Web Translation Projects/Personal Names in Translation

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Personal Names in Translation[edit | edit source]

The project explores the topic of translating personal proper names, including first names, surnames and pseudonyms. Its main purpose is to identify and describe different translation strategies used in the translation of personal names, considering how various types of texts influence the decisions made by translators in this regard. The introductory part of the project gives a definition of proper names and presents the scholarly debate concerning whether they bear exclusively denotative, or both denotative and connotative meaning. It is followed by the presentation of ten strategies of translating personal names distinguished by Jan van Coillie. The analysis of challenges posed by personal names revolves around several types of texts, including non-fiction, fiction and children's literature. I discuss how the functions and recipients of respective genres determine the choice of translation strategies, and what advantages and disadvantages are entailed by the selected solutions. Each category is supplemented with a list of examples of proper names and their existing translations in the English-Polish language pair.

Definition of Personal Names[edit | edit source]

Proper Names[edit | edit source]

Personal names, along with e.g. geographical names, names of institutions and titles of books or films, constitute a subgroup of proper names. According to Matthews (1997), a proper name can be defined as "the name of a specific individual or of a set of individuals distinguished only by their having that name"[1]. Proper names are contrasted with common nouns, which refer to whole classes of entities and can be applied to any member of a given class.

In most languages, a distinction between proper names and common nouns is made through orthographic as well as morphosyntactic features ascribed to proper names. In English, these properties include: capitalization, not taking articles or restrictive modifiers, and – usually – being uninflected for number.

Personal Names[edit | edit source]

Although the form of personal names may differ significantly around the world, they are used as a means of singling out a person from other people in all cultures and societies. They fulfil the function of both reference and address. Under the label "personal names" we can distinguish first names, middle names, family names, as well as pseudonyms and nicknames. Van Langendonck (2007) presents a classification of this internally diversified group of proper names, proposing the following determinants as the basis of organisation: primary vs. secondary and official vs. unofficial. The outcome of his study is breaking the concept down into three categories:

  1. primary official personal names – first names and family names
  2. secondary official personal names – family names when used as individual names (Obama was a former president), pluralised family names used in reference to the whole family (the Obamas), and official identificatory epithets (e.g. the Second in the name of a king);
  3. secondary unofficial personal names – bynames (i.e. names given to a person by others), pseudonyms, Internet nicknames, etc. (i.e. names that one gives to oneself). (Unofficial names are secondary by nature, thus the category of primary unofficial names is not distinguished)[2].

Denotative and Connotative Meaning of Personal Names[edit | edit source]

Translation Challenges[edit | edit source]

Translation Strategies[edit | edit source]

Domestication and Fereignization[edit | edit source]

Jan Van Coillie's Translation Strategies[edit | edit source]

Van Coillie distinguishes ten techniques of translating personal names[3]. The methods presented and described in this section will be latter on applied to the discussion concerning selected examples.

  1. Non-translation – reproducing the original name; transferring it to the translated text in an identical, unmodified form.
  2. Non-translation + additional explanation – the translator keeps the original name, but decides to supplement it with some extra information, either in the text, or in footnotes. The strategy is suitable if the references attached to the name may not be understandable to the target reader on the basis of the name itself.
  3. Replacement by a common noun – applicable mostly in the case of minor characters/references when the emphasis is placed on the function, not individual traits, of a person; e.g. Adele – angielska piosenkarka.
  4. Phonetic or morphological adaptation – assumes modifying the form of the name so that it is more in accord with the pronunciation or spelling rules of the target language. Adaptation encompasses rewriting names between different alphabets as well as reproducing the sound of the original name with the use of letters of the target language.
  5. Replacement by a counterpart in the target language – the use of well-established, domesticated forms functioning in the target culture (exonyms); the strategy is possible in reference to common names (Joseph – Józef; Caroline – Karolina) and famous, existing figures (Aristotle – Arystoteles).
  6. Replacement by a more widely known name from the source culture or an internationally known name – refers to translating names of authentic people; the translator aims at keeping the “foreign feeling” of a name but at the same prioritizes its recognisability to the reader (e.g. Antoine Griezzman – Christiano Ronaldo).
  7. Substitution – replacement by a local name which is not connected to its original counterpart (e.g. Horton – Konstanty).
  8. Translation – refers to names which carry specific connotation. The translator reproduces the original connotative meaning, preserving the functions the name fulfils: the evoked image, emotion or humorous effect (e.g. White Which – Biała Czarownica).
  9. Replacement by a name with another or additional connotation – used when the translator recognizes the connotative meaning of the original name and wants to preserve the multidimensionality of the author’s choice; however, rendering the same connotation proves difficult or impossible in the target language (e.g. Cheshire Cat – Kot Dziwak).
  10. Deletion – omission of a name; possible only in the case of minor characters, especially when their name conveys some untranslatable puns or connotations.

