Can We Name It? Yes We Can!
Today's topic comes courtesy of my daughter, who woke up in the middle of the night last night with a random observation: "Hey! I just realized that Bob the Builder and Barack Obama have the same motto!"
I've written at some length (1, 2) about the name Barack Obama and all it signifies. I have never written a word about cartoon construction mogul Bob the Builder. Because, you know, his name is Bob. And he builds stuff.
But Bob is an international phenomenon, and his name is a perfect testbed for the process of literary name translation. The Bob the Builder name has three components:
1. The guy's name is Bob.
2. He's a builder.
Don't underestimate that third component. There's a reason the show's creators didn't name him, say, Stan the Builder. Bob's close cousin Thomas the Tank Engine offers further evidence of the power of alliteration.
In the best case, a translator can hit all three component targets. Germany's Bob der Baumeister, Poland's Bob Budowniczy, Norway's Byggmester Bob and the Netherlands' Bob de Bouwer are all triple bullseyes. France's Bob le Bricoleur ("Bob the Handyman") comes within a hair's breadth. If your local language isn't accommodating with B vocabulary, though -- or if Bob isn't a workable name for your audience -- something has to give.
In Finland, the name was the element that yielded: Puuha-Pete wears the tool belt and hardhat for Finnish kids. Pete is the character's personal name, and Puuha means a task or undertaking. But the Puuha-Pete association is so strong that "smart" online translators that look at context and usage patterns actually translate Puuha as "Bob"! (See last week's post for more on names in auto-translation.) Additional Bob-free, alliterating versions of the character name include the Slovenian Mojster Miha and the Scottish Gaelic Calum Clachair.
In some other countries, translators decided that Bob was the essential element and let the alliteration slide. Examples include Greece's Bob o Mastoras, Serbia's Majstor Bob, and Portugal's Bob, o Construtor.
Finally, lowest marks go to two names that miss multiple targets:
- The Czech name Bořek stavitel, which ditches the Bob but doesn't bother alliterating. Now that would have been a natural home for Stan the Builder: Standa stavitel. Bořek, in case you're wondering, is a short form of Bořivoj, a Slavic name unrelated to Robert. Of course, if you ask Google you'll get cartoon-centric translations, so Bořek translates to Bob in langauges like German and French...and, of course, to Pete in Finnish.
- Spain's Bob y sus amigos ("Bob and his friends.") This is the only translation that fails to mention that Bob is A BUILDER. My guess is this was a strategic attempt to ride the coattails of Thomas the Tank Engine, whose show is known as "Thomas y sus amigos." In the process, though, they robbed poor Bob of his very essence. I'll take the workmanlike Latin American version Bob, el Constructor over that every time.