· Posted: 5 Jan 2015 13:41 · Edited by: Moderator
Hello fellow Tintinologists.
I have just applied for membership, and before anything else, I request your leniency: as a francophone, and although I truly enjoy communication in English, I must be excused for possible language imperfections or even mistakes. Please do not spare any remark in that respect, especially if I could not make myself clear. By the way, I have just used the word "tintinologist" with its Greek origin in mind (not its technical meaning: people who like to talk seriously about Tintin – which does not exclude humor and fun, of course!
Now, about that name, Tintin.
I do not remember reading anything about Hergé commenting his choice, but I remember that when I discovered the character – I was five (that was sixty years ago) –, it was a friendly nickname which could still be heard in real life, at least in northern France where I lived (Belgium was only a few minutes away), and that made me perceive the character as the friend next door, whom you don't always know by his complete name. Later I realized, from travels, readings and films, that the nickname has been used by francophones rather widely, even in southern France. There might be a linguistic explanation, if I am not too technical or pedantic: in French, there is none or little tonic accent, and when there is one, it is on the last syllable (with the exception of those based on a silent "e", in most parts). When coining nicknames, one of the tricks (among others) would be picking that last stressed syllable, and doubling it for both sonority and fun: so Bernard generated Nanar, Henri Riri, Victor Totor (a Hergean prototype), Albert or Robert Béber (by the way, this one was Arabized by Hergé in Cigars as Beh-Behr, very well redone in English as Ali-Bhai, an occurrence of Tintin having to rename himself), Émile Mimile, etc. As for "-tin" endings (many of them diminutives), Martin has already been mentioned, but there were also Albertin, Aubertin, Augustin, Baptistin, Célestin, Christin, Clémentin, Constantin, Corentin, Fantin, Faustin, Florentin, Justin, Léontin, Quentin, Valentin (most common ones in bold). Almost all of those first names are too old fashioned, nowadays, and the context of rural or working-class communities which would favor such nicknaming has changed too much and switched to other sources of inspiration: the consequence is that, over the past fifty years, as Tintin became at least as famous as De Gaulle (according to the latter himself), the name became the sole property of the paper hero. The former nickname has disappeared, and strangely enough, the hero's fame generated it back with new meanings, some of them almost derogatory: calling somebody "Tintin" is pointing him out as dynamic and adventurous, but sometimes in a simplistic and naïve way (for instance, Pierre Assouline, who once wrote a very good biography of Hergé, recently mocked Alexandre Jardin, another writer who had denounced the collaborationist past of his own family, by calling him "Tintin au pays des collabos". Whatever its relevance, this attack literally gives Tintin a bad name.
The possible influence of Benjamin Rabier's earlier character Tintin Lutin has already been mentioned. What can be added at this point is that Rabier had used the popular nickname rather as a mock first name, with a rhyming last name and/or nickname (implying small size, swiftness and... malice, which does not suit Hergé's Tintin).
Another language aspect has to be mentioned: apart from being a nickname, "tintin" was a French colloquial word which spoke for itself, an onomatopoeic transcription of a tinkling bell. The funny side of it may have had a part in the use of the nickname, although it could also make it less friendly: a "cloche" (French for bell) is, figuratively, a hollow skull, just good enough to make noise with its clapper (that would be the tongue, or maybe a nutlike brain). The word survived until the XXth century in such expressions as "Tintin!" or "faire tintin", which meant being deprived of something expected, getting nothing (One can only guess a connection with a tinkling sound: was it linked to the loss of a stray cow?). Some "tintinologues" have hinted that Hergé might have had that in mind, consciously or not, to name his character, not in a negative way, but to create a face, mainly, which was made from almost nothing (a circle, two dots, four lines), and so would welcome identification from the readers, especially young ones. A bit far-fetched, isn't it? Thompson would say; or to be precise, Thomson would add: a bat fir-perched!
More significantly, I suppose, the character's name remained reduced to a nickname for the same reasons. No first name, no last name, no family, no lineage, the boy from nowhere and everywhere: the reader again. Besides, I was extremely disappointed when Haddock's first name was revealed (?) in Picaros: I felt that the addition brutally shrank the character, and I was glad he rejected it (after all, strangely, Tintin did not sound so sure himself!). Tryphon Tournesol's case is more complex.
And now, after these few considerations about the status of Tintin's in French, how about exploring Milou's case? It would certainly have more to say than its cute but shallow (except in Tibet, of course) English substitute.
Greetings from France.
Jean-Luc Dewez, retired professor.