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Situation:

My main character is born and raised in a foreign, non-English speaking country. After his 18th birthday he moves due to some circumstances in Great Britain, learns the language and lives there.

My book is written in the language of that non-English speaking country, but after I move him to Britain I need to use some English names.

Problem:

After the character moves to Britain I continue writing in the non-English language, quotes, dialogues, everything, but when I need to translate English names to that language they sound weird.

So should I leave it and use English names instead of translating?

Example:

The character is from the Czech Republic, has moved to Great Britain and is living there.

"Crown wants to speak with you."

"Crown" is an English name, and will be OK in English.

The Czech translation is:

"Koruna s tebou chce mluvit."

But this sounds weird, because "Koruna" means "crown of a king" for example, or more generally is used for the smallest piece of currency.

Should I use:

"Crown s tebou chce mluvit."

Where it is OK, because it is a name and it looks like a name?

  • 1
    'Crown' is not at all an English given name. What English person has a name like that? – Mitch Aug 18 '15 at 15:31
  • Why do you feel you need to translate the names at all? – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 18 '15 at 16:18
  • Because of origin language of my book. – Ernedar Aug 19 '15 at 6:18
  • Crown seems odd to us for the same reason Koruna is odd to you. Most English names come from other languages and their meanings are often unknown to the bearer. Christopher, for example, means soldier of Christ, but no one would translate that by using its meaning - soldier of Christ - but find the equivalent. Christoph, Kris, etc. Use a name that means crown, but not the actual noun. – Rasdashan Jan 22 at 2:47
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In English, proper names are generally not translated, because usually the meaning is not important --what is important is that it is the name of the character. Many common English names have no definition (at least not one that would be known to the average English speaker) and even when a name has a meaning, the meaning is usually irrelevant.

Occasionally, however, the author of a translated work will give the character a name where the meaning is significant. Even in this case, however, the translator often opts to stick with the untranslated name. For instance, in Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru..., several important characters have names that incorporate colors. The English translator opted to translate each name only once, and then stick with the untranslated name throughout the rest of the book.

On the other hand, occasionally a book is translated from a language or culture where names typically have meanings that are significant. In that case, the names probably should be used in translation, since the meaning is important. In any case, you'll probably want to stick to whatever the convention is in your home language, since that might differ from the English convention.

7

The answer here would depend on the convention in Czech, and not about English.

In English, names do not normally have obvious meanings. When a name is also a common word, we usually have a certain amount of mental dissonance to keep the two meanings separate. Like if you told me, "I saw an old-fashioned black smith at the fair", I'd understand "smith" to mean "a person who makes things out of metal". But if you said, "I saw your old friend Bill Smith at the fair", the idea of a smith as a metal-worker probably wouldn't even occur to me. I'd just think of it as a name.

I don't know how names work in Czech, if they tend to be abstract sounds with no particular meaning as in English, or if they have specific meanings. Your example would indicate that you don't expect names to have inherent meaning. In that case, I wouldn't try to translate the meaning of English names. I'd just transliterate the sound.

BTW "Crown wants to speak to you" sounded weird to me right off, because I've never heard of someone named "Crown". If you had said, "Mr King wants to speak to you", I would have thought nothing of it.

  • "Crown" could be a surname and used in the way school boys tend to do it: addressing or referring to each other by surname only?! – I'm with Monica Sep 28 '17 at 14:28
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    @AlexanderKosubek Yes, absolutely. I guess I was unclear. Yes, I'd assume that "Crown" is the person's last name. I was just saying that it sounds odd to me because I've never heard of someone with a last name of "Crown", and as it is an ordinary English word for the thing a king wears on his head, it could lead to some momentary confusion. If someone said, "Smith wants to speak to you", I'd immediately think a person named Smith and the idea of a black smith would probably not even come to my mind. – Jay Sep 28 '17 at 17:17
  • You are right, of course, "Crown" made me trip, too. And "Smith" probably wouldn't have, even though I already was aware of at least one person named "Crown" (though that seems to have been an assumed name, as Wikipedia just taught me). Just shows, again, that we are hard-wired for detecting outliers, but without an inherent sense for statistics. If characters are all named "Smith", "Miller", "Jones", etc., everything is fine. But a couple of "Butterworths" may already seem implausible. – I'm with Monica Sep 29 '17 at 6:45
  • @AlexanderKosubek It occurs to me that if you wrote, "Mr Crown wants to speak to you" or "Fred Crown wants ...", that you're pretty clearly presenting it as a name and not the ordinary noun. I might still think it an unusual name, but I would be unlikely to be confused. – Jay Apr 12 at 13:32
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What happens in real life in England may be instructive: Sometimes people anglicise their names and sometimes they don't. Additionally, sometimes they just anglicise the pronunciation, leaving the spelling the same. For example, a student I know is called Piotr. He tells everyone to just call him 'Peter'. Usually, if people can make a fair attempt at pronouncing it without changing it, it is left. So, for example, French names are not changed.

4

Use the English form. It will increase the sense of dislocation your character is experiencing (if this is what you're going for).

You could draw attention to names using an English salutation (Mr, Miss, Mrs, Dr, and so on) which helps convey a sense of being in another place. If your characters don't speak this way, the narrator or voice of your novel could use these forms instead, in contrast with the speech of your characters.

I write this as an English speaker. My observations are based on writing set in other countries using, for instance, Spanish salutations which are familiar to me, although I don't speak that language.

3

You should use their actual, English name. Either written in the Latin alphabet if that will be understandable to your readers, or spelled as closely as possible in the native alphabet.

People's names do not change just because you are speaking another language. If a person is named 'Nick', he would be confused and annoyed if people in Germany started calling him 'Scharte' (unless they were friends and it was a nickname).

Now if the characters do not have standard British names, that is also possible. Parents give their children non-local names; because they are old family names, because they think they sound cool, etc. But you will want to use that sparingly, or it will hurt your suspension of disbelief, particularly with readers who are familiar with the foreign culture you are writing about.

2

The answer is "Yes It Can."

It doesn't matter what language you are writing in. As long as your readers can understand the name you used is in fact a name, then it's generally fine unless your language has specific conventions and policies saying otherwise. If I am reading a book about Japan and the characters are all named Alice, Bob, Chris, Dillon, etc., I'd have a hard time feeling immersed since those names aren't common there. A case could be made for Alice (Arisu) and Chris (Kurisu), but it'd be a stretch when all the names are in English.

Some things to keep in mind, though, are the demographics of the specific area you are working with. Different neighborhoods in Britain have different demographics and different schools do too. Try to research what cultures would be prominent in the area you are working with and try to pull names from each of them. London, for example, is quite multicultural and in Newham for example, white people would be somewhat rare, but Asian people would be more common. You'd have to do specific research into Newham's demographics to see what the breakdown by individual cultures (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.) would be and can pull names from those cultures as well which can add to the realism if you take those extra steps.

But that's just a thought.

Side Note: I have never heard of "Crown" as a given name, only a surname, and even then it was Crowne. I do not know if in England it is a name or if you used a popular convention of turning Surnames into given names or making English-sounding names despite the lack of usage. Either way is fine, but be sure your audience can recognize that it is in fact a name.

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