Proper names, the bane of translators. To translate or not to translate, that is the question. In most cases, the solution is quite simple – let’s say that you are translating a biography. You have the name, places that are real, with real names that have never been translated and you are not about to change that. But this situation changes drastically if the translator is dealing with the fantasy genre.

Professional solution to the problem

When it comes to fantasy genre, the work of a translator is not an easy one. All of those made up names, cities, countries, languages etc. that could hold a whole variety of different meanings. Sometimes, the solution is obvious. Let’s look at Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth”: one of the main characters, Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander, remains simply Zeddicus. There is no other way of translating his name because it exists only in this specific universe. Problem solved, right?

Not really. Let’s focus on the translations where proper names are a combination of two (or more) completely translatable, understandable words. The Harry Potter series, most probably a great challenge for  translators, is a great example of such translation. J.K. Rowling’s books are filled with such words, but because they are usually a combination of two elements with completely different meanings, they acquire a completely new one.

One such translator’s dilemma was definitely the word “Hogwarts”. Hogwarts consists of two words: “hog”  and “warts”. The translator had to decide whether to come up with a new word in Polish to translate the name of the school, to stay faithful to the original, or to try and translate the word in such a way that it would partially preserve the original meaning of both words it’s made of. In this case, the translator decided to leave the original word.

Localization of games and books

Books written on the basis of the “Warcraft” games are another great example. At the same time, they also show how much translation methods change with time. In the older books, proper names are translated rarely or not at all. The situation changes dramatically with the newer ones – if the possibility arises, they are translated to Polish, as literally as possible. In one of the books, “Illidan” by William King, names (and more) are translated no matter how bad they sound or look. Thus, the readers are introduced characters such as to “Maiev Pieśń Cienia” (a literal translation of Maiev Shadowsong). In other books we can stumble across such gems as Garosz Piekłorycz (Garrosh Hellscream), Genn Szarogrzywy (Greymane) or Sylvana Bieżywiatr (Sylvanas Windrunner).

In this situation, what choice does the translator have? What will  meet with the most positive reception by prospective readers? Personally, I would abandon the last technique, but every translator has their own methods (or author’s recommendations). Of course, it happens that linguists mix two or more techniques in their translations if they deem it possible or necessary.  There are always people who disagree with this method, but it is often the best solution. After all, “Hogwart” doesn’t need an upgrade, but “Krzywołap” sounds better in the minds of Polish readers than “Crookshanks”.

(translation: A. M.)

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