Translation of “speaking” names in cinema and fiction

Translating names in real life is a simple matter: we either use translation transcription or transliteration. But when it comes to the names of characters in works of art (books, movies), difficulties begin. The fact is that here the names are very often “speaking” and you cannot get away with transcription and transliteration when translating them – you have to translate them.

At one time I was very interested in comparing translations of speaking names in cinema and literature, which I wrote about in posts on my account @gorelka.tarelka on Instagram. I decided to collect all the material that I had accumulated and studied on this topic over several years and publish it here.



In superhero films, tracing is most often used, that is, morphemic reproduction of a word or word-by-word reproduction of a phrase:

  • Iron Man – Iron Man;

  • Wonder Woman – Wonder Woman;

  • Black Widow – Black Widow;

  • Winter Soldier – Winter Soldier;

  • Hawkeye – Hawkeye;

  • Black Panther – Black Panther;

  • Scarlet Witch – Scarlet Witch.

However, there are translations where they seem to use tracing paper, but the words are swapped. For example:

  • Spider Man – Spider-Man, not Spider-Man;

  • Ant Man is Ant-Man, not Ant-Man.

There are also names that are translated using transcription:

Personally, I have questions about ordinary names that are sometimes translated or not translated. This is especially true for the X-Men. For example, Wolverine was translated as “Wolverine” in the film, but in the old cartoons it is “Wolverine.”

By the way, the name “Hulk” actually means “big guy”, “big guy”, “big guy”. This is definitely a “speaking” name and, it seems to me, it should be translated. But now it’s too late to talk about it, of course, since everyone uses this name. Here’s what superheroes are called in other countries:

  • Batman – in Spanish you can often find the traditional version of Batman and its translation El Hombre Murciélago; especially in comics. His real name, Bruce Wayne, was also changed to Bruno Díaz. In Italy this character is known as l’uomo pipistrello!

  • Superman – in German, French, Spanish and Russian, Superman remains by his name, in Portugal the literal translation is Super-Homem, and in Sweden he is known as stålmannen, steelman.

  • Wonder Woman – Wonder Woman used to be called Mujer Maravilla in Spanish. Wundergirl existed for some time in Germany, but then her original name was returned to the comics.

  • Spider-Man – in the Spanish translation, this superhero was given a literal translation of the name – Hombre Araña. In the 70s in France he was known as L’Homme araignée, but today the French viewer will see the original English name on the posters – Spider-Man.

And so the names of Superheroes were translated into Chinese in comparison with the original versions:

  • Batman – Bat Man;

  • Superman – Superhuman Man;

  • The Hulk – Green Giant;

  • Spiderman – Spider Hero;

  • Wonder Woman – Magical Woman Hero;

  • Iron Man – Steel Hero;

  • Green Lantern – Green Light Hero;

  • X Men – X Fighting Police;

  • Storm – Thunder Queen;

  • Cyclops – Laser Eye;

  • Rogue – Demon Woman;

  • Wolverine – King Kong Wolf;

  • Thor – Thunder God;

  • Beast – Vigorous Beast;

  • The Flash – Lightening Hero;

  • Jubilee – Happy Happy;

  • Nightcrawler – Black Ugly;

  • Aquaman – Water Capable Hero;

  • Gambit – Gold Medal Hand.


The series “The Boys” is based on comics by DC Comics and Dynamite Entertainment. The series makes fun of the whole superhero thing, marketing, PR and show business. In a nutshell, the main theme of the series is the confrontation between ordinary “boys” and insolent and arrogant superheroes. I would even say that it shows how superheroes would actually behave if they lived in our reality. If you haven’t seen the film, keep in mind that there is a lot of blood, intimate scenes and dark humor. The vocabulary here is also unique – slang, puns, jokes and obscene language. In short, there is a huge scope for the imagination of translators.

I watched several episodes in different translations, as well as in the original, and compared the translation of the names of the boys and superheroes into Russian. The names here are “speaking” and do not have established equivalents, like, for example, Superman or Spider-Man, which is why their translations are different among different voice-over studios. Studios reviewed: LostFilm, Cube in Cube, HDrezka Studio and Alex Film.


