Hey, it’s not often that I come to you guys for an opinion, but this is something that is driving me increasingly nuts, now that I’m doing so many chapters of Desolate Era. In short – how should I translate the names, or should I? And how am I doing so far?
Coiling Dragon was different, because all of the names in Coiling Dragon were clearly Western names that were phonetically transliterated into Chinese (O’Brien to 奥布莱恩/Ao’bu’lai’en to O’Brien again); all I was doing was ‘reverting’ them back to the original Western. Desolate Era, however, proves to be something of a special case.
Normally, and this might catch some by surprise, I am very strongly against translating names at all; I hated the fact that in, for example, the classic Wuxia novel, Duke of Mount Deer, John Minford translated Xiaobao as ‘Trinket’, and ‘Xuanye’ as ‘Misty’. However, Desolate Era is causing me some trouble, and not just because IEatWatermelons had already started the current naming system (which I actually provided input on).
Here’s the problem; even in the original raws, IET used a hodgepodge naming system. Unlike in CD, all the naming ‘grammar’ was in the Chinese style; surname 1st, personal name 2nd. Hence, Ji Ning instead of Ning Ji. I’ve maintained that in my translations as well (I often drop the surname to make it easier). However, many other aspects of the naming system are completely non-Chinese. In short, I’ve identified several ‘strains’ of names, and have been translating them differently:
1) Surnames: IET uses a mixture of them here. Some of them, such as ‘Ji’, ‘Kou’, ‘Meng’ are actual Chinese surnames, and I haven’t touched them. Others, such as Beishan (Northmont), Tiemu (Ironwood), Donghe/Beihe (Eastriver/Northriver) are clearly made up, ‘tribal’-type surnames that don’t exist in Chinese, and I’ve translated those. This results in a weird mixture of Chinese surnames and translated surnames.
2) First names: IET uses a mixture here as well! First, we have the clearly made up names, such as Spring Grass, Autumn Leaf; those I just translate entirely. Then, there are names that were clearly chosen for the imagery they invoke, and which would almost never be used in Chinese as actual names, such as Blacktiger (Heihu) or Ninefire (Jiuhuo). When the names have meaning but I find it hard to translate, I ‘blend’ them into a Western name, such as Forgard, whose name actually was 忘卫, ‘Wangwei’, literally ‘Forget Guard’. But then, we have some names that could be real Chinese names that would sound terrible no matter how you translate it, like Ning (‘calm’), Baiwei (lit. ‘hundred small’), Diancai (‘palace talent’), Qinghe (‘young grain’), and more. These, I leave untouched.
Similarly to above, this results in a weird mixture of Chinese-y names and translated names, and we end up with (what feels to me is) weird things where Northmont Baiwei is talking to his father, Northmont Blacktiger.
3) Daoist names/titles: These are easy enough; for the most part, I translate the Daoist titles literally or with a blend.
I guess my question to DE readers is – bearing in mind that it’s a bit of a hodgepodge in Chinese as well (a mixture of Chinese names, Daoist names, and ‘tribal’ names), is this hodgepodge mixture in English working for you? For me, it feels weird to have a character with a ‘Chinese’ surname and an ‘English’ name, like Dong Seven, or Ji Ninefire, especially if/when they are talking to people with English surnames and Chinese names, such as Northmont Baiwei. Still, I’m not able to find a better solution. If I don’t translate the names at all (or just footnote heavily), a lot of the ‘extra flavor’ which the Chinese readers get is lost. If I translate ALL the names, then that’s going to lose a lot of the cultural aspect. So I continue to translate some but not all, as judiciously as I can…
Is this working for y’all? Thoughts?