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The Intricacies of Onomastics in Harry Potter and its French Translation

Par Carole Mulliez : Professeur agrégée d'anglais - Université Paris IV
Publié par Clifford Armion le 16/11/2009

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To put it in a nutshell, here, I am going to consider two categories in the vast corpus of Rowling's proper nouns, namely character naming and place naming. I would like to show that not only do they point at one single instance but also that they are in keeping with the reference characteristics - or sometimes misleading - ; that they contain cultural echoes and plays on words; and that their sounds are also appropriate. To conclude I am going to underline how difficult it must have been for translators to find a satisfactory solution as a result.


There is no denying that there is more than meets the eye in a name or more exactly the idea that a name is a mere label is a mistaken one. There is food for thought in a proper noun and all the more so when it comes to character and place naming in the novel genre. Charles Dickens, for instance, fully mastered that aspect of fiction writing; and so did Roald Dahl to give but two examples that have given great enjoyment to many young - and adult - readers.

What I mean to do here is to explain and comment a similar case with the novels by J.K.Rowling - Harry Potter. She confessed that she is very keen on names but the words of a writer cannot be merely taken at their face value.

To put it in a nutshell, here, I am going to consider two categories in the vast corpus of Rowling's proper nouns, namely character naming and place naming. I would like to show that not only do they point at one single instance but also that they are in keeping with the reference characteristics - or sometimes misleading - ; that they contain cultural echoes and plays on words; and that their sounds are also appropriate. To conclude I am going to underline how difficult it must have been for translators to find a satisfactory solution as a result.

The Potterian characters and places have mostly been fittingly named because they are often alliterative, which adds to the poeticism of the writing, and/or because they etymologically and/or literarily contain cultural echoes and/or meanings which mostly depicts relevantly the characteristics of the referents. Julia Parks underlined this as follows:

Like Dickens, Rowling often names her characters onomatopoeically, also utilizing foreign associations and phonetics [...]. Names function as character tags, suggesting something of the characters' personality and demeanor. Snape snipes at his students, Malfoy is of bad faith, Filch is a sneaky fellow, and Quirrell is the quivering, frightened teacher who succombs to Voldemort's powers. Lupin is, appropriately, a werewolf. ((Reading Harry Potter: critical essays / ed. by Gizelle Liza Anatol.  Westport; London: Praeger, 2003. Article de Julia Parks: Class and Socioeconomic Identity in Harry Potter's England, p.183))

I) Characters

1.1 Alliterative names

Alliterations especially prevail in the field of second-rank characters as for instance Parvati Patil - a pupil - or Rowena Ravenclaw - one of the four school founders. But this is also true about other proper nouns such as those referring to sweets such as Ton-Tongue Toffees, sport teams such as the Holyhead Harpies, statues and portraits such as Barnabas the Barmy, shops such as Borgin and Burkes, ghosts such as Moaning Myrtle or joke items such as Fanged Frisbees, which are mostly consistent with the bearer and literally humorous too. For example, the Dark Magic item store reads closely to 'boring and a berk', entailing a deprecating judgment.  Another instance could be the name 'Quidditch' - the wizards' most popular team game - which is also fairly musical and appropriate as it rhymes with the 'pitch'. Besides it could be a smart anagram based on letters from the names of the three balls - Quaffle, Bludger and Snitch.

However alliterations may also once so often prevail among protagonists. One key phoneme that has been commented upon is the /h/. Indeed the characters of Harry, Hermione, Hagrid, Hedwig together with crucial places such as Hogwarts and Hogsmeade as well as objects fundamental to the denouement of the story, namely the Horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows, all ring unanimously so as to refer to traditional wizardry in English as Miranda Moore has pointed it out (("The translatability of 'Harry Potter'", Miranda Moore, Linguist, vol.39, n°6, pp.176-177, 2000 Rowling refines the illusion of old English wizardry with an integral alliteration of h's - Hagrid', Hermione', Hogwarts', Harry', Hedwig' - long associated with the wizarding world.)). Within the threesome group of young friends, Ron may seem to be the odd man out. And yet there is also a concatenation of phonemes - /H-R-N/ - with those names that might well mimic the friendship that unites the three characters.