Lost Film

Cube in a cube

HDrezka Studio

Alex Film


Billy Butcher

Billy “The Butcher” Butcher

Billy the Butcher

Billy Butcher

Billy Butcher

Mother’s Milk

Mother’s milk

Mother’s milk

Mother’s milk

Mother’s milk




Frenchman / Frenchman



Lost Film

Cube in a cube

HDrezka Studio

Alex Film












Queen Maeve

Queen Maeve

Queen Maeve

Queen Maeve

Queen Maeve





Train A

The Deep





Black Noir

Black noir

Black darkness

Black noir

Black noir





Clap claw






  • Billy Butcher – head of “The Boys”. Butcher is a surname that translates to Butcher. Some studios kept her as Butcher, others translated her as Butcher, and some made her two in one – Billy “The Butcher” Butcher. I personally like the last option.

  • Mother’s Milk – the name of one of the heroes. Most studios translated it as Mother’s Milk, and only Lost Film translated it as Mother’s Milk.

  • Frenchie – I would translate it as French because of the suffix “ie”. However, the opinion of the studios was divided: one half translated it as French, the other as French.

  • Homelander – the most powerful superhero, a mixture of Superman and Captain America. But his psyche is not entirely stable. The name comes from Homeland, which means “home country”, “fatherland”. “Lost Film” and “Alex Film” translated as Patriot, “Cube in a Cube” – Stronghold, and “HDrezka” did the transcription – Homelander. By the way, “HDrezka” transcribed almost all the names of superheroes.

  • Starlight – is translated according to the dictionary as “starlight”, “light of stars”, but the name in this case turns out to be too long. The studios offer the following options: Star, Zvezdochka and simply Starlight.

  • Queen Maeve – the easiest name from the point of view of translation. Here everyone agreed on Queen Maeve.

  • A-Train – the fastest super hero. The translation of the name is varied: Express, Rocket, Hey Train, A Trains.

  • The Deep – a hero a la Aquaman. As with A-Train, there were many translation options: Abyss, Abyss, Underwater, Depth.

  • Black Noir – I would translate it as Black Noir and, to be honest, I thought that everyone would translate it that way. But no, “Cube in Cube”, unlike all the others, used the Black Darkness option.

  • Popclaw – Express/Train girlfriend Hey. It is quite difficult to find an equivalent, because the word is compound and has no direct translation. The studios did it like this: Claw, Claw, Clawfoot, Slam Claw. My personal favorite is Clawfoot, although it’s a bit long.

  • Translucent – three studios translated it as Transparent, and only “Cube in a Cube” – as Drowing. As you guessed, this superhero is invisible.

By the way, in addition to personal names, other proper names also have different translations. So, the company “Vought” is pronounced “Vot” in some places, and “Vought” in others. “Compound-V” – Vi Serum, Vi Preparation, Ve Preparation.

Stranger Things

In the series Stranger Things, the main character’s name is Eleven, but her friends call her El for short. It is clear that there are problems with translating the girl’s name into Russian:

  • You can use translation transcription – Eleven and El. But in the film there is an emphasis on the fact that the girl’s name is a number/figure, because… she was the eleventh test subject. There is an analogy here with concentration camps, where people were called by numbers.

  • It can be translated as “Eleven” and leave the abbreviation “El”. But then the viewer will not understand why the heroine is called El.

The translators successfully resolved the situation: Eleven – Dina. Low bow.

Cartoon characters

Have any of you watched Be-be-bears? Remember the brown bear cub Kesha? It turns out that in the English version of the cartoon Kesha is not Kesha at all, but Bjorn. And Tuchka the bear cub is Bucky. The fox remained the fox – Littlefox, and the name of the cartoon itself sounds like BE-BE-BEARS. In the opening song, when the words “Bears be-be-bears!” are said, in English they sing “Just like Bjorn and Bucky!”

My daughter’s favorite cartoon, “Fairytale Patrol,” has also been translated into English. It’s called Fantasy Patrol. And, what’s most interesting, the names here have also changed, albeit partially: Masha – Mary, Snezhka – Snowy, Alyonka – Helen, Varya – Valery.

