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The characters' names in Astérix are puns. When translated from French to Spanish, these puns still worked fine, probably because French and Spanish are both Romance languages. However, these same puns often came out rather silly in English: the fisherman, in French, was called Ordralfabétix, from "ordre alphabétique" ("alphabetical order"); now imagine a fisherman called "Alphabeticalorderix". So, the translators created new names out of whole cloth, based on the characters' traits and flaws. For example, the fisherman was often blamed for selling stale fish, thus he was called Unhygienix. The chief was called Vitalstatistix because his "vital statistics" were on the fat side, the bard was called Cacofonix because of his awful singing, and so on. One rather clever example: the name of Obelix's pet dog, Idéfix (from the idiomatic phrase idée fixe, meaning "fixed idea") was translated as Dogmatix.
Several of the English dubbed animated films called the fishmonger Fishtix and the Druid who creates the strength-potions called both Panoramix (his original French name) and Getafix (the name used in the English translations of the books).
In Asterix and the Big Fight, the original name of the pro-roman Gaulish chief is Aplusbégalix ("A + B = X" read aloud in French). The English translation changes it to Cassius Ceramix. Not only is this a pun on Muhammad Ali's former name Cassius Clay (appropriate since the titular fight is essentially a boxing match) but having a name ending in -us and another ending in -ix perfectly fits his nature as a collaborator.
Fridge Brilliance: Ceramics is clay after it has been molded and cooked from its raw form into something more orderly and idealized, much like the Romans are trying to do to the Gaul villagers through assimilation.
In Asterix the Legionary, the pirates who frequently have their ship sunk by the Gauls wind up on a makeshift raft, imitating Géricault's painting of The Raft of the Medusa. In the original, the pirate captain says "Je suis médusé" (I'm stunned). The English version changed it to a pun involving the painting's author: "We've been framed, by Jericho!"
Moreover, the narration is full of puns and sly allusions, many of which also didn't translate — but the translators manage to keep the number of jokes per page pretty much unchanged.
Sometimes the translators even one-up the originals: in Finland, the Asterix book Asterix and the Normans was translated as 'Asterix and the Landing of the Normans'', an obvious, but still very functional pun on the landing of Normandy.
In Turkish, it's taken a step further. For example, the Egyptian architect has an accent for a minority that's known in Turkey for being architects, even though the rest of the Egyptians speak nothing like that.
Sometimes the translators will even change the drawings. For exemple, in "Asterix in Switzerland", Asterix, Obelix and Idefix/Dogmatix break a wheel on their chariot and must have it repaired; in the original French version, the gaulish man at the gaulish stand-in for a gas station was also the mascot of a chain of gas stations called "Antar". In several translations, including the original English translations, the character was changed to Bibendum (the Michelin man). The dialog was also altered to include a reference to his weight. Interestingly, other editions of the English translation revert the drawing change but kept the dialog, which made the weight joke misplaced. Other examples of changing the drawing includes, notably, changing the strips in an Egyptian newspaper in Asterix and Cleopatra from French ones ("Chéris-Bibis") to "Pnuts" and "Ptarzan".
The Dutch version has some name changes, but mostly retains the French element, since French is a mandatory subject at secondary schools for at least 2 years (except at the very lowest level) most people will understand the jokes. There is one exception, when flying over Tyrus on the magic carpet and getting shot a box is added to one of the panels explaining the relation to "Tyr" (Tyrus) and "tire" (to shoot) which are both pronounced the same in French.
When Obelix sings French patriotic songs with the words altered, they changed them to English WWII patriotic songs with the lyrics altered ("There'll always be a Gaaaaauuuullll..."), but somehow still kept the meter.
The Swedish translations are usually excellent, often with puns and clever references to Latin and Greek that do not work in any other language. Some requires a lot of pondering even by the well-educated reader. There was a segment in Asterix the Gaul in which four consecutive puns on hair were needed for the panels to make any sense. They pulled off every which one stupendously in Swedish. The same four panels were translated to Polish with similar ingenuity.
There was one line in the English translation of Asterix in Britain that Goscinny allegedly liked so much he said he wished it was in the original. The original was a play on the French word for a bowler hat being the same as the word for melon, a pun which simply doesn't exist in English. The translators replaced it with:
It's worth pointing out that the original series is not above having Bilingual Bonuses when it's appropriate. Hence, the British rebel village chief is called Zebigboss. (He became Mykingdomforanos in the English version.)
The writer Goscinny loved using those in any series he wrote, notably with evil vizir Iznogud whose name is the literal phrase "He's no good" which nobody ever seems to notice because the characters all speak French. Maybe that's why the Calife never notices that his vizir is constantly out to usurp him.