Personal Names in Different Genres: Case Studies[edit | edit source]

Non-fiction[edit | edit source]

Adult Fiction[edit | edit source]

Pan Tadeusz[edit | edit source]

The table presents the names of characters from Pan Tadeusz - an epic poem written by Adam Mickiewicz in 1834, which is considered a classic of Polish Romanticism's literature. English counterparts come from the translation made by George Rapall Noyes.


(Adam Mickiewicz)


(George Rapall Noyes)

Tadeusz Soplica / Pan Tadeusz Thaddeus Soplica / Pan Tadeusz counterpart in the TL + non-translation /


Jacek Soplica Jacek Soplica non-translation
Sędzia Soplica Judge Soplica translation + non-translation
Telimena Telimena non-translation
Zosia / Zofia Zosia / Sophia non-translation / counterpart in the TL
Wojski Hreczecha Hreczecha, the Seneschal non translation + translation
Hrabia the Count translation
Gerwazy Rębajło Gerwazy Rembajlo adaptation
Jankiel Jankiel non-translation
Maciej Dobrzyński Maciej Dobrzynski adaptation
Ryków Rykov adaptation
Henryk Dąbrowski Henryk Dombrowski adaptation

Brave New World[edit | edit source]

Aldus Huxley's Brave New World (1932) is a dystopian novel, representative of the genre of speculative fiction, also called social science fiction. The book revolves around the topic of the clash between technology and nature constitute as well as ethical dillemas which stem from the prospective scientific progress.


(Aldous Huxley)


(Bogdan Baran)

Bernard Marx Bernard Marks adaptation
Helmholtz Watson Helmholtz Watson non-translation
Lenina Crowne Lenina Crowne non-translation
Mustapha Mond Mustafa Mond adaptation
Henry Foster Henryk Foster counterpart in the TL
John John non-translation
Linda Linda non-translation
the Director dyrektor translation
Popé Popé non-translation

Children's Fiction[edit | edit source]

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland[edit | edit source]

Written by Lewis Carroll and published in 1865, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is recognized as one of the most popular and multilayered children's books in the world. At the same time, the story of a young girl who falls down a rabbit-hole into a fantasy realm full of anthropomorphic characters and unusual events, actually crosses the boundries of children's literature, appealing to readers of all ages. In order to demonstrate how the translation of character names can influece the quenstion of dual audience, examples from two Polish translations - by Antoni Marianowicz and Robert Stiller - were juxtaposed in the table below.


(Antoni Marianowicz)


(Robert Stiller)

Alice Alicja counterpart in the TL Alicja counterpart in the TL
Little Bill Biś substitution Zbych substitution
Elsie, Lacie and Tillie Kasia, Jasia i Basia substitution Elsie, Lacie and Tillie non-translation
the Cheshire Cat Kot-Dziwak replacement by a name

with another connotation

Kot z Cheshire *translation
the March Hare Szarak bez Piątej Klepki translation (with more explicit


Zając Marcowy *translation
the Hatter Kapelusznik *translation Kapelusznik *translation
the Mock Turtle Niby Żółw translation Fałszywy Żółw translation

Horrid Henry[edit | edit source]

Horrid Henry is a children's book series by Francesca Simon, published since 1994. It follows the everyday life of an ill-mannered, 8-year-old boy, notorious for his nasty behaviour and smart, although disapproved by adults, ideas.


(Francesca Simon)


(Maria Makuch)

Horrid Henry Koszmarny Karolek translation + substitution
Perfect Peter Doskonały Damianek translation + substitution
Moody Margaret Wredna Wandzia translation + substitution
Sour Susan Jędzowata Jadzia translation + substitution
Rude Ralph Ordynarny Olo translation + substitution
Greedy Graham Chciwy Henio translation + substitution
Beefy Bert Muskularny Miecio translation + substitution
Miss Battle-Axe Pani Kat-Toporska translation + adaptation

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. Matthews, Peter (1997). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 300.
  2. Van Langendonck, Willy (2007). Theory and Typology of Given Names. Berlin [&] New York: Mouton de Gruyter, p. 187.
  3. Van Coillie, Jan (2014). “Character Names in Translation: A Functional Approach.” In: Childrens Literature in Translation. Challenges and Strategies. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 123-139.
  4. Mickiewicz, Adam (1834). Pan Tadeusz, czyli Ostatni zajazd na Litwie. Historja szlachecka z r. 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu księgach wierszem, Paris, polona.pl.
  5. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pan_Tadeusz
  6. https://archive.org/details/bravenewworld00huxl_1
  7. Huxley, Aldous. (1988). Nowy wspaniały świat. Translated by B. Baran. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie.
  8. Carroll, Lewis. (1998). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  9. Carroll, Lewis. (1955). Alicja w Krainie Czarów. Translated by A. Marianowicz, Warszawa: Nasza Księgarnia.
  10. Carroll, Lewis. (1990). Przygody Alicji w Krainie Czarów. Translated by R. Stiller, Warszawa: Lettrex.
  11. Simon, Francesa. (1994). Horrid Henry. London: Orion Publishing Group.
  12. Simon, Francesca. (2009). Koszmarny Karolek. Translated by M. Makuch. Kraków: Znak.