By the way, names undergo changes not only when Russian animated films are translated, but also when English-language animated series are dubbed into The Great and Mighty. Thus, the famous Willie, Dilly and Billy from DuckTales are actually Huey, Dewey and Louie, and Ponochka is Webby Vanderquack. In Chip ‘n Dale, Roquefort (Rocky) is Monterey Jack (Monty), and Monterey Jack is also a type of cheese, like Roquefort. Do you know what Zipper’s real name is? Zipper the Fly!

Common sense says: “Everything is correct, these are speaking names, you need to translate them” or “You need to make a translation adaptation, otherwise the viewer will not understand.” It’s just that habit plays a cruel joke on us – we are USED to certain names, and we feel uncomfortable when the names turn out to be different.


This film has a non-classical translation. Judging by the voice, this is Goblin, but not “Shmatrix” with an alternative plot from Puchkov, but a normal translation. The names here are translated differently than we are used to. Morpheus is Morpheus, Trinity is the Trinity. That is, the translator translated the names, but did not transcribe them.

Why is that? The fact is that the plot of the film is actually very closely related to the Bible. From there, all the proper names, Trinity, Zion, Nebuchadnezzar, and mythical names like Morpheus, Pythia, and so on – everything is subtle there. Accordingly, perhaps this translation is more correct than the one to which we are accustomed.

On the other hand, Maus was not translated as Mouse, but remained “Mouse”. I read this explanation from one of the subscribers: “mouse” is feminine, and for a man such a nickname is shameful, that’s why they didn’t translate it.


Animal names in Russian and English fairy tales

In Russian fairy tales, animals have names. For example, the bear is usually Toptygin, Mikhailo Potapych or Mikhail Ivanovich; fox – Lisa Patrikeevna or Lizaveta Ivanovna, etc. In addition to names, there are nicknames (mouse-norushka, frog-frog, bunny-runner, fly-burner) and epithets (gray wolf click with his teeth, hare with a scythe).

It is interesting that in English fairy tales, animals also have their own nicknames: the penny hen (Henny-penny), the curled cockerel (Cocky-locky), the baby gosling (Goosy-poosy). Several times, when I read English fairy tales in Russian translation to my child, I came across the name Robin for a raven or rook, and also Anthony for an ant.

By the way, in the English language there are several correspondences to Russian fairy-tale animals: the wolf goat (Nanny Goat), the gray wolf with its teeth (Grey Wolf or Big Bad Wolf). However, the number of such matches is very limited.

When it comes to translation, I recommend looking at dictionaries: usually the traditional translations for animal names in fairy tales are already recorded there.

I remember the theme of translations of fairy-tale names was played out at the Comedy Club: The Little Humpbacked Horse became Horse with osteochondrosis, and the Cluttering Fly became Fly-tsokotlai.

A dream in a summer night

At one time, the Englishman Chris was talking to me via Skype. I was lucky: by first education, Chris is a director of a drama theater, and he and I analyzed plays in English. His favorite dramatic work, which he has staged several times, is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We read the play, discussed it, and even learned passages by heart.

I really liked how Chris explained the meaning of the characters’ names. For example, representatives of high society in the play have beautiful Greek names: Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius. But ordinary people have short names that are more like nicknames: Flute, Bottom, Snout, Quince. It is clear that these names are a kind of metaphor for the appearance of the heroes and their professional activities.

So, one of the heroes is called Franties Flute (Flute means “flute”). Chris said that Shakespeare chose this name for a reason. Here, firstly, it is implied that the hero is tall and thin, and secondly, he has a thin voice. In addition, Flute works as a bellows repairer. It’s not for nothing that Lozinsky, who translated “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” into Russian, used the equivalent of “Duda” for Flute.

Or let’s take a character named Tom Snout. Snout is “muzzle”, “nose”, “snout”. This means that the person clearly has a big nose, or his face did not come out. In Lozinsky’s version it is “copper worker Rylo”.

Fairies have names taken from nature: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed.

The heroes also speak in different ways: high society – in complex poetic forms of 10 syllables in each line; ordinary people – in ordinary prose; fairies – in short, simple poems.