Of course, who could forget the Italian translation of the catch phrase "Those Romans are crazy!" ("Ils sont fous ces romains!"), which came out as "Sono pazzi questi Romani" (a literal translation). Its initials refer to the Roman government, Senatus Populusque Romanus ("The Senate and People of Rome").
Characters getting drunk and hiccuping is a big staple of the series. In French, the onomatopoea for hiccups is "hips" - in English, it is, of course, 'hic'. The '-ic' ending provides the opportunity for drunken Romans, who frequently speak in basic Latin phrases in the comic, to do some drunken Latin declining - "hic, haec, hoc!"
One scene in Caesar's Gift involves Asterix sword-fighting a Roman while in character as Cyrano de Bergerac, quoting a lot of his most famous lines in a gag that goes for almost half a page (referencing Cyrano's famous duelling). While Cyrano de Bergerac is fairly well known in the UK, it's not known to a line-by-line level, and so the translator changed it to a reference to what she considered the most famous sword fight in English literature, Hamlet vs. Laertes. This works especially well, since the Roman enemy gets to mishear another character saying 'disdain' and remark that he's 'more like an antique Roman than a Dane' (one of Laertes' lines, which is literally true here).
The Bad Ass Corsican chief in "Asterix in Corsica" contradicts his intimidating personality with his preposterous name (even by Asterix standards), Ocatarinetabellatchitchix (a reference to a chanson by famous Corsican singer Tino Rossi - "O Catalinetta bella! Tchi-tchi!"). Since Rossi isn't well-known outside of France, the translator changed it to the slightly forced but equally silly "Boneywasawarriorwayayix", a reference to an English sea-shanty celebrating Napoleon ("Boney was a warrior, way-yay-yah!"), the only famous Corsican someone outside of France would reliably know, with the last syllables even being nonsense syllables like in the original line. This also works because Boneywasawarriorwayayix's personality is based somewhat on Napoleon's.
There's a scene in The Big Fight involving Asterix and Obelix hearing an owl in the forest and talking back to it. French owls say "hou, hou" (initial h's are silent in French), so the French is mostly plays off 'Oú', the French for 'where', with the characters being drawn looking around themselves, trying to determine 'oú' the sound is coming from. The English uses the slightly old-fashioned "to-whit, to-whoo" sound for the owl, and rewrites the section into plays on 'To who', with the characters looking around for who is talking.
The Britons in Asterix in Britain talk in really bad French based on the mistakes English speakers tend to make when speaking French - such as using the formal 'vous' rather than 'tu', putting adjectives in front of nouns instead of after, getting genders mixed up, and so on. The English translator had them talk in a Jeeves and Wooster-inspired way, since the original was untranslatable.
One of the rules of the English translations is not to substitute accents, since they're bonded with a particular place and the translator's belief is that it draws you into remembering you're reading a translation. This caused disappointment occasionally (Asterix and The Banquet is mostly about making fun of French regional accents, which all had to be rewritten with completely new wordplay) but helped them avoid Unfortunate Implications in the case of the unnamed black pirate (who usually rides the crow's nest) - in the French he talks in a stereotypical parody of Haitian speech, but in the English he talks the same as the other characters. They also broke this rule a couple of times for great effect - the villager Bucolix is given an over-the-top Somerset accent (associated in the UK with farmers) as a personality quirk rather than as a regional accent, and some Egyptians get them too in a one-panel gag that is explicitly a translation. Usually in UK English radio and animation adaptations the villagers are given Cockney accents, which fits their basic personality stereotypes (rowdy and rebellious but honest).
The difficulty translators have with the comics was parodied in Asterix the Legionary, which follows a small, multinational Roman army squad and their interpreter. At one point they're shown trekking down a Roman road, with all the members who can already understand each other (the Greek, the Briton and the Belgian), making increasingly complicated puns. The interpreter is ordered to translate for the sake of the Goths and the Egyptian, but admits that he has no idea how to translate those puns and he'll have to think about it for a while.
In the Latin translation, the Greek does a palindrome joke. Since the Germanic peoples haven't invented runes yet, the interpreter has no clue where to begin.
The interpreter in "Asterix the Legionary" also gave Goscinny and Uderzo a chance to have fun translating swear words, which are represented in Asterix books by angry-looking symbols. After the Centurion utters four swear words, the Goth asks the interpreter what the Centurion said. The interpreter replies with four Germanic-looking versions of the symbols. In particular, a skull-and-crossbones is used as one, and in Gothic the skull is wearing a pointed helmet. And since the Centurion doesn't speak Proto-Germanic, he asks the interpreter "What did you say to him?" and the interpreter translates the expletives right back into Latin.
In some cases, puns are added where there were none in the original. In Asterix and the Great Crossing, after Fulliautomatix comments on the bad quality of Unhygienix's fish once again, he responds that Fulliautomatix never appreciated his fish, such as haddock, herring, smelt, and whiting. Fulliautomatix replies with "Did you say smelt?"
