August 20, 2010

Names in Translation

One of my favorite little fascinations is how personal names function in foreign language environments. For example, when I go into a Spanish-speaking situation, I usually become Carlos, but not always. Sometimes I am Char-les. Indeed, a lady once vehemently assured me that Carlos and Charles were two different names, and I once met a native Spanish speaker called Char-les. Generally, though it seems that English speakers get their names translated when they go into a Spanish-speaking ministerial situation. However, it doesn't usually work the other way. Juans and Isabels do not become Johns and Elizabeths, much less Jacks and Bettys. When a name gets translated from a minority language into a dominant one, it is usually for the sake of some sort of clarity. I know an Italian priest named Andrea, but since his name is a homograph for a usually feminine name in English, he goes by Father Andrew.

There are little liturgical questions too. Here in Boston our archbishop is His Eminence Seán Patrick O'Malley. (He ordained me priest, by the way, photo here.) I'm almost completely ignorant of Irish, so I don't know what the accent means, or what it's called, but he insists on it. Now when he is named during the Eucharist Prayer at a Mass in Spanish, I usually hear his name translated, and have done so myself: con el Papa Benedicto, con nuestro Obispo Juan. But this doesn't happen in English: with Benedict our pope, and Seán our bishop. Irish names have entered into the ordinary use of English, I suppose. Of course in Latin here in Boston one says, cum famulo tuo Papa nostro Benedicto et Antistite nostro Ioanne.


myzomela said...

Since no real Irish speakers have jumped in, I can help you with the accent in Seán. It's called a "fada" (meaning "long"). Without it, the word becomes "sean", pronounced something like English "shun", and means "old". I can appreciate why the good cardinal insists on his accent!
But I'm only an Australian who picked up a bit of Irish at a summer school in Donegal in 1988, so I'm happy to be corrected.

And while I'm here: top blog, Brother! I'm not a big commenter, but I am a big reader.


Brother Charles said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

The correct translation to Spanish for Benedict is 'Benito' not Benedicto.

Brother Charles said...

Anonymous: Yes! That's what I thought, too!

And yet, I have never heard it, in conversation or in the prayers of the Mass. Even his Wikipedia article in Spanish says "Benedicto." So what gives?

Brother Charles said...

So, here's what Wikipedia has to say on the question of Benito vs. Benedicto. I can't decide if it's a satisfying treatment.

A algunas personas les ha surgido la inquietud acerca del nombre del nuevo Papa. En francés es Benoît XVI, y no Bénédicte XVI; en portugués es Bento XVI, y no Benedito XVI. El nombre Benito XVI no es incorrecto aunque al parecer en todo el mundo hispanohablante el Papa es y será Benedicto XVI, como lo fue con sus antecesores del mismo nombre.

Se trata de un doblete léxico: a partir del nombre propio en latín Benedictus (participio de benedicere, bendecir) surgen dos palabras en castellano. Una, como voz patrimonial, evoluciona con las modificaciones propias del paso del latín al romance y da Benito. Otra, como cultismo, en que simplemente se adapta la forma de la voz latina superficialmente a las formas del castellano: Benedicto. Sin embargo, algunos católicos prefieren llamarle "Benito Decimosexto" y no "Benedicto Dieciséis".