear Шакеспиаре – Shakespeare, Невтон – Newton.) In rendering names of living people, personal preferences should be taken into account. When Van Cliburn, the Tchaikovsky Contest first prize winner, came back to Moscow after a long absence, he was offended by the papers calling him Ван Клайберн, as he had become accustomed to being called in Russia Ван Клиберн.

Names of foreign origin, spelt in the Latin alphabet, are usually written in English in their original form: Beaumarchais, Aeschylus, Nietzsche, Dvořak. In Russian they are rendered mostly by their sound form, in transcription: Бомарше, Эсхил, Ницше, Дворжак. Some Renaissance and eighteenth-century figures adopted classical names which are then sometimes naturalized: Copernicus – Copernic – Коперник, Linnaeus – Linné – Линней.

Oriental names differ from English names in that the former given the family name first and then the person’s first name, whereas the latter normally use a person’s first name and only then the last (family) name. Thus the name of Mao Zedong (Мао Цзэдун) suggests that Mao is the family name and Zedong is the first name. Therefore, the courtesy title word ‘Mr/Ms’ should be added to the family name not to be mistaken with the first name. Most Chinese personal names use the official Chinese spelling system known as Pinyin.* The traditional spellings, however, are used for well-known deceased people such as Chou En-lai, Mao Tse-tung, Sun Yat-sen. Some Chinese have westernized their names, putting their given names or the initials for them first: P.Y. Chen, Jack Wang. In general it recommended following a preferred individual spelling.

As for Russian names, when the first name has a close phonetic equivalent in English, this equivalent is used in translating the name: Alexander Solzhenitsyn rather than Alexandr, the spelling that would result from a transliteration of the Russian letter into the English alphabet.150 For the last names, the English spelling that most closely approximates the pronunciation in Russian is used.

Some proper names are adapted to the translated language by adding or dropping female endings: Lizette – Лизетта; госпожа Иванова – Mrs. Ivanov. Feminine endings in Russian names are used only if the woman is not married or if she is known under that name (the ballerina Maya Plissetskaya). Otherwise, in the formal style the masculine forms are used: Raisa Gorbachev, not Raisa Gorbacheva.151 However, if an individual has a preference for a name with a feminine ending, the individual preference should be followed.

There are names, which when translated, sound bad in the target language (like the Russian family names of Факов, Вагина), it is desirable that the translator inform the person with such a name about possible negative associations and slightly change the name by adding or deleting a letter: e.g., Faikov, or Mrs. Waggin.

Russian names never end in -off, except for common mistranslations such as Rachmaninoff. Instead, the transliterations should end in -ov: Romanov.

The names of kings are of special interest, as they are traditional in form: King Charles – король Карл, King James – король Яков, King George – король Георг, King William – король Вильгельм, King Louis – король Людовик, King Henrie/Henry – король Генрих.

Of great help for a translator is Yermolovich’s dictionary of personal names, The English-Russian Who’s Who in Fact and Fiction.152

Transparent names (говорящие имена) pose a special problem. Peter Newmark, a well-known translation theorist, suggests the following procedure: “first to translate the word that underlies the source language proper name into the target language, and then to naturalize the translated word back into a new source language proper name – but normally only when the character’s name is not yet current amongst an educated target language readership.”153 For example, Michail Holman (1983) has done this effectively with characters from L. Tolstoy’s Resurrection: Nabatov → alarm → Alarmov; Toporov → axe → Hachitov; Khororshavka → pretty → Belle.

The same tactics can be employed in English to Russian translation. The names of E. Waugh’s and A. Huxley’s characters are translated into Russian: Miles Malpractice – Злопрактис, Mr. Chatterbox – г-н Таратор, Mr. Slum – г-н Хлам.

However, unfortunately, personal name connotations are often lost (remember Mr. Murdstone in Dickens’ David Copperfield – мистер Мердстоун). Tony Last in E. Waugh’s Vile Bodies is indeed the last honest and decent person, which is transparent in his surname. In transferring (Тони Ласт) this connotation is lost.

In case of such a loss, some translators tend to explain the loss in commentaries, but a number of critics consider commentaries to hinder text perception.

Another problem is with Russian second names. Unless particularly required by some documents, it is desirable to abbreviate patronymics to the first letter (Marina P. Ivanova), as it is difficult for foreigners to pronounce and is sometimes confused for a family name (especially Belorussian names like Pavlovich, Petrovich, etc.)

Besides patronymics, a proverbial problem for translators is Russian short first names that can have affectionate, patronizing or friendly overtones (Александр[а], Саша, Сашенька, Сашок, Сашка, Шура, Шурик, Шурочка, etc.) It is not recommended to retain the variations of the name referring to same character in the target language text.154

 


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