Volume 13, No. 3 
July 2009

Anna Standowicz

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Juan José Martínez-Sierra, Ph.D.
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Isabel Cómitre Narváez

  Literary Translation
Chosen Aspects of the Polish Translation of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by Andrzej Polkowski: Translating Proper Names
by Anna Standowicz
A Key Word in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Dr. James McCutcheon

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by Dai Guangrong

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Literary Translation

Chosen Aspects of the Polish Translation of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by Andrzej Polkowski:

Translating Proper Names

by Anna Standowicz


nterviews, money, international fame—for Joanne K. Rowling it all began with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first part of the Harry Potter series. Then there came six more volumes full of adventure, friendship, and magic. And, of course, translation problems. Rowling is a very creative writer, especially when it comes to inventing names: people's names that are very often telling (like Severus Snape, who is indeed a very severe teacher), names of spells (Body-Bind Curse, for instance), or names of magical creatures (Blast-Ended Skrewts or Nifflers). The aim of the present paper is to discuss how Andrzej Polkowski, the Polish translator of the series, dealt with those particular problems in his translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (the Polish title reads Harry Potter i kamień filozoficzny).

The Polish translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a skilful and efficient text as far as translation of proper names is concerned.
Andrzej Polkowski is an experienced translator, whose works include mainly children's literature and fantasy literature. Apart from the Harry Potter series he translated C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Space Trilogy, Mary Russell's Sparrow and Children of God, Tanith Lee's Night's Master and Death's Master. Despite all his experience, in one of his interviews he admitted having encountered some problems in Harry Potter, especially with "translating the names of dishes that are unknown in Poland" (Zacha 2008; author's translation), and acknowledged that he made some errors, which were later pointed out to him by devoted fans of Harry and his friends. Generally, however, he claims that when he translates something, he "extracts every possible meaning from each word . . . uses various dictionaries . . . asks other people what they feel when they read the translation" (Zacha 2008; author's translation). But can this rule be applied to proper names as well? Is it at all possible and advisable to translate proper names or should they be left as they appear in the source text?

Vast literature has been written on the subject of translating proper names. Peter Newmark states that "proper names are a translation difficulty in any text" (1993: 15) and therefore need special treatment—the well-known ones are usually translated, as well as those encountered in children's literature or folk tales, but those which do not have any additional meaning and serve only to convey the nationality of a character should remain untranslated (1988: 27). Christiane Nord, on the other hand, claims that there are no ready-made solutions in this respect, even for translators of children's literature, because each novel is "intended to appeal to the audience as either 'exotic' or 'familiar'" and "a story set in the receiver's own cultural world allows for identification, whereas a story set in a strange, possibly exotic, world may induce the reader to stay 'at a distance'" (qtd. in Mizani 2008). This problem is a part of the discussion between supporters of 'domestication' and supporters of 'foreignization' started by Lawrence Venuti; the discussion entailing the choice between "an ethnocentric reduction of the foreign text to target-language cultural values" and a "pressure on target-language cultural values to register the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad" (Venuti 1995: 20). Seemingly, in the 21st century, the era of global communication, the trend is to not translate proper names. As Verónica Albin aptly puts it, "it is quite obvious . . . that Bill Gates oughtn't be rendered as Guillaume Portillons into French, nor Jimmy Carter as Santiago Acarreador into Spanish" (Albin 2003). However, "it is also equally obvious that Cristoforo Colombo must be translated as Christopher Columbus, and Henrique o Navegante as Henry the Seafarer" (Albin 2003). Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut rules and each translator makes the choice between these two options according to his readers' expectations and decides what would be more acceptable and understandable (Albin 2003). To make matters worse, "there seems to be no clear correlation between the use of a particular procedure and the degree of adequacy or acceptability obtained in the target text" (Mizani 2008). On the one hand, "there is a wide disposition that names should be transposed unchanged in textual writings" (Tymoczko 1999: 223) but, on the other hand, many scholars and translators treat proper names as culture-specific items, which "can be more than mere labels," which "can be allusions, analogies, similes, metaphors, metonymies, or synecdoches" (Albin 2003). Some (Lincoln Fernandes, for instance) even propose a set of guidelines for those translating them, especially in children's fantasy literature, where they "have a fundamental role in creating comic effect and portraying characters' personality traits, which will often guide the reader throughout the plot of the story" (Fernandes 2006: 44).