1.2 Names and etymology

Etymologically a name brings back to minds the culture of a specific geographical area. The Potterian names are mostly British but they happen, for some, to be also etymologically - be it conspicuous or more craftily embedded in its history - French (Voldemort, Delacour, Lestrange), Irish (Brian, Seamus Finnigan), Scottish (McGonagall, St Mungo), East European (Gregorovitch, Karkaroff), German (Fred, Bode, Durmstrang), Scandinavian (Skeeter), South European (Salazar, Dolores), Asian (Padma Patil, Cho Chang), Greek (Agatha, Basil, Gregory, Marge) and Latin (Agnes, Nigellus, Severus, Ludovic). What is more, for key characters, the etymology is often in keeping not only with the nationality but also with the meaning of its root. To give here but one example, Ludovic (Bagman) refers to games and playing and its bearer is in charge of the Department of Magical Sports and Games.

1.3 Names and intertextuality

There are fitting literary echoes too. A list could comprise references to well-known authors such as J.R.R.Tolkien (Longbottom, Wormtail in Lord of the Rings), William Shakespeare (Hermione in The Winter's Tale, Marvolo in Twelth Night, Miranda in The Tempest, the Weird Sisters in Macbeth), Charles Dickens (Crookshanks after the novelist's illustrator, George Cruikshank), Thomas Hardy (Dumbledore and Hagrid in The Mayor of Casterbridge), Muriel Spark (Gaunt, Lockhart in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), Jane Austen (Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park), Walter Scott (Cedric, Rowena in Ivanhoe), Rudyard Kipling (Nagini), Anthony Burgess (Millicent in A Clockwork Orange).

To be comprehensive one should add the numerous echoes to Greek and Latin mythology with astrology (Andromeda, Alphard, Sirius, Narcissa, Bellatrix, Callisto), gods and goddesses (Alastor, Artemis, Doris, Hermes, Hestia, Janus, Mars [Marcus], Minerva, Mulciber, Nymphadora, Proteus, Scamander, Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn, Venus) and creatures and characters (Argus, Cassandra, Circe, Centaur, Chimaera, Dedalus, Ganymede, Griffin, Hippogriff, Hippocampus, Merpeople, Olympe, Penelope, Phoenix, Remus, Sybill, Hector, Damocles, Galatea).

With these mythological innuendos, one can consider, for instance, Minerva McGonagall and Argus Filch. Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom while Rowling's character is famous for that quality; Argus is a Greek mythological giant with a hundred eyes while the Hogwarts' caretaker keeps his eyes open at all times too.

In fact as a rule of thumb, the literary echoes are relevant given that they weave a tight depicting web for characters. Let's take the authors mentioned above in chronological order with William Shakespeare (1564-1616) first, regardless of the importance of the characters in the narrative.

The reference to Shakespeare's Hermione might be appropriate in that both characters are virtuous and falsely accused - in the play, of being infidel to her husband, Leontes, in the novel, of being disloyal to her close friend, Harry, by the journalist, Rita Skeeter. It has, however, also been suggested to me that Hermione could remind readers of the creation of a later writer, D.H Lawrence (1885-1936) with his Hermione in Women in Love. It is true that both Hermiones are associated with knowledge and intellectual feats. And yet Lawrence's is seen to be unpleasantly and almost heartlessly highbrow, which is definitely not the case of Rowling's Hermione.

As to the echo between Shakespeare's Malvolio and Rowling's Marvolo, it may be slightly more tenuous except as a kind of antonymy since the former wishes to get the world rid of human sin while the latter is steeped in evil. Finally the two groups of Weird Sisters: both are witches, hence the consistency.

Next intertextuality occurs with Walter Scott (1775-1832). His Cedric and Rowena are depicted as noble fair-play Saxons, which also suits the idea that one may have of Rowling's characters. Indeed Rowena Ravenclaw is a fair noble intelligent Scottish Lady and Cedric Diggory is a handsome quiet and good student as well as a prefect. Besides his surname might be a later echo to C.S.Lewis (1898-1963). His Chronicles of Narnia - The Magician's Nephew - feature the character of Digory Kirke, while the story is also set in a school context. Therefore the subtle connection ensures a learned reader of Harry Potter will have a more rounded view of the young wizard.

The link with Jane Austen (1775-1817) with her novel Mansfield Park concerns a feline character, Mrs Norris, the school's caretaker's cat that has got acute senses in Harry Potter. In the former novel Fanny Price's Aunt Norris is a busy-body; and so is Rowling's cat. The intertextual thread confirms the main feature of the Potterian character, which is essential to a number of scenes in the novels.

