Translation musings: Translating names

Jan 6, 2016 | Language, Miscellaneous, Musings, Translation

Maybe it is not that surprising that some place names have a localised version, for example München becomes Munich for English speakers or London is Londres for the Spanish. But would you have thought that sometimes even people’s names can (and should) be translated?

Cristoforo Colombo

Cristoforo Colombo? Or Cristobal Colón?

In many languages the name of foreign monarchs are translated. For example, the German call Henry VII, the King of England Heinrich VIII. which is read as Heinrich der Achte, and many Swedish kings have a Finnish name, too. What is even more amazing that some other historical figures and even artists can be called differently in various languages!

Cristoforo Colombo’s name has many localised versions, such as Christopher Columbus (English), Christopher Colomb (French), Cristobal Colón (Spanish), Cristóvão Colombo (Portuguese), Kristoffer Kolumbus (Finnish), etc… Leonardo da Vinci is actually known as Léonard de Vinci and Johann Sebastian Bach as Jéan-Sebastien Bach in France. Hungarians were also keen to rename some famous people in the past: Thomas More appears as Morus Tamás in Hungarian texts, but you can also come across Luther Márton (instead of Martin Luther), Verne Gyula (Jules Verne), or Marx Károly (Karl Marx). Although nowadays the names of famous people are kept as they are, Hungarians still tend to localise royals: you can often read about what’s happening with Vilmos herceg (Prince William) and Katalin hercegné (Princess Kate)!