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Translation of Tintin character names?

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#11 · Posted: 17 Jan 2009 21:33
Hmm... “Foundering” and “weighing anchor” are definitely okay in a maritime setting, and are probably still used for that today, so I’m not sure that there is a class bias as such - but I think you’re quite right that Methuen books, and The Eagle come to that, were aimed at the middle classes.

On the subject of names, a dog such as Snowy would easily be called something like that in Britain, so it isn’t a bad fit (and certainly no worse than Bobbie); that Hergé then incorporated it years later into Tibet suggests he liked it too.

I’ve never thought of the names that Hergé used as particularly subtle; naming a scientist “Halambique” and a sailor after a fish set the trend, and I think the English translators came up with suitably baroque names in the Hergé tradition.

I do like the joke of Dr Patella the osteologist at Sprodj, and Puschov in The Black Island sounds right too.

I’m not certain of the implications of the “Séraphin Lampion” name in the original (an angelic little lamp?), but I think Jolyon Wagg is a brilliant addition to the character; a slightly pretentious form of “Julian”, for a character who is neither truly jolly or waggish, although he’d like to think that he was. I understand that pomposity was what Hergé was aiming for, and the English name gets it just right.
#12 · Posted: 17 Jan 2009 23:57 · Edited by: Balthazar
I think you're quite right that Methuen books, and The Eagle come to that, were aimed at the middle classes.

Only in terms of cover price, surely? I don't think any good publisher or children's author would think that "sophisticated" vocabulary was only to be reserved for child readers of a certain class or education and deliberately adapt the writing style to target a certain sociological sector of the population, the way newspaper publishers do.

I agree that the transator's decision to put "weigh the anchor", rather than choosing a more bland, direct translation of the French phrase, makes a convincing piece of nautical-speak on behalf of Haddock. That's surely a good piece of proper literary translation, and the Methuen translation in use today also goes with the "weigh the anchor" phrase.

However, I can't find the word "'foundered" in the current edition in relation to the Unicorn. If you're refering to the summary newspaper article near the start of Red Rackham's Treasure, nicbunch, the current edition simply uses the word "sunk". This is probably because "foundered" would actually be incorrect here, as it means to sink after flooding with water, which hardly describes the explosive way in which the Unicorn met her end. So it looks like the first translators' desire to use a more nautical-sounding term in this case led them to make an error.

Anyway, back to the topic of names, to me a blunderbuss sounds more like a metaphor for Captain Haddock's explosive character than Calculus's (later-book tantrums aside). I guess it shows how subjective these things are. I'm with Jock in thinking Cuthbert Calculus works well, but I suppose that might be because as a child I didn't know the word Calculus as a mathematical term, only as the name for the Tintin character.

And I agree that the name Jolyon Wagg is a brilliant bit of invention by the Engish translators.
#13 · Posted: 18 Jan 2009 00:02 · Edited by: Amilah
Lampion is actually a little paper lantern, used at feasts. Seraphin indeed is angelic, but also with an idea of thin and gracious, I think. Herge said he wanted something "plump" and "flabby". He had first thought of Seraphin Crampon ("cramp/clamp", we use it to call clingy people), but judged it "too explicit" and "too hard".

Another thing I just realised about Tournesol, when reading the portugese word for it, is how it also evocated sun and rotation. Which indirectly adds some Copernic/Galileo flavor to it. Really nice find, that name.

I also love the first name, Tryphon, that brings me images of typhoons (there's something passionate in that guy) - and a bit of "tritons" ("newts") too, but mostly now that I'm obsessed with Gussie Fink-Nottle, which wasn't the case at the time.

as a child I didn't know the word Calculus as a mathematical term, only as the name for the Tintin character.

Similarly, I hadn't heard of haddocks until quite recently. I still can't believe it means something. I feel cheated.
#14 · Posted: 18 Jan 2009 00:40 · Edited by: Balthazar
Similarly, I hadn't heard of haddocks until quite recently. I still can't believe it means something. I feel cheated.

It's a very well known fish here in the UK, often served battered in fish-and-chip shops. However, like cod, it's been badly over-fished, so in twenty years' time the word haddock may have become as obscure as the name of any other extinct sea-creature, and even British readers will only know "Haddock" as the name of a Tintin character.

...but mostly now that I'm obsessed with Gussie Fink-Nottle...

