Every now and then, translation can pose some problems. Do you translate something literally or change the literal meaning to get more of the implication and flavour? What do you do when there is an obvious rhythm, rhyme, plosive structure that matters but can’t be carried across into English? How do you translate it when someone has been playing with their words? What do you do with names?
Usually, when translating into English I choose to keep the original name. I think that most of the people who are reading my subtitles could work out that, Zsuzsanna, for example, is the Hungarian spelling of Susanna. However, even if this is not the case I think that everyone could learn that when I write Zsuzsanna I am referring to a certain character or person.
However, with the musicals that I translate there are sometimes some additional difficulties with characters being well known or having more unusual character names. Der Tod, for example, is often used by English speaking fans of the musical Elisabeth to refer to the character himself. In Japanese the character is actually called “トート“, “Toto”, which is derived from his German character name. However, I hardly think that Der Tod’s mother named him that when he was born, and somewhere he probably has a perfectly ordinary name (like Brian), so it’s probably good practice to translate this to Death, in the musical. It’s more a descriptive title than a name.
So what about historical characters? Franz Joseph, for example, seems to appear in most English history books, that I have seen, as Francis Joseph. How should this be written? Quite frankly, it really annoys me to see him referred to as Francis so my choice here was selfish rather than based purely on logic. That said, it’s probably right to keep it in the original German, which is sometimes used in English anyway, especially when Franz Joseph is the name that was used by the Emperor and in the musical. He’s also not the most famous ruler in history – I was a history student and most of my classes hadn’t heard of him – so people are less likely to need to know who he is to enjoy the musical anyway.
However, it’s not always that simple. If I were to ask you to tell me about King Ludwig XVI you are unlikely to be able to tell me much about the gentleman I’m referring to. If I were to ask you about King Louis XVI you will probably be able to tell me a bit more, especially if I also said he was the husband of Marie Antoinette. It seems sensible, therefore, for me to choose to translate Ludwig back to its original French and away from the German version used in the musical of Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette herself is known by her French name (which is bizarre considering that, as an Austrian by birth, Maria Antonia’s original name wasGerman anyway) so I also feel there should be some continuity. All the same, I feel really bad deviating from my usual ‘use the name used in the play/musical/text’ resolution.
So here’s the question: Does the translation, or lack of translation, of names into English matter to you? Which do you prefer?
|Louis or Ludwig, Marie Antoinette or Maria Antonia, and does it really matter?|