Furthermore, chronologically, there are references to some nineteenth century's authors and first, still with animal characters, there is George Cruikshank (1792-1878). He was a caricaturist. Therefore the pictorial distortion may be a parallel to the crookedness of Hermione's cat's legs. Besides it is also heard in its very name (crook(ed) + shank/leg). The cultural reference and the sounds unite so as to point at the physical appearance of that cat. In the same field, there is the echo to Rudyard Kipling's Nag and Nagaina in his story "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi". Nag, Nagaina and Rowling's Nagini all refer to huge snakes. What is more, the names themselves derive from the Sanskrit for snake'. Consequently, etymology and literary reference combine to make of Rowling's human-like creature the spitted image of a snake in readers' minds.

As to the intertextuality with Thomas Hardy it should be obvious with the following quotations from the twentieth chapter of his novel: "One grievous failing of Elizabeth's was her occasional pretty and picturesque use of dialect words. [...] She no longer spoke of 'dumbledores' but of 'bumble bees' and 'When she had not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next morning that she had been 'hag-rid', but that she had 'suffered from indigestion'". Whether the reference to insects on the one hand and to hags on the other hand fits Rowling's characters may be deemed to be more questionable. And yet the quaint names that Rowling has chosen for the school's headmaster and for its keeper of the keys are very likely to find their source in Hardy's novels. The relevance is more mooted because the two characters are far less simply labelled than others.

Among those secondary characters that are more univocal and that enshrine literary echoes, there are Neville Longbottom, Millicent Bulstrode, Marvolo, Morfin and Merope Gaunt, and Gilderoy Lockhart. Incidentally it comes as no surprise that the three family members have first names starting with an /m/, which ratifies their blood relationship.

In Lord of the Rings, Longbottom is a village inhabited by a hobbit. He was the first one to grow a kind of pipeweed and one of its nicknames is the "Longbottom leaf". As Neville Longbottom is very proficient in Herbology the name applies very well to his character. As to Wormtail, Tolkien (1892-1973) uses 'wormtongue' in the same work.

Anthony Burgess (1917-1993), a contemporary of J.R.R.Tolkien, used the word 'millicent' as a slang word for a policeman in A Clockwork Orange. Rowling is likely to have had that reference in mind when she christened her character - Millicent Bulstrode is similarly described as a squarely built girl like a member of a squad.

As to Muriel Spark (1918-2006), she created characters whose surnames are Gaunt and Lockhart. Hence the references are more straightforward. Indeed Muriel Spark's Miss Lockhart teaches chemistry, which, by the way, should remind the Potter readers of Potions, one of the subjects wizards learn. Besides, both characters are tanned-faced and wavy-haired.

And yet Rowling asserted that she had found the name Lockhart on a monument to the dead and Gilderoy in the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It has also been said that it can be a reference to John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854) a Scottish writer, best remembered for his Life of Sir Walter Scott, which would be appropriate for a thief of biographies. And on top of all that the name can be literally deciphered as {gild(ed) roy(al) lock(ed) heart} as Valérie Doussaud did it in her PhD dissertation ((Doussaud, Valérie, Harry Potter :une écriture à secret(s)', thèse Paris X Nanterre, 2008, p.168, tome 1)) This interpretation is also in keeping with Rowling's character. Thus with this example, one may clearly see that Rowling's names can be extremely complex in their in-depth connotations and allusions.

1.4 Names and cultural references

Next, there are also references to British folklore and history. For instance some characters are named after the Arthurian legends, especially among the Weasleys (Arthur, Ron(ald), Percy/Percival). Another important example could be the name of Dumbledore's phoenix- Fawkes. In fact it bears the name of Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), one of the British Catholic conspirators who attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605. A phoenix is a legendary creature that has the unique ability of resurrecting from its ashes. As a result the cultural references that are embedded in the Potterian bird are intertwined by the fire image. What is more, all British people are well acquainted with the historical figure as many commemorate his failed attempt every 5th November with bonfires and fireworks.

Dumbledore himself is worth examining. The complete name of the schoolmaster reads as Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. 'Albus' is Latin for white and consequently it shows the purity of its bearer; Brian may refer to the legendary king of Ireland and as a result it can point at the leadership that the character has; Percival could echo the Round Table knight who caught sight of the Graal and therefore suggest that the character has seen the truth of the mystery surrounding Voldemort, the arch-villain of the story; Wulfric is old English for 'wolf-ruler' or 'wolf-power' and it is also the name of a 12th century British hermit saint known for his miracles and prophecies, all these elements being somewhat  in keeping with Dumbledore's characterisation.