In French, a lot of Spear Carrier characters will have punny names that make sense in tandem with each other when they are said by another character - such as fitting together to make a phrase, but also making sense in the comic's strict Theme Naming. Usually, in English, where the grammar and pronunciation is different enough to make this very hard, this is changed to just being a lot of names with a similar meaning - for instance, all the villagers addressed in Asterix and the Normans when Vitalstatistix is making fun of the Normans' names all ending in '-af' are puns to do with audio science. Still, a couple of combo names did make it in - a pair of Roman guards in The Banquet are named Sendervictorius and Appianglorius, which is particularly clever as it incorporates 'Appian' as in 'Appian Way'.
Ditto on the Finnish version of Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, which is often superior to the originals.
In the 1950s, the Swedish publisher used one specific translator team for all Donald Duck stories, and the members coined a lot of funny neologisms that gradually have become an accepted part of the vernacular.
The Danish translation of Disney comics is legendary among Danish readers. The translator, Sonja Rindom, made up an incredible ammount of jokes and puns, especially for stories by Carl Barks. One of the words that she made up, Langbortistan (literally translated: Far-Away-istan), was accepted as an entry in major Danish dictionaries. And the most shocking part is that, for many years, she was the only translator on the entire editing team!
The popular Belgian Tintin comic books by Hergé feature a pair of bumbling twin detectives named Dupont and Dupond in the original French language version, pronounced the same way. In adapting Hergé's work for foreign audiences, translators usually rename the detectives, giving them names that sound the same in the language they're speaking but that are spelled differently. The English version, as just one example, calls the less-than-competent detectives Thompson ("with a 'P', as in 'Psychology'"note The word would change around but would always be a case where "P" was not being used for a "puh" sound) and Thomson ("without a 'P', as in 'Venezuela'"), keeping Hergé's original intent.
Other language examples are the Dutch Janssen and Jansen, the German Schultze and Schulze (in German, "lz" makes an audible plosive, just like "ltz"), the Icelandic Skapti and Skafti, the Spanish Hernández and Fernández...
Most of the other names were changed as well, and there are whole Web sites listing the names of the main cast in various languages. Even the title character's name is changed frequently, most notably to the rather bland-sounding "Tim" in German and the completely different "Kuifje" in Dutch, which means something like 'quiffy'. Also, in French his name is pronounced more like 'Tantan' than 'Tintin'. The dog's name is also prone to change, going from Milou in the French to, for example, Snowy in English, Bobbie in Dutch, and Struppi in German. Finally, Professeur Tournesol became Professor Calculus because "Professor Sunflower", the literal translation of his name, would have sounded a bit silly in English (not so in other languages, though, and he's called Zonnenbloem in Dutch, for example).
The professor's first name, Tryphon, is an antiquated, somewhat stuffy-sounding first name that alliterates with his family name, Tournesol. This effect has been recreated in a number of translations, such as in the English Cuthbert Calculus, Finnish Teofilus Tuhatkauno and German Balduin Bienlein. In Dutch/Flemish it is Trifonius Zonnenbloem, however.
The Tintin books, like their rival Asterix, are also famous for a lot of punning, especially when the fairly deaf Professor enters the scene, and the translators, at least into English, tend to be quite good at altering the text to make the things like rhyming work. They also have Tintin, in particular, using a lot of contemporary British turns-of-phrase, many of which have changed in meaning.
The original Danish translation of Tintin by Jørgen Sonnergaard is generally considered to be of very high quality. One of Sonnergaard's changes from the original was to have Captain Haddock swear in aliterations ("Pirate! Plebeian! Polecat! Prussian!") - something that Hergé himself adopted in the later albums. Sonnergaard also invented the name "Max Bjævermose" for the annoying insurance agent Seraphim Lampion (Joylon Wagg in English) and it fitted so well that when a new translation was announced in 2005 and fans discovered that Bjævermose was to be renamed, a "People's Movement For Max Bjævermose" was formed and the publishers were forced to pony up the extra cash so they could still use the name "Max Bjævermose" in the new translation.
One 1980s issue of Spider-Man dealt with Spidey busting an arms trafficking ring, complete with an Anvilicious message about gun violence. The Brazilian translator chose to title that story A Cidade Apresenta Suas Armas (The City Presents Its Weapons), which also happened to be the first verse of a popular, then-recently released Brazilian rock song by band Paralamas do Sucesso. It fit amazingly well, possibly because the song had a similar anti-violence theme.
The Phantom is also known as "the ghost who walks." The Swedish translator could have chosen to call him "det gående spöket," which means exactly the same thing, but instead went for "den vandrande vålnaden," "the wandering wraith." No Swedish reader has ever complained about this.