In Nosov’s series of books about Dunno, each name means something. When translated into English, the names were not transliterated or transcribed. Here’s what happened:

  • Dunno – Dunno (from don’t know), or Know-Nothing or Ignoramus;

  • Know – Doono (from do know);

  • Gunka – Gunky;

  • Cog – Bendum;

  • Shpuntik – Twistum;

  • Guslya – Trills;

  • Tube – Blobs;

  • Button – Pee-Wee;

  • Chamomile – Daisy (note, not Camomile at all, they made an adaptation);

  • Toropyzhka – Swifty;

  • Confusion – Scatterbrain;

  • Pilyulkin – Dr. Pillman;

  • Donut – Roly-Poly;

  • Syrup – Treacly-Sweeter;

  • Bullet – Shot;

  • Bulka – Dot;

  • Flower – Posey;

  • Pachkulya Pyostrenky (very strange that they transcribed it);

  • Grumps – Grumps;

  • Silent – ​​Mums;

  • Front sight – Tinkle;

  • Steklyashkin – Glass-Eye;

  • Droplet – Kapelka (and only here is transliteration).

Dead Souls

In Gogol’s “Dead Souls,” each surname is “speaking,” but translators transcribe these surnames (I looked at two translations – the tandem of Peever and Volokhonskaya and DJ Hogarth – although there are more translations of the book into English):

  • Box – Korobochka;

  • Sobakevich – Sobakevich;

  • Manilov – Manilov;

  • Plyushkin – Plyushkin;

  • Nozdryov – Nozdryov;

  • Chichikov – Chichikov.

Although, of course, in Gogol the meaning of surnames does not reflect strongly on the character, as in the children’s book about Dunno.

Harry Potter: Rosman VS Swallowtail

Two translations of the famous series of books were published in the Russian press: a translation by the Rosmen publishing house and a translation by the Machaon publishing house:

  • In 2000, the rights to the translation were acquired by the Rosmen publishing house. It was with Rosman’s books that I began to get acquainted with the world of Harry Potter. The translation was carried out by several translators: Igor Oransky worked on the first book, and Marina Litvinova, who, unfortunately, died in 2020 at the age of 91, worked on the next three books. There was a rumor that Marina Dmitrievna, being a professor at Moscow State Linguistic University, gave book chapters to be translated to her students as homework, and then compiled all these translations. I don’t know how much you can believe these rumors.

  • In 2013, the rights to publish “Harry Potter” in Russian were purchased by the publishing house “Makhaon”. The publisher has updated both the cover and the translation. Translation prepared by Maria Spivak. Moreover, before publication, its translation could be found on the Internet as a “fan translation”. “Swallowtail” edited it for the better, especially proper names. Unfortunately, Maria Spivak also passed away, she was only 55 years old.

I will not analyze the translations in detail. If you google it, you will find a lot of analyzes and comparisons of the two Russian-language versions of the book. I just want to show you proper names, which have become a stumbling block and a topic of debate among Potter fans.

Original text

Translation by I. Oransky (“Rosman”)

Translation by M. Spivak (“Swallowtail”)


Dursley (transliteration)

Dursley (transliteration)


Dudley (transcription)

Dudley (transliteration)


You-Know-Who (tracing)

You-Know-Who (contextual translation)


He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (tracing)

He-Who-Cannot-Be-Mentioned (tracing)


Voldemort (contextual translation)

Voldemort (transcription)


Hedwig (tracing)

Hedwig (transcription)


Scab (tracing)

Scab (tracing)

Neville Longbottom

Neville Longbottom (transcription/transliteration + contextual translation)

Neville Longbottom/Neville Longbottom (tracing/transcription/transliteration)

Seamus Finnigan (Irish)

Seamus Finnigan (transliteration)

Seamus Finnigan (transcription + transliteration)

Severus Snape

Severus Snape (transcription + contextual translation)

Zlodeus Snape/Zloteus Snape (contextual translation)

Professor Sprout

Professor Stebel (tracing)

Professor Spargella/Professor Asparagus (tracing)

Rowna Ravenclaw

Candida Ravenclaw (tracing)