If we're agreed that the art of coming up a fictional name is often to find a word which evokes the character, without sounding too obviously like a real word, then PG Wodehouse was surely one of the great masters of this. It's good to know there are fellow Wodehouse fans on the forum.

Do you know if Wodehouse's books were widely translated into French and other languages and, if so, how free his translators were with his character names? It'd be an interesting reverse comparison this topic.
#15 · Posted: 18 Jan 2009 01:14 · Edited by: Amilah
Yes, so far I've only read Wodehouse in French. The translation quality vary (or maybe I become more critical as I grow up), but the first ones were efficient enough to make me a fan. And the names are always kept intact. Which is great.

The Hobbit
is the only book I've read in English, and precisely because Tolkien's French translations are a scandal (missing paragraphs, misleading mis-translations, an unbelievable mess, well documented on the internet). One annoying thing with the Lord of the Rings is the translation of names : Bilbo becomes Bilbon, Frodo becomes Frodon, Baggins becomes Saquet, etc. Most of times you can guess the "false good idea" behind these changes, saving at times the meaning (saquet is sac/bag+diminutive, samsagace is sam+sagace/cunning) and at times the sounding (gamegie for gamgee, touque for took). I suppose the Bilbon thing is to make a parallel with Platon (Plato). It drives me a bit crazy. Of course, it has become the official translation, and was used for the movies too.

It's, as far as I know, the worst example of translation from English to French.

I'm trying to think of other works that could have raised name-translations issues. I should check the French version of Watchmen some day. I think they translated "The Comedian" as "le Comedien", which annoys me a bit - it just means "the Actor" in French, and would maybe be better translated as "le Comique" to convey the sinister expected-to-be-funny aspect of the name.

As I said, I'm impressed by the work they've done on Asterix, in English at least.
But I wonder how they translated the Spirou characters (is Champignac still Champignac?).
#16 · Posted: 18 Jan 2009 08:21
Yes, I agree with Jock123 that it probably wasn't consciously Middle Class and indeed am ashamed to have fallen into modernspeak and PR ways of thinking. Nevertheless, I do think the language was expecting a reasonably educated audience, as was the Eagle. Unlike the Valiant, for instance, whose original translation of Asterix was 'Little Fred, The Ancient Brit with Bags of Grit.'
#17 · Posted: 18 Jan 2009 14:35 · Edited by: jock123
I should check the french version of Watchmen, some day.

There have been two translations into French, the original version over which Moore and Gibbons had no control, and a second one published by Zenda.

The original translation is apparently pretty bad: in his book Watching the Watchmen, Dave Gibbons notes that in a nuclear “first strike” situation, “strike” was translated as “industrial action” – presumably “greve” – which made “nonsense of the whole scene”.

The second has translation by Jean-Patrick Manchette, whom Gibbons describes as “a well respected translator and crime novelist”, and the father of Doug Headline, who with Jacques Collin published the Zenda version. As this French version was very much a labour of love, and prepared with the full cooperation of Moore and Gibbons, it is probably as authoritive as it can get.

I did have a copy of the six-part Zenda adaptation somewhere at one time, but goodness knows where it went, so I can't check if this is the one with “Le Comedien”, but if it is then I’d guess that it was much discussed, and may reflect yet another layer of Moore’s multiple meanings - perhaps he liked the fact that The Comedian only plays the part of his name, and never actually “owns” the rôle - a subtlty you wouldn’t get in the original? Gibbons is also apparently a bit of a linguist (he makes an interesting story out of a serendipitous discovery of a Latin name, which he recognized at once while flicking through a reference book), so I don’t think much happened by accident. But I digress, and shouldn’t run off topic, so apologies.

Only in terms of cover price, surely? I don't think any good publisher or children's author would think that "sophisticated" vocabulary was only to be reserved for child readers of a certain class or education

Well, fair point, and a valid one; however in a time when the working classes were going off to work at fourteen and there probably wasn’t the wherewithall to buy many books, it probably came to about the same thing anyway?

Thanks for the clarification of “foundered”, though - that was a nuance I didn’t know, and if pressed I might have thought it meant to run aground or something, so both equally wrong and inappropriate!

