When talking about translation problems, the first thing that comes to mind is usually technical terminology we are not familiar with in any language, idioms we are unable to make sense of even if we know the meaning of each of the constituents, the complex language of law and economy, etc. When translating literary texts or dialogues from movies or TV series, we generally expect fewer problems, until we come across a name of a famous person while translating. At first, we think: “Well, that’s easy!”, and happily go on to simply transcribe the name in accordance with the Serbian spelling and grammar rules. Then, we consider the target audience and the way we decided to solve this translation problem, and suddenly – we are not so sure any more.

The English-speaking world is bursting at the seams with famous people. Their names are often mentioned in American and British novels, movies and TV series, to achieve a humorous effect or make a comparison. Those books, series and movies are primarily intended for the local audience, which means that an average American or Brit will not have any difficulties understanding who the author is referring to, since they are constantly reading about those people in the newspapers and seeing them on TV – not to mention all the websites buzzing about those celebrities. However, the translator has to consider whether an average Serbian citizen knows who the person mentioned is and if their name means anything to the target audience.

If the celebrity mentioned in the book, movie or TV series really is world-famous, the solution of transcribing their name is good enough – everyone will easily understand whom the character is referring to when saying: “I haven’t been this sad since princess Diana died”. However, if the celebrity mentioned is not (yet) as famous outside of the English-speaking world, or, in some cases, within the target age group, some other translation strategies might be necessary. One possible solution would be functional equivalency – replacing the name of the celebrity mentioned in the source material with a celebrity who shares some of the key characteristics with them, but is more widely known within the target culture.

An appropriate functional equivalent may be found within the Anglo-American culture, or – and this is usually the best solution – within the target culture. For example, in one British TV show, a father compares his fashionista daughter to Zandra Rhodes, a famous British fashion designer. She may be famous in the UK, but not in Serbia. The father’s words were translated into Serbian in the following way: “Who are you, Verica Rakočević?” This translation is somewhat adequate because the audience understands that he compared his daughter to a fashion designer. Nevertheless, the boundaries of the Anglo-American world as the setting of the TV show are transcended, which might ruin the viewer’s experience and make him/her wonder how an average London family could possibly know about Verica Rakočević! Perhaps it would be best to pick another, more famous British designer, someone that both Serbian and British audience are surely familiar with, such as Stella McCartney, or, better yet – Coco Chanel.

Another possibility when it comes to translating names of people who are “not quite famous enough” is the use of hypernyms, or, in this particular case, the emphasis of the characteristics that the person was mentioned for. For instance, the translation of the father’s words could have been: “Are you some kind of a fashion designer now?” If translated like this, the sentence would lose its comic effect, but the audience would not be confused by the name of a person they’ve never heard of before.

Another issue to be considered when dealing with names of celebrities in translation is the medium. When translating a book, functional equivalency works like a charm – the reader will probably never even find out that original text mentions another name. However, when it comes to movie and TV series subtitles, the person watching is typically able to tell that the name mentioned is either different from the one displayed on the screen, or that it is completely omitted. In that case, one can only hope that a discerning viewer will be able to tell why the translator chose that particular solution and be understanding of the section of the audience that is less familiar with the Anglo-American jet-set.


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