Another key person for Harry is his godfather, Sirius Black. Harry catches a glimpse of his godfather for the first time at the beginning of the third book. But he thinks it is merely a dog and later believes it to be of ill omen; the afore-mentioned Sirius Black seems to be a villain, a murderer, his own parents'! At first sight, the name may be deemed to be in keeping with this view as the colour it refers to is traditionally negative and the homophony between 'Sirius' and 'serious' is not very pleasant either; and nor is the reference to the star of the dog, Alpha Canis Majoris as it can forebode armed conflicts or a heat wave. More precisely, the rise of this star marked the hot 'Dog days' of summer for the Ancient Greeks and the name Sirius itself is derived from the Greek for scorching.

However there is another side to the coin. For ancient Egyptians, as it marked the fruitful flooding of the Nile, Sirius was the star of resurrection and a guide, what Sirius is for Harry as his godfather. Therefore many interpretations can be derived from this name, some of which are slightly misleading and others are relevant. The reader is in a maze. The black side is appropriate in so far as the character appears first as a bad man and, later on because of his family who are all followers of the Dark Side. What is more, they are also named after other stars, which stresses the astronomical feature (Bellatrix, Andromeda, Cassiopeia...). Indeed, for instance, Sirius's cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange, is named after a very bright star of the Orion constellation. Besides her name is the Latin for 'female warrior', which is incredibly apt for Rowling's character that is constantly fighting for Voldemort. Therefore the reference to astronomy unites her to her family while her first name sums up her main feature. Finally to reinforce the dark element, there is Phineas Nigellus Black, Sirius's forbear, whose three names mean black in Egyptian, Latin and English.

It is now time to turn to two other main characters whose names are on the Dark Side, namely Severus Snape and Voldemort.

Severus Snape is an ambiguous character, being a former follower of Voldemort but also a double agent for Dumbledore and his side although he eventually kills the headmaster. He is immediately portrayed as unpleasant, what his names stress on. His first name, derived from Latin, entails a strict attitude as a teacher. He actually turns out to be biased for his House students, the Slytherins, and against the Gryffindors. As to his surname, it is quasi homophonous with the verbs to snape, to snap or to snipe, which makes him like a biting dog and all the more so as he often snaps at students when addressing them. On top of that the phoneme /s/ is consistently associated with Evil in the novels as the Slytherin House founded by Salazar Slytherin epitomises. Since the name of the embodiment of Evil is Satan in Christian cultures, there is no denying the aptness of the phoneme. In keeping with the sound, Snape has got sallow skin... more s' and Voldemort has got "snake-like", "slit-like" eyes.

Voldemort's name is even more complex. It is even not his original name as he was born Tom Marvolo Riddle. Lord Voldemort is an anagram on that name. It can be decomposed as a French phrase, 'vol de mort', which is in keeping with the fact that the character is after immortality, trying to cheat death and with the fact that he can actually fly in the air. As to his true surname, 'Riddle', it is also appropriate since the character is very mysterious and difficult to understand.

II) Place names

It is necessary now to consider a few place-names. Three places are particularly aptly labelled, namely Privet Drive, Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley and the Knight Bus. Here first I would merely like to quote analyses by other scholars, Miranda Moore and Gillian Lathey:

"Indeed plays on sounds, letters and meanings can often be found in Potterian names.  Let's take the example of Privet Drive', the Dursleys' address. Besides the alliterations in r and v, at face value it designates a plant and a streetway which are typically British but it may also brings to one's mind the idea of privacy and normality on which the Dursleys are so keen. On a subtle level, Privet Drive - the Dursleys' address - takes its name from the shrub often grown as a hedge (which Harry is forced to trim in PS) and is linked to both Private' and privy' (which can mean both private' and outhouse'). The name suggests a sly criticism of the Dursleys' faith in privacy and private property." ((Reading Harry Potter: critical essays / ed. by Gizelle Liza Anatol.  Westport; London: Praeger, 2003. Article de Julia Parks: Class and Socioeconomic Identity in Harry Potter's England, p.183))

""Privet", then, is to an English reader both ridiculous and resonant with the orderliness and repressions of a suburban English childhood of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Like so many features of the Potter books it represents a return to the England of the mid-twentieth century. Whether English child readers appreciate every reference of this kind or not, the effect is cumulative in representing the Dursleys as archconformists and figures of fun." ((Lathey, Gillian, « The travels of Harry », The Lion and the Unicorn, vol 29, n°2, 2005, p.146))

