You don’t realize the things that happen around you if they have become normal in your life, because you see them every day, until a little spark lights up in your brain and you start to think a little.
Why should Gustave Flaubert call one of his characters Carlos? Is Carlos a common enough name in France to call one of his characters like this, or did he want to add an exotic touch in his most famous novel, Madame Bovary? Oh, wait a minute: Carlos only exists in the Spanish translation of Flaubert’s novel.
This is because in Spain names have been always translated in literature: why you should read or listen to a strange foreign word if it can be avoided? No way; you shouldn’t, so this is the reason why we used to translate every single thing that is susceptible to being translated, even names. Thus, Emma Bovary is married to a man called Carlos, and young Werther falls in love with a girl called Carlota whose fiancé, Alberto, was so charming that Werther decided to kill himself in order not to break the perfect couple. And these are only the main characters; you don’t know what we are capable of doing with the secondary, and less important, ones.
We do exactly the same with famous real people; the best example is what we call the British Royal family: Prince Carlos, Prince Guillermo and Prince Eduardo; the names are written like this in all the newspapers and magazines you can read here. In the same way, in our literature, a girl called Ana wrote a diary in the secret annex, and another Ana – Karenina – was the main character of León Tolstoi’s novel. And if we find a name that is spelled the same in Spanish, we pronounce it in Spanish, of course. It’s like a national epidemic.
When did it begin? I really don’t know; I suppose it has always happened. I remember that, when I was little and I started studying English for the very first time, our teacher said we had to introduce ourselves with our English names, so in my English class I said “hello, my name is Elizabeth” instead of Isabel and he called us by our English names. We thought this was absolutely normal, and the children who hadn’t a translatable name were a little bit unlucky, in fact: all they could do was say their names with English pronunciation. So I think we have always had the idea that the names can be changed depending on the country where you are.
Fortunately, this doesn’t happen nowadays because a lot of publishers are editing new translations of the classic authors. But today you can still find some new editions which really are reprinted books from old editions, some of them still censored if the first edition was published during Franco’s dictatorship! About this kind of editions, all I can say is: what happened in that carriage between Emma Bovary and her lover, Rodolphe (in my edition, Rodolfo)? I think I can’t live anymore without knowing what happened in that removed scene.
Another – and not less important – problem is titles’ translation. This happens all over the world, I know, but I think changing the title is a big mistake because the author wants this words to be the first ones for the reader to know about the story. Every book starts with a title; who do translators think they are to change it? As examples, here we have Donna Milner’s novel, After River, a book that I read a few months ago and I loved, as Cuando todo cambió – When everything changed – (you can change a word of two, but what is this?), and Kate Morton’s latest novel, The secret keeper, will be translated as El secreto de Dorothy –Dorothy’s secret –, a title that suggests to me a soap opera perfect for napping in front of.
The whole thing worries me a lot: censored scenes, titles with a different meaning and changed names. Nobody can be sure that the editions they own haven’t got anything else different from the original book unless they read it. I just hope two things: that Fantasy has been freed in all the editions all over the world, and that you found Madame Bovary much more interesting than I did 😉 .