Clever names in HP (was Potter vs DWJ)

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at
Sat Feb 21 16:28:56 EST 2004

Ros wrote:
>>> Hey, that's really clever, Gili. I often wonder how translators manage
deal with puns, especially those with multiple levels of meaning.

Thanks. It's not always easy, involves a great deal of brainstorming, and
often I use a temporary pun-blind translation until inspiration hits. But
when I do think of a good pun, it's one of the most gratifying aspects of my
work. Some translators don't even try, they just give a literal translation
and add a footnote explaining the pun. Someone once told me about a
professional conference he was at, where the simultaneous interpreter was
doing his best to keep up with the lecturer but at one point just told
everyone over the earphones: "The lecturer just told a joke that I didn't
get. Do me a favor and laugh now."  I'd much rather use an alternate joke in
my translation, than insert a footnote saying: "this passage is humorous".

I wish I could share some of my better translations with the list here,
because I'm proud of them and I'd love to brag, but reading the explanations
of the translations would probably get quite tedious for English speakers.
So I'll just mention one: my translation for "Thestral", the eerie skeletal
winged horses that are supposed to bring bad luck, is "pegasus", in an
alternate Hebrew spelling that uses the Hebrew words "pega" (harm, jinx) and
"soos" (horse).

My college roommate was Chinese Malaysian, and once went to a great deal of
effort to explain to me why a certain person's Chinese name was incredibly
clever, and how it could be expressed as several different pictograms each
of which had a completely different but beautiful meaning, and how she
wishes she could think of such a wonderous name. It gave me a deep respect
for the richness and compactness of Chinese, and made me wish I knew the
language so that I too could appreciate the cleverness of this name.

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