According to Fernandes, we can divide the meaning conveyed by names into three types:

  1. semantic meaning, which describes a certain quality of a given person, place, or object; this type of meaning is often found in allegorical literature, where a character's name sums up his or her personality, gives clues about his or her destiny or indicates the way the storyline may develop (Artemis Fowl from Eoin Colfer's series, whose name is pronounced in the same way as the word "foul," is indeed an anti-hero and a master-mind of crime). Moreover, semantic meaning may create comic effect, usually through pun and double entenders (for instance, the name of Hagrid's hippogriff, Buckbeak, is analogous to the word "bucktoothed," thus exemplifying one of the animal's most prominent physical attributes).
  2. Semiotic meaning—names may generate ancient or more recent historical associations (Hedwig, Ptolemy), indicate gender (Ginny is female, Harry is male), social class (Sir Nicolas De Mimsy-Porpington in opposition to Harry Potter), nationality (Padma and Parvati Patil are Indian, Viktor Krum is Bulgarian), religious identity (Gabriel and Michael are biblical names), intertextuality (Merlin), mythology (Minerva, Dedalus), etc.
  3. Sound symbolic meaning, which is further divided into two types:
  1. imitative, which makes use of onomatopoeia and stands for a sound that can actually be heard (Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah is the name of a horse in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, Mrs Norris is the caretaker's cat in the Harry Potter series and her name imitates the sounds she emits when she is angry or irritated, which happens quite often)
  2. phonesthetic, which is based on the use of phonesthemes—sounds, sound clusters, or sound types directly associated with a meaning, e.g. the cluster /gl/ occurring in words such as: glisten, glow, glimmer, glitter, etc., i.e. words that are commonly associated with light (Fernandes 2006: 46-48).

Apart from names that thus lend themselves to translation (so-called "loaded names"), there exist conventional names, i.e. those which are not semantically loaded. But whether they are "loaded" or "conventional," names appearing in translation must be "readable" and easy to remember. In other words, they should not pose too many problems with pronunciation and/or spelling (like the name Nguyen Xuan would do to an average Polish child). This is very important in children's literature, because too many linguistic obstacles may put children off reading even a most interesting book (Fernandes 2006: 48-49).

Fernandes also describes a set of ten procedures that are most often used by translators while dealing with the problem of proper names. These are:

  1. copy—reproduction of names in the target text in the same form in which they appear in the source text, without any orthographic changes (e.g. Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley)
  2. rendition—"direct translation" used in dealing with transparent or semantically motivated names in standardised language (enmeshed in the lexicon of the source language), e.g. the Leaky Cauldron appearing in Harry Potter i kamień filozoficzny as "Dziurawy Kocioł"
  3. transcription of a name in the closest corresponding letters of the target language or alphabet, i.e. transliteration or adaptation at the level of morphology, phonology, grammar, etc., so that the name could conform to the norms of the target language (e.g. the name "Muggle" is transcribed by Polkowski as "mugol")
  4. conventionality—takes place when a target language name is conventionally accepted as the translation of a given source language name, e.g. "Minerwa" for "Minerva"
  5. recreation of an invented name from the source text into the target text with the aim of reproducing similar effects in a different cultural setting (Scabbers, who in the Polish translation becomes "Parszywek")
  6. deletion—a complete or partial removal of a name; it is most often used when the character (or place) in question is of little importance for the narrative of the story (in Harry Potter i kamień filozoficzny this happens to an inn called the Hog's Head)
  7. addition of extra information to the name, which makes it either more comprehensible or more appealing to the reader or solves any ambiguities that may stem from its translation (in the Brazilian translation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the Robin becomes "Sr. Pintarroxo," which indicates his sex)
  8. transposition—replacing one word class with another without any semantic changes ("philosopher's stone"—a noun in the genitive case accompanied by another noun—becomes "kamień filozoficzny1"—a noun in the nominative case accompanied by an adjective)
  9. substitution of a formally and/or semantically unrelated name in the target text for a name existing in the source text (in the Brazilian translation of the Artemis Fowl series the pharaoh Aquenaton is substituted for Richard of York)
  10. phonological replacement—replacing a source text name with a name that is phonemically/graphologically analogous to it, for instance replacing "Moaning Myrtle" with "Jęcząca Marta2" (Fernandes 2006: 50-55).