As to the commercial streets of the wizards in London, on his website on the translation of Harry Potter into Asian languages Greg Pringle analyses them as follows:

"The names of these alleys carry a whimsical play on 'alley' (meaning narrow side-street) and '-ally' (the adverbial ending, e.g., 'typically', 'formally', 'magically', 'verbally'). 'Diagon Alley' can thus be read 'diagonally'. Diagon Alley may have been named because it runs 'diagonally' to Muggle life in London. Knockturn Alley is a little more complicated because there is a further little trick: 'Knockturn Alley' is not 'knockturnally'; rather it's a pun on 'nocturnally'. The name may have been chosen because Knockturn Alley is a place where creatures of the night ('nocturnal creatures') hold sway. The word 'Knockturn' itself is a made-up word suggesting the action of being 'knocked' (hit) and 'turned' (bent, sent round a corner, or swivelled around). It has also been pointed out to me by a reader that 'ley' is a term referring to unseen magical force lines that run across the landscape, a place where magic and magical powers are particularly strong. Thus, Diagonal Alley becomes Diagonal Ley and Knockturn Alley becomes Nocturnal Ley." ((www.cjvlang.com/Hpotter/ "Treatment of Puns and Word Play in translating Harry Potter (Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese)", Greg Pringle))

There is thus no denying that Rowling is keen on playing with the various possible meanings of a name, especially if it is simply pronounced orally, while also reinforcing some features of the narration.

As to the Knight Bus, it also plays on homophony; and it does it suitably as it can refer to a bus that operates at night as it does in its first appearance in book 3; besides it is a knight, always ready to rescue people, which is what it does in the same scene with Harry. On top of that a simile can be drawn or brought to mind with a knight such as Don Quixote since the vehicle, its driver and its conductor seem to function very funnily.

These few examples from the vast onomastics set invented by Rowling must definitely show the aptness of the names together with their sonorous and humorous value. Two categories have been considered but the same judgment can be passed on other categories such as the names of book-writers, creatures, drinks, sweets, broomsticks, joke items, functions, objects, plants, potions and so on.

III) Translating Names

As a result, it is hardly surprising that translators have been put to hard task when dealing with those words. Should they be translated and if yes how? Indeed as Michel Ballard ((Ballard, Michel, Le Nom propre en traduction, Paris : Ophrys, 2001)) underlined it, translating proper nouns might seem inherently contradictory as by definition a proper noun is used to refer to a single unique instance while translating means seeking equivalents. However a proper noun also possesses a meaning or several meanings. It serves as a geographical or social marker with its specific sounds and connotations and it may be etymologically significant, a source of play on words or of intertextuality. As a result translators face a well-known dilemma for them: to be a sourcer by preserving the foreignness of the original or a targetter by adapting the text to its foreign readers. Here they must also take into account what their own readers culturally know, which is all the more important with regards to young readers. It is still easily assumed that they know less than adults and that consequently the translated text should be adapted to them.

Anyhow several techniques are available: to borrow the noun, to adapt it morphologically, to resort to a substitute, to translate the etymon, to introduce an intra-textual note or an extra-textual note. Rowling's French translator - Jean-François Ménard - has used all these techniques, ending, unfortunately sometimes, with an odd mixture to the detriment of the sense of place of the novel or as Nancy K. Jensch put it:

In the French version, most people's and place names are reinvented in French. [...] These translations are of questionable value, as they do not add to the reader's understanding of the text and they undermine the important sense of place in the novels.[...] With such an abundance of French names used, the reader has much less the sense of being at a British boarding school. For instance, while professor McGonagall's tartan dressing gown seems incongruous in the halls of Poudlard, its appearance is most natural in the original text. ((Harry Potter and the Tower of Babel, Nancy K.Jentsch, The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, édité par L.A.Whited, Columbia: Missouri University Press, 2002, pp.294-295))

Here is a table presenting a number of instances afore mentioned to illustrate this assertion and explain the techniques used.

