Friday, 7 June 2013

How Italians Translate Names in Harry Potter | Sarah Ager

Come on, admit it... you pronounced Hermione as 'Her-mi-oh-nee' until you saw the first Harry Potter film, didn't you? OK, maybe that was just me. But still, I can take comfort in the fact that every single Italian pronounces Hermione's name in exactly the same way! 

While the spelling of Hermione remains the same in the Italian translation of Harry Potter, other characters' names have undergone changes. These are either for pronunciation purposes or to avoid confusion for Italian readers. Most are pretty logical, such as 'Grawp' being changed to 'Grop' so that Italians don't have to contend with the foreign letter 'w.' Other translations simply leave me mystified, either because they have no logic or they seem intent on revealing secrets about the end of the book!

There were two Hogwarts students in particular who caught my eye. The first is Neville Longbottom whose surname has been translated into the rather odd-sounding 'Paciock.' Instead of the literal translation 'lunga inferiore' which sound dreadful, the translators have instead zoned in his features and mannerisms for inspiration. 

For Italians, 'Paciock' (from 'paciocco') brings to mind the image of an awkward but loveable child with chubby cheeks. The ending is then Anglicized by adding a 'k' (kappa) which is also a foreign letter to Italian. [Side note: If you every play hangman with an Italian child, they'll usually ask, 'are there any strange letters?' referring to k, j, w, y and x which only appear in foreign words.] Back to the topic in hand, although I love the amusing name Longbottom, I do like the fact that the Italian version ticks the humour box but also gives an insight into both Neville's appearance and personality. 

The second student whose translation made made me chuckle was that of Vincent Crabbe. In the book Crabbe is one of Draco Malfoy's weak-willed lackeys and yet the translators decided to call 'Tiger.' I really don't know if his name in Italian is meant seriously or in jest or indeed why the translators didn't simply go for the Italian translation of Crab ('Granchio') which seems the obvious option. In any case, the idea of the bumbling Crabbe being called 'Tiger' does make me laugh and so for me it works as a translation. 

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Many of the Hogwarts Teachers have had their names changed to ease the many pronunciation problems that come with going from Italian to English. Tough cookie McGonagall, for instance, has been changed to Professor McGranitt. Now, you might look at this and think it's pretty much the same but it's actually far easier for Italians to pronounce. McGranitt has one less syllable to contend with, the comfort of a rolled 'r' (which always goes down well) and it still sounding sufficiently 'Scottish.' 

Similarly, Professor Trelawney's name has also been been altered to help pronunciation. 'W' is classified a foreign letter in Italian and so it's a little tricky for Italians. Common errors include, 'Law' being pronounced as 'love' and 'window' usually comes out as 'windoff.' Therefore 'Trelawney' would be pronounced as 'Tre-lav-nay.' Instead, Trelawney's Italian counterpart takes its inspiration from the character's first name 'Sybil' and explores the classic mythology on which Rowling based the character's first name. 

The Sibyllae, in general, were young prophetesses in the story of Aeneas who were able to predict the future. They were known for going into a trance-like state and giving cryptic clues much like Trelawney's character. 'Sibilla Cooman' refers to one specific prophetess who used leaves to give predictions (like Trelawney's tea-leaves). The story goes that once, these leaves were scattered by the wind and as a result, her prophecies became cryptic and difficult to discern. This fits in pretty nicely with Trelawney's own predictions which confuse everyone, every You-Know-Who who doesn't know who the prophecy refers to. 

Another translation which adds a new dimension while remain fairly close to the original meaning is that of Argus Filch. In English, 'filch' is a fancy word for stealing which also happens to conjure up aptly negative words like 'filth' or 'mulch.' Although the latter is missing in the Italian version, the fact that Filch is called 'Gazza' (magpie) in Italian is an interesting interpretation and accurately decribes a man who hoards items mostly confiscated from the students he loathes so much. 

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Now, it's to tackle the translations that just don't seem to cut the mustard. Unfortunately it happens to be one of the most important characters. The happy bumbly name of Dumbledore has been replaced by the nothingness of SilenteI asked several Italian what they thought about the name 'Silente' and the answer was unanimous; 'ma lui non é silente' ('but he isn't silent!') and each one preferred (and used the word) Dumbledore. The headmaster's important speeches aside, there's also the issue that Silente just isn't a funny word in Italian. 'Silente' suggests a stern, sombre old man and lacks the fun away from Dumbledore, a professor who spends most of the first few books chattering ten to the dozen about Lemon Sherberts and chocolate frogs. Yes, I'll admit that keeping the name Dumbledore would mean having to accept several million Italians calling him 'Dump-bleh-door-eh' but at least that would be more fun than 'Silente.'

While we're on the topic, other names which don't quite work for me are those of Quirrel and Wormtail. The latter becomes 'Codaliscia' which simply means 'straight tail.' This neutral name doesn't reveal much about a character who is viewed as an inferior and pathetic. In fact, 'straight' if anything seems to suggest honesty rather than bringing to mind the idea of cowardice or deception. I'm also sad to lose the sense of squirminess that comes with the idea of worms. [I was later informed that 'liscia' also has the meaning of 'smooth' which could be collocated with worms and their texture]

The timid 'Quirrell' is given the far more ferocious name of 'Raptor' in the Italian versions. Rather than bringing to mind the words 'squirrel' (a cute, little animal) or 'quiver' (a nervous tendency), his name reminds you instantly of a vicious dinosaur and the hide-behind-your-cushion parts of Jurassic Park. His name doesn't really fit his seemingly shy and stuttering character at the beginning, instead it seems to point straight to the dark revelation that he's hiding 'you know who' 'Tu-Sai-Chi') under his turban. You could argue that his Italian name gives the game away somewhat. Having said that, 'pt' is really, really difficult for Italians to pronounce and so it creates a word which wold be difficult for someone with a speech impediment, thus providing Quirrel's character with a realistic opportunity to stammer.  

And finally, I'll end with everyone's favourite ambiguous character Severus Snape. In the English version, the surname 'Snape' brings to mind the word 'snake,' the Italian equivalent 'Piton' serves the same function and allows you to entertain possible snakey connections between Voldemort and Snape throughout the novels. Perhaps, the translators avoided 'Snape' as it sounds a little too much like 'Senape' when said with an Italian accent so he's become Professor Mustard! 

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Which translations do you like or how would you improve them?
Have you found any strange translations of English 
names in other novels you've read? 

For more on Harry Potter in Italian check out: 
The Beauty of Bookshelves & Italian 'Arry Potter

Many thanks to my Italian counterpart Sara for all her help! 


  1. Ahhh thank you - I have to work with children for the first time ever this summer, and was planning to do some Harry Potter games. I didn't even think about the translation of names! V helpful :D

  2. What an entertaining post! I quite agree with you on many of your reasonings. This is so interesting to me, as I also had not thought of the translation of names in books that I love.

  3. This is so much fun! I love the Harry Potter series, so really enjoyed this! Highlights how difficult it can be to translate - there is so much meaning in the associations, not just the literal meanings!


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