In the majority of his interviews, when asked about the problem of names, Polkowski firmly states, "I don't translate proper names" (Zacha 2008; author's translation). However, many strategies proposed by Fernandes can be found in his translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Many names are indeed left in their original form ("copied" if one was to use Fernandes's terminology); these include: Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, Voldemort, Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Dedalus Diggle, Neville Longbottom, Argus Filch, and Draco Malfoy. Unfortunately for the translator, most names in the above group carry some information about their bearers; information that is not expressed in the Polish text: the name "Severus" (strengthened by the similarity of the surname "Snape" with the verb "snap") does not evoke in the minds of the Polish readers the severity of the teacher, "Longbottom" is no longer funny, "Malfoy" and "Voldemort" (both having French roots) do not have the same connotations as for an average English teenager who is, at least to a certain extent, familiar with French3. However, Polkowski found a solution to this—he enclosed a glossary at the end of the book (this applies to other volumes as well). This glossary is a chance for any inquisitive reader to find explanations of problematic names and of other challenging terms used by Rowling. Therefore, the Polish reader gets to know that a "dumbledore" is a kind of bumblebee (Rowling 1998: 321), which is important, because the headmaster often hums something to himself as if he were that insect (Colbert 2001: 74), "draco" is the Latin for "dragon" or "serpent," "Malfoy" is an expression that in old French means "bad faith" or "bad word" (thus, Draco Malfoy is associated with evil), and Neville Longbottom's name should evoke at least a smile, especially in view of his forgetfulness and helplessness (Rowling 1998: 321-23). However, not all names that are semantically loaded are thus explained—Severus Snape and Voldemort apparently did not deserve being glossed. Why the translator decided to explain the etymology of the name Malfoy and did not do the same with the appellation Voldemort remains unclear. After all, the fact that the French "vol de mort" means "flight from death" in English (Fiderkiewicz 2006: 169) is of utmost importance for the whole narrative, because it suggests what the main preoccupation of this particular character is. Moreover, in the Polish text the name loses its semiotic meaning, connected with the Englishmen's everlasting aversion to the French and the fact that English names with French roots tend to be aristocratic (in contrast to those of Anglo-Saxon origin), which is immensely important to the question of race and "blood purity" raised by Rowling. What is also striking, Polkowski elaborates on the meaning of the word "potter" although it seems to be rather incidental4.

Then, despite the translator's denial, the reader can find names that underwent the process of rendition. Thus, the Leaky Cauldron becomes "Dziurawy Kocioł," Sirius Black appears as Syriusz Czarny in the first edition of Harry Potter i kamień filozoficzny (from the second edition on he is known as Syriusz Black), Gregory the Smarmy is Grzegorz Przymilny, we get to know Cornelius Fudge by the name of Korneliusz Knot, and one of the centaurs, Bane, becomes Zakała. In most cases, Polkowski manages to render the meaning of a given name quite skillfully, yet some of his choices are controversial. For instance, such transparent toponyms as Privet Drive and Little Whinging are not rendered but copied, and Hog's Head is completely removed from the translation. Another problem here is the unfortunate Korneliusz Knot. The English word "fudge" not only denotes a kind of a soft sweet but also means "to evade a problem" or "to dodge an issue" (Linde-Usiekniewicz 2004) and that is what Fudge often does as the Minister for Magic. In this respect, "Knot5" would be a good equivalent but for the fact that in a text in which most names are not naturalized it appears to be an English word denoting "a tied part of a rope or a string" (Linde-Usiekniewicz 2004). A problem of a different nature is posed by the centaur Bane, whose Polish name is Zakała. The word "bane" comes from Anglo-Saxon "bana," i.e. "murderer," and can also mean "poison" or "harm" as in "wolfsbane" and "henbane" (Klepczarek 2003: 56). The Polish equivalent given by the Oxford PWN Dictionary is "zmora czyjegoś życia" (Linde-Usiekniewicz 2004); in the Polish translation of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Maria Skibniewska uses the word "zguba" (as in "Zguba Isildura" denoting the One Ring, which was Isildur's Bane). Thus, the word "zakała," whose closest English equivalent is "bad apple" and "disgrace6" (Linde-Usiekniewicz 2004) seems to be inadequate in terms of register (it is much more colloquial than both "zguba" and "zmora"), all the worse because used as a name of a centaur—a creature beautiful, proud, and powerful.