I also love the first name, Tryphon, that brings me images of typhoons (there's something passionate in that guy)

Typhoons, like blunderbusses, seem more like Haddock than Calculus; I would have thought the Greek scholar would have possibly been what Hergé was evoking – the father of the study of grammar and indeed of classifying defining what words mean, although the perhaps more direct route is to St. Tryphon, the patron saint of gardeners, given the penchant for flowers he later displays in Emerald
Unlike the Valiant, for instance, whose original translation of Asterix was 'Little Fred, The Ancient Brit with Bags of Grit.'

Fascinating - I didn’t know about this at all! It should be compared to the Beric the Briton version, discussed here.
#18 · Posted: 18 Jan 2009 16:06 · Edited by: Amilah
But I digress, and shouldn't run off topic, so apologies.

It's not that much off topic (out of sheer luck, I hadn't specified "Tintin names" in the title, and in any way it's interesting to compare the translation processes). It's in fact highly interesting, and might reconciliate me with the french version of Watchmen. And yes, Manchette is indeed a renowned popular writer in France.

Another interesting point raised in this thread is the level of vocabulary in Tintin stories. I am unable to judge the english version, but the french comics of that time had quite literary dialogues. People speak very "correctly", using tenses that aren't used in oral language but more in written language. It can sound a bit snobbish, but actually just makes these comics sound as books. Something similar can be felt in old movies : people spoke in a more theatrical and literary manner than today. It was less realistic but more artistic.

So, it's not that it was aimed at a specific class of the population. But it was part of the "educative" standards of a media that was often accused of dumbing down children. This hyper-correction lead to various kind of self-censorship (no girls) and external censorship (handguns erased from some Spirou albums), and the effort of adding educative content in stories, especially in the "journal de Tintin". Tintin characters, in french, all speak exagerately right, just because books must teach correct grammar and rich vocabulary to kids. In short : it was part of the early comic book's struggle for respectability. I find this style more charming, actually, than modern "plain language" books and comics, even tough it reaches slightly irritating levels in E.P Jacobs' Blake & Mortimer, when each slang or popular word used by crooks is surrounded with brackets.

Of course, given his own strict education and his own cultural level, Hergé would embrace this style and even contribute to imposing it as a standard (his own correspondance shows the same care and quality of writing). No comics today still use that "Tintin talk", and I believe it can be perceived as slightly pompous, affected, and old-fashioned by younger readers. But I had no idea this subtle aspect could be found in the English versions too.

As for Tryphon, I precisely like the fact it would be more "Haddock-esque" than "Calculus-ian" on first sight, it's part of the subtlety I see in these names (a bit supported by the fact Hergé would have judged "Crampon" too straightforward for Wagg/Lampion). According to the Sadoul interviews, the history behind it is simple though: Tryphon was the first name of a local carpenter (Tryphon Beckeart), and Hergé found it marvelous. Funnily enough, a young reader even guessed it, once, and had written to Hergé to ask him if he had been inspired by that carpenter.
#19 · Posted: 18 Jan 2009 18:09
Very interesting the way the conversation is going. Did you see The Economist article about Tintin on December 18th which had something to say on 'educative standards'. Happy to follow that up in another thread.
But back to names and translations:
In Red Rackham's Treasure there aren't many names but I can tell you what the Casterman English version gave to the few others that are in the story (are they the same in later editions?):
The escaped crook is Max Bird
Milou is Milou
The ancestor is Sir Francis Haddock
The journalist is Cooper of the Daily Echo
Moulinsart is Puckeridge Castle

Apologies if they are the same in later editions and/or you already knew it.
Just to finish off on language, more thoughts from someone ignorant of English editions except this 1952 version I have. Are these phrases later used by Haddock et al? -
'What asses we are' (Tintin)
'Dash it, a small pebble in my shoe' (Haddock)
'Shatter my Spanker' (the parrots)
'Old Noodle, Mustard Face' (language the parrots learnt from an earlier generation)
Mille Sabords! Des perroquets Gosh! (Tintin, then the parrots).
'Funk' the name the parrots call Haddock (Froussard)
'Freshwater Mariners', 'Freshwater swabs' (Haddock shouting at the parrots)
'Gosh, I say' (Haddock)
Great Scott (Tintin)
'Shiver my timbers' for 'Mille millions de mille sabords'
#20 · Posted: 18 Jan 2009 18:14
'Shatter my Spanker' is Tintin then the parrots
'Mille Sabords! Des perroquets' is translated as 'Gosh! parrots' (Thompson & Thompson)
Sorry for rushing the typing earlier

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