Rovna Ravenclaw/Evrana Vrazor (transliteration/tracing)

Helga Hufflepuff

Penelope Hufflepuff (tracing)

Helga Hufflepuff (transliteration)


Snitch (transcription)

Rogue (contextual translation)

Oliver Wood

Oliver Wood (transcription)

Oliver Drew (tracing)

Gilderoy Lockhart

Zlatopust Lokons (contextual translation)

Sverkarol Lockhart (contextual translation)

Tom Marvolo Riddle

Tom Narvolo Riddle/Tom Marvolo Riddle (transliteration). Narvolo appears in the second book when composing an anagram

Tom Jarvolo Riddle (transliteration with modification due to anagram)


Crookshanks (contextual translation)

Crookshanks (tracing)


Wonnings (tracing)

Smyltings (contextual translation)

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley (tracing)

Diagon Alley (transliteration)

Beauxbatons (French)

Beauxbatons (tracing + transcription)

Balstek (contextual translation)

Grimmauld Place

Grimmauld Place (transcription from French)

Murkentlen Square (contextual translation)

Room of Requirement

Help out-Room/Room So-and-Syak (contextual translation)

Room Yes-No/Necessary room (contextual translation/tracing)

The Slug Club

Slug Club (tracing)

Sofa Club (contextual translation)

Rita Skeeter

Rita Skeeter (transcription)

Rita Writer (contextual translation)

Luna Lovegood

Luna Lovegood (contextual translation + transcription)

Luna Lovegood (transcription)

Professor Umbridge

Professor Umbridge (transcription)

Professor Cambridge (contextual translation)


Grohkh (contextual translation)


Horace Slughorn

Horace Slughorn (tracing)

Horace Divanguard (contextual translation)

Privet Drive

Privet Drive (contextual translation)

Biryuchinovaya Street/Privet Alley (tracing)

Lord of the Rings

When I read the first book of Tolkien’s trilogy, Frodo’s last name was Baggins. When I was lent the second volume, Frodo turned out to be Baggins. Other names and titles have been changed. It turned out that I had read different translations. And it turned out that there are far more than two translations of The Lord of the Rings into Russian.

  • Translation by Zinaida Bobyr. This is the first official translation of The Lord of the Rings, which was published in the USSR in the form of an abridged retelling called The Tale of the Ring (1966).

  • Translation by A. A. Gruzberg, 1976. Translation of poems: Y. Batalina, A. A. Gruzberg; A. Zastyrets. One of the oldest translations of The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, unlike Bobyr’s work, this translation was published much later than the others and existed exclusively in samizdat versions.

  • Translation by A. Kistyakovsky and V. Muravyov, 1982-1992. This is the most famous translation of “The Lord of the Rings” in Russia and throughout the post-Soviet space. Most fans of Tolkien’s work vote for this translation. This translation in narrow circles is called the “Kistamura” translation (KISTYAKOVSKY+MURAVIEV).

  • Translation by N. Grigorieva and V. Grushetsky, 1982-1989. Translation of poems: I. B. Grinshpun. This is the second most popular translation after “Kistamura”.

  • Translation by V. A. Matorina (V.A.M.), 1989-1992. Little known and rarely seen. Initially, this adaptation was published in the Far East and became famous there.

  • Translation by A. V. Nemirova, 1985-1987, 1991-1992. Translation of poems by O. Mylnikova, A. Nemirova.

  • Translation by M. Kamenkovich and V. Carrick, 1989-1995. Translation of poems: S. Stepanov.

The most controversial point in all these translations is, as usual, the adaptation of proper names. Judge for yourself:

  • Baggins – Baggins, Beggins, Sumniks, Bebbins;

  • Strider – Strider, Kolobrod, Wanderer, Swift Walker, Tramp, Tramp-Wider-Step;

  • Rivendell – Rivendell, Rivendell, Doln, Razlog, Rivendell.

Let’s sum it up

When translating “speaking” names in cinema and fiction, translators resort to the following actions:

  1. They translate names and make cultural adaptations,

  2. Transcription and transliteration, sometimes tracing, are used.

Decide for yourself what to do. I personally think that you need to look at the situation.

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