Another strategy used by Polkowski is transcription. The group of transcribed proper names comprises such words as: mugol (for the English "Muggle"), Hogwart (instead of "Hogwarts"), and Firenzo (the name of another centaur, Firenze). The examples provided are few, because the translator uses this technique scantily. In the case of "mugol" and "Hogwart" he used it so that the words would not differ drastically form their English counterparts, and Polish children would be able to discuss the novel with their English peers (Zacha 2008). The noun "Muggle" was originally translated as "tuman7" (drawing on the offensive meaning of the word "mug"), but for editorial reasons it was changed into "mugol"—a word suggestive of such pejorative terms as "Jugol8," "Angol9," and "ramol10" (Zacha 2008). It is not clear, however, why "Hogwarts" lost the final "s." Moreover, due to the fact that it was transcribed, not rendered, some passages in the text become incomprehensible—reading the following fragment of the school song: "Hogwart, Hogwart, Pieprzo-Wieprzy Hogwart" (Rowling 1998: 136), the reader might be confused by the adjective "pieprzo-wieprzy11" that seemingly appears out of nowhere. Needless to say, the English reader does not have similar problems with "Hoggy, Warty Hogwarts" (Rowling 1997: 95). No less surprising is the transformation of "Firenze" into "Firenzo." As David Colbert claims, centaurs have been associated with stargazing from the times when the myth about Cheiron came into existence. The myth tells the story of a wise centaur, who was transformed by Zeus into a constellation (known as Centaurus) in recognition of his accomplishments (Colbert 2001: 48). In view of this fact, it does not surprise us that Rowling named Firenze after the town of Florence ("Firenze" is its Italian name), where Galileo—one of the greatest astronomers known to humankind—once lived (Klepczarek 2003: 56). Of course, rendering the centaur's name as "Florencja12" would be nonsense, since Firenze is a he-centaur. But is the change of the final "e" to "o" necessary? It would be justified if it facilitated pronunciation or declension, but in this case it is just an attempt to make the word look "more Polish."

The attempt to "polonise" names is more successful with the following first names: Minerwa (from "Minerva"), Syriusz (from "Sirius"), Hedwiga (from "Hedwig"), "Hermiona" (from "Hermione"). All these names carry semiotic meaning: Minerva McGonagall is intelligent, strict, proper, and valiant just like her mythological namesake; Sirius Black is an animagus13 able to transfigure himself into a dog (and the mythological Sirius was Orion's dog), Harry's pet owl, Hedwig, is a namesake of a 12th century Silesian saint (the wife of the king of Poland Henry the Bearded), who is the patron saint of orphans, and Hedwig the owl spends her life helping an orphan, i.e. Harry (Klepczarek 2003: 60), Hermione, just like the queen Hermione from William Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, was once turned into stone—it happened in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when she encountered the basilisk (Colbert 2001: 114). In the case of all the aforementioned characters, Polkowski resorts to the so-called conventionality, which is an appropriate technique in the given context, because all these names have their conventionally accepted Polish equivalents, which are more comprehensible for children than the English forms. What is interesting is that he leaves such names as Dedalus (a wizard particularly fond of sending various objects flying in the air) or Severus (who, like the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, severely suppresses any sign of disobedience), in the original form, even though they have Polish equivalents: "Dedal" and "Sewer14" (or "Seweryn"), respectively.

The most interesting examples of translation of proper names in Harry Potter i kamień filozoficzny are those in which Polkowski used the strategy of recreation. Parszywek15 is the name he invents for Scabbers, Ron's old, scabby rat (which beautifully renders the nasty, moral as well as physical, qualities of the animal), Peeves the Poltergeist (who indeed peeves everybody, students and teachers alike) becomes Irytek16 Poltergeist (furthermore, the word "poltergeist" is explained in a footnote),17 all the magical shops move from Diagon Alley to ulica Pokątna18, which evokes the shady nature of the place: shady, of course, in the sense that despite its location in the very center of London, it cannot be found by Muggles (Colbert 2001: 118). All these names are good examples of Polkowski's inventiveness and certain translation "agility." Even better examples of these qualities are provided by the four school houses at Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff. Generally, the translator chose to preserve the English names so that the Polish readers would be able to communicate with their English-speaking peers. Nevertheless, he provides them with short etymological notes in the glossary at the end of the book and uses the following "polonised" names to denote the inhabitants of each house respectively: Gryfoni (the French "griffine d'or" indicates a "gold griffin"—"gryfon/gryf ze złota"), Ślizgoni (from the word "ślizgać się"—to "slither"), Krukoni19 (the word "claw" disappeared from the Polish name, making it a bit less "predatory" than its English counterpart), and Puchoni (evoking the sound of the words "huff" and "puff") (Rowling 1998: 321-24). The above-mentioned equivalents skilfully convey both the semantic meaning and the sound of their English originals. The latter can also be found in the names Ślizgoni (which indicates not only the way snakes move but also the sounds they emit) and Krukoni (which is evocative of both the Polish word denoting raven and the caw of the raven).

