Localization of a Fiction Book Characters’ Names

  • Translating your creation into other languages is the best way to find more readers all around the world.
  • However, I found out the hard way that localizing names is something that is an important part of translating my masterpiece.
  • I would like to share some tips about localizing your fiction book characters’ names so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

In order to make the localization process easier, you can simply choose the right names from the beginning that won’t need many changes for different versions of your book. I made the mistake of going overboard with my character names which is why I had to struggle with localization a lot afterward. Here’s how you can prepare yourself by choosing the right names:

  • Historical: One of the best ways to choose an accurate name for your characters is to look up the names by region and time period. If you have someone who was born in the 1950s, search for the most popular names in that decade. With historical fiction, it is even more important to get names right because you will not have to localize them afterward as these names will be specific to a certain region and time period.
  • Fantasy & Sci-fi: Fantasy and sci-fi names are much easier to choose as they don’t need to correspond to specific circumstances. You can either come up with something completely unique or look up some popular fantasy and sci-fi names. You can try blending words from two different languages or even simply combing words in English. In the latter case, you will definitely need to localize the names.
  • Other Genres: In other genres, the situation is quite similar. It doesn’t matter if you are writing young adult fiction or romance, you will need to choose the most appropriate names that would fit the personality of your characters well. More often than not, these names will have to be localized if they have some kind of meaning within them and if you don’t want to lose that meaning.

Localizing Names

You have to know what you are going for with every character name you choose.

Of course, the easiest way to localize your fiction book character names is to use a translation and localization service like The Word Point. It will be quick and easy and you will be able to save a lot of money. I highly recommend this method.

Nevertheless, there are some alternatives you may want to try such as doing it yourself by using a website like Logos.it that translates the word you enter into multiple languages. You can also ask your friends who know other languages or get in touch with professional translators that work without an agency.

Sometimes localizing names is necessary in order not to offend readers in a certain country or region. For example, a character named “Mr. Satan” may be interpreted incorrectly in countries where religion is an integral part of society. You need to take into account various aspects of your characters and how they will be perceived by different readers, and this includes settings.

Localizing Settings

It is critical to understand that localizing your characters’ names might sometimes require also localizing other elements of your story such as the settings. For example, if your book is set in China, all of your characters having British names will be weird (especially for Chinese readers), so you need to do your research and watch out for such inconsistencies.

You will notice such changes being made for movies and TV shows quite often. For instance, Justice League (2017) had its final scenes set in a Russian town. However, the localized version for Russian viewers transformed it into a Polish town. Of course, this may have been a pointless move for this particular movie, but there are many examples of effective settings localization.

What I realized while localizing my own characters was that changing their name was not always the only thing I had to alter. Sometimes these would be just some minor details or inside jokes that the foreign audiences simply wouldn’t understand. It depends on what your book is about and who your characters are as well as whether or not their names define them.

Examples of Localized Names

To wrap everything up nicely, I would like to show you some examples of localized names and how these changes influenced how these names were perceived by different audiences. Mostly these are well-known characters, so you may be surprised by how they were written in different versions of the book originally created in English.

Albus Dumbledore

Most people probably know who Albus Dumbledore is, the headmaster of the magical school Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It would seem that his name doesn’t need any localization changes, but they were made nonetheless:

  • Italian: Albus Silente (which means “silent” and kind of resonates with the character’s personality)
  • Czech: Albus Brumbál (which means “bumblebee” referring to the insect that inspired the name in English)
  • Dutch: Albus Perkamentus (which means “parchment” and probably wasn’t a very good example of localization)
It is critical to understand that localizing your characters’ names might sometimes require also localizing other elements of your story such as the settings.

By the way, another character from the Harry Potter series, Voldemort, also needed to be localized. This is because, in the original, the character had thought up this pseudonym for himself by rearranging the letters in his actual name into “I am Voldemort” (and obviously, that wouldn’t work in other languages).

Spongebob Squarepants

Another easily recognizable character, Spongebob Squarepants has a name that speaks for itself which is exactly why it was localized in all the languages that the show was translated into. Here are some of the name versions of this character:

  • Spanish: Bob Esponja Pantalones Cuadrados
  • Danish: SvampeBob Firkant
  • Estonian: Käsna-Kalle Kantpüks

All of them have the same meaning which directly (or almost directly) corresponds to the original.

Donald Duck

One of Disney’s most well-known characters, Donald Duck has also been the target of localization. One of the unique features of this character’s name is that both his first and last name start with a “D” which is why some languages opted for something more suitable that would still convey the essence of “Duck”:

  • Italian: (Paolino) Paperino
  • Finnish: Aku Ankka
  • Danish: Anders And

Final Thoughts

All in all, the main takeaway should be that you have to know what you are going for with every character name you choose. And, of course, localize them properly depending on the story you are telling and the tools you are using to tell this story.

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Dominic Beaulieu

Dominic Beaulieu is a gaming enthusiast turned tech writer who covers a variety of topics like design, development, etc. He’s a writer for Translation Client Zone.

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