English nouns French translations Technique
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore * borrowing
Barnabas the Barmy Barnabas le Follet substituting (etymon)
Bode Pais substituting (humour)
Borgins & Burkes Barjow & Beurk substituting (humour)
Crookshanks Pattenrond substituting
Diagon Alley Chemin de Traverse substituting
Fanged Frisbees Frisbees à dents de serpent substituting (humour)
Fawkes Fumseck    
Fleur Delacour Fleur Delacour borrowing
Hagrid Hagrid borrowing
Hallows Reliques substituting
Harry Potter Harry Potter borrowing
Hedwig Hedwige morpho adapting
Hermione Granger Hermione Granger borrowing
Hogsmeade Pré-au-lard  substituting (humour)
Hogwarts Poudlard substituting (humour)
Holyhead Harpies Holyhead Harpies borrowing
Horcrux Horcruxe morpho adapting
Knight Bus Magicobus subsituting
Knockturn Alley Allée des Embrumes substituting
Lestrange Lestrange borrowing
Ludovic Bagman Ludovic Verpey substituting (humour)
Minerva McGonagall Minerva McGonagall borrowing
Moaning Myrtle Mimi Geignarde substituting (humour)
Mrs Norris Miss Teigne subsituting
Parvati Patil Parvati Patil  borrowing
Privet Drive Privet Drive borrowing
Quidditch Quidditch borrowing
Rita Skeeter Rita Skeeter borrowing
Ron Weasley Ron Weasley borrowing
Rowena Ravenclaw Rowena Serdaigle borrowing and substituting (etymon)
Salazar Slytherin Salazar Serpentard borrowing & substituting (etymon)
Seamus Finnigan Seamus Finnigan borrowing
Severus Snape Severus Rogue  borrowing & substituting (etymon)
Ton-Tongue Toffees Pralines Longue Langue substituting (lexical field + alliteration)
Voldemort Voldemort borrowing

Borrowing a proper noun enables to maintain a unity of location and culture - Great-Britain in Harry Potter - as well as the function of cultural marker of the noun but it adds to the translated text an otherness that the original did not have. Besides the 'new' reader will undoubtedly pronounce the noun differently or might simply find it hard to do, which might also sometimes be the case for British readers themselves anyway. That is why this technique cannot be always used. Besides it is obvious that most intertextual echoes to British literature would be lost on French readers.

Morphologically adapting a proper noun may seem more sensible as it keeps the cultural connotation while making the pronunciation easier. For instance, Ménard adapted 'Pomfrey' into 'Pomfresh' and 'Pettigrew' into 'Pettigrow'. And yet the meanings differ here. The school matron appropriately compounds two medicinal plants (poppy and comfrey) in her English name and the Potters' betrayer's can be read as to grow 'petty' or 'pet-I-grew', both readings matching the character. But in French the former reads as a fresh apple and the latter as somebody small and fat, which is less relevant for sure.

As to substitutes, using exonyms goes without saying but coining nouns to translate the etymon or the humour of a noun can be more problematical. When the information is obvious, finding a substitute seems necessary even if it may lead to a cultural or alliterative loss but when it is implicit, it can be inappropriate.

Finally resorting to notes can be helpful so as to explain referents that will obviously escape the understanding of the translation-reader as Ménard did it, for instance, for 'Eton'.

On the whole, translators must often choose between conveying the culture of origin and rendering the meaning(s) that proper nouns are loaded with. Rowling's European translators have widely differed here. Should one bother to make statistics with the translations of 127 Potterian names, that would result in roughly 60% in Spanish, 55% in German, a bit less in Swedish, 30% in French, 8% in Dutch and 5% in  Norwegian as far as keeping original names is concerned.

So, faced with the intricate onomastics penned by J.K.Rowling, her translators have worked personally, interpreting the nouns and choosing a particular readership of their own while taking into account the linguistic and cultural possibilities of their own languages and cultures. Last but not least as the seven novels were written and translated one after the other, it was also impossible to know which meaning was the correct one when differing meanings were hidden behind a noun.

To conclude, I would say that J.K.Rowling's onomastics is a very good example of the complexity of this field in literature and more particularly in the literature for children and young adults. It is a source of culture and of mental plays on sounds and meanings which young people are said to be very fond of as a rule of thumb. Translating that cannot but lead to losses especially with regards to literary references linked to the culture of origin. However a skillful use of translation techniques should produce proper nouns that will be as informative, onomatopoetic and humorous as in the original. But writing a translation that is culturally consistent seems difficult to achieve when meaning to enlighten a young reader on a variety of connotations hidden in a proper noun.


Pour citer cette ressource :

Carole Mulliez, "The Intricacies of Onomastics in Harry Potter and its French Translation", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), novembre 2009. Consulté le 25/07/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/litterature-britannique/litterature-jeunesse/the-intricacies-of-onomastics-in-harry-potter-and-its-french-translation