The remaining five translation procedures described by Fernandes are rarely found in Harry Potter i kamień filozoficzny. Deletion is used only once, in the case of the Hog's Head Inn (which in this volume of the Harry Potter series does not play any significant role, but becomes more important in subsequent volumes). The translator probably decided that it was not significant enough to make the effort of translating its double meaning: of a head of a hog ("hog" is a popular toponymic element in the "Potterworld," appearing in such names as Hogwarts and Hogsmeade) and of a "barrel or casket" (Linde-Usiekniewicz 2004). The only significant case of transposition appears in the title, where the philosopher's stone becomes "kamień filozoficzny" rather than "kamień filozofa20," but one can hardly be surprised at this choice, since "kamień filozoficzny" is the typical collocation in Polish. Addition, substitution, and phonological replacement cannot be found in this volume of the Harry Potter series.

To sum up, the Polish translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a skilful and efficient text as far as translation of proper names is concerned. Polkowski uses various techniques to render the meaning (be it semantic, semiotic, or sound symbolic) of the names used and invented by Rowling. Many of his equivalents are no less creative than the author's original ideas. The most interesting of his strategies is enclosing a glossary at the end of the novel, where he explains the more difficult proper names (both translated and untranslated by him) as well as units of measurement and names of English dishes—a useful technique in children's literature. What does not deserve praise, however, is the fact that he tends to be inconsistent in his choices—treats semantically and etymologically similar names in different ways ("Minerwa" but "Dedalus"), translates some telling names and leaves others in the original form ("Grzegorz Przymilny21" but "Albus Dumbledore"), includes some telling names in the glossary and leaves out others ("Draco Malfoy" but "Voldemort"). Despite this drawback, the translation reads well and the immense popularity of all Harry Potter books in Poland reflects well on its quality. What is more, children appreciate the fact that many names are left untranslated, which enables them to discover their meaning on their own. It may mean that in the era of progressing globalization the need for domestication, even in children's fantasy literature, is on the decline.



1 "kamień" is the Polish word for "stone," "filozoficzny" means "philosophical"

2 i.e. "Moaning Marta"

3 In Polish realities, state schools very rarely offer their students the chance to learn French and courses in private language academies are quite expensive. Moreover, it is simply not as popular here as English or Spanish. Therefore, only few Poles can speak French.

4 His common name suggests that Harry is, among other things, an everyman. In this context any similar name (Smith, for instance) would be appropriate (Fiderkiewicz 2006: 171). Therefore, the semantic meaning of the word "potter" is not important.

5 The Polish word "knot" means "flop" or "lemon," i.e. a work of art of extremely low quality, and is evocative of the verb "knocić"—to botch things up.

6 as in: "He was a disgrace to the family"

7 a thickhead, moron

8 an offensive term denoting a Yugoslavian person

9 an offensive term denoting an English person

10 an old dodderer, old crock

11 "peppery-hoggy"; this compound adjective makes an allusion to a well known Polish tongue-twister, but does not have much in common with the name Hogwart (the form is different, the meaning only partially conveyed and, moreover, a Polish reader may not know that "hog" in Hogwarts means "wieprz")

12 the Polish equivalent for "Florence"; it should be noted that Polish distinguishes between masculine, feminine and neutral gender and the grammatical gender of the word "Florencja" is feminine

13 a wizard endowed with the unique ability (extremely rare even in the "Potterworld") to transform into an animal

14 pronounced similarly to the English word "sever" (with strong final /r/); it should not be confused with the English noun "sewer"

15 the name is derived from the word "parszywy," i.e. scabby

16 it derives from the verb "irytować"—to peeve

17 the term "poltergeist" exists in Polish, but apparently the translator decided that it was a word that children would not be familiar with

18 "pokątna" means "illicit," "shady"

19 suggesting the word "kruk," i.e. raven

20 which would be a direct translation of the English phrase

21 rendition of the name "Gregory the Smarmy"



Rowling, J. K. 1997. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. London: Bloomsbury.

—-. 1998. Harry Potter i kamień filozoficzny. Trans. A. Polkowski. Poznań: Media Rodzina.


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Colbert, D. 2001. The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: A Treasury of Myths, Legends and Fascinating Facts. Toronto: McArthur and Co.

Fernandes, L. 2006. "Translation of Names in Children's Fantasy Literature: Bringing the Young Reader into Play." New Voices in Translation Studies 2 (2006), pp. 44-57. http://www.iatis.org/newvoices/issues/2006/fernandes-paper-2006.pdf. Accessed on 20 Mar. 2008.

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Linde-Usiekniewicz J. (ed.). 2004. Wielki Słownik Polsko-Angielski, Angielsko-Polski PWN Oxford. CD-ROM. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Zacha, R. 2008. "Wywiady." Harry Potter. http://www.harrypotter.org.pl/index.php?pokaz=wywiady. Accessed on 24 Mar. 2008.