It was a late gloomy evening in Helsinki. Winter didn’t want to give up, and the weather outside was depressing. I was at the language course. The lesson seemed to last forever, and all of us were tired. To mobilize our remaining energy, the teacher started showing us pictures from the Finnish Spider Man comic books, explaining that Finnish Spider Man’s name is “Hämähäkkimies” (“hämähäkki” – spider, “mies” – man).
By then, I already knew that Donald Duck comic books, for some reason, were wildly popular among Finnish kids, and that’s Donald’s Finnish name is Aku Ankka. Again, it’s a direct translation trick: “ankka” is “duck” and “Aku” stands for “Donald”. In Russia, for example, most superheroes and folk tales characters also have their names translated, but Disney crew and characters from children novels keep their English names transliterated to Cyrillic. So, Pocahontas, for example, is still Pocahontas, it’s just spelled differently – Покахонтас.
I got interested in the topic, and researched it a bit further. Turned out that in Finland almost all characters of kids cartoons and books have Finnish names. I was thinking that maybe this is done so that kids could actually pronounce names and could understand peculiar features of particular heroes. I found the book on how modern authors revise and revive folktales – “Folktales Retold: A Critical Overview of Stories Updated for Children” by Amie A. Doughty.
Apparently, I was right in my guesses. Fairy tales don’t usually mention specific countries or cultures and character names are often quite basic. This is why authors try to make these stories more country specific. Translation of names or giving names to supporting characters is one of the methods to achieve this goal. There is one more thing about Finland though that I need to mention. Not all names are translated in Finnish adaptations, and even within the same story there might be a mix of original and translated names. For example, in “Peter Pan”, Wendy turns to “Leena”, Captain Hook to “Kapteeni Koukku”, Tinkerbell is “Tiikerililja”, but Peter Pan is still good old Peter Pan.
Overall, it seems that the approach to translation of names is not unified. I guess it also depends on who works on a particular performance/play/cartoon/movie/book.
Anyway, I hope by now you are ready to meet some locals 😉 You can play a game – read the Finnish version first, and try to guess who it is without looking at the answer 🙂
Kissanainen – Cat Woman
Teräsmies – Superman
Salama – Flash
Lepakkomies – Batman
Ihmenainen – Wonder Woman
Vihrea Lyhty – Green Lantern
Hämähäkkimies – Spider Man
Herra Fantastinen – Mister Fantastic
Kapteeni Amerikka – Captain America
Musta Leski – Black Widow
Rautamies – Iron Man
Hessu Hopo – Goofy
Ankka – Daisy Duck
Aku Ankka – Donald Duck
Roope Ankka – Scrooge McDuck
Tupu, Hupu, Lupu – Dewey, Huey and Louie
Tuhkimo – Cinderella
Paavo Pesusieni – SpongeBob SquarePants
Puss in Boots – Saapasjalkakissa
Teini-Ikäiset Mutanttininjakilpikonnat – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Tiku ja Taku – Chip ’n’ Dale
Mikki Hiiri – Mickey Mouse
Risto Reipas – Christopher Robin
Nalle Puh – Winnie-the-Pooh
Ruusunen – Sleeping Beauty