Names and Their Substitutes: Onomastic Observations on Astérix and Its Translations

Sheila Embleton

The Astérix comic-book series, originally in French, is well-known and widely translated. Each book relates an adventurous episode in which the principal character is Astérix, a small, witty warrior from a fictional Gaulish village, the only village to have successfully resisted the Roman occupation. The series relies on many humorous techniques, but word-play and puns form an integral part. Much humour derives from the names used, combining various comic effects, particularly puns and double entendres. Thus the translator faces not only the usual problems in translating literary names, but also the problem of retaining these comic effects. This paper examines these problems and their solutions, based on a complete collection of name data from all 30 books in 4 languages (French original; English, German, Finnish translations), with numerous references to translations into other languages.

Table of contents

The Astérix comic-book series, originally with text by René Goscinny and drawings by Albert Uderzo, but continuing after Goscinny's death in November 1977 with both text and drawings by Uderzo, is well-known and widely translated. Astérix began in strip form in the weekly Pilote in 1959. In its success internationally, it is roughly parallel to another series originally in French, the Tintin series drawn and written by Belgian artist Georges Rémi (†1983), better known by his pseudonym Hergé (« his initials G. R., in reverse order). The Tintin series first began appearing in 1929; its 23 books have been translated into 34 languages. The Astérix books are originally in French, but translations of some or all of the roughly 30 volumes in the series exist in 31 languages, as of 1989: English, German, Dutch, Flemish, Frisian, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Luxemburg German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Galician, Modern Greek, Welsh, Breton, Serbo-Croatian, Hindi, Finnish, Hungarian, Basque, Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese, and even Latin and Esperanto. All books in the series relate, in exactly 44 pages, an adventurous episode, in which the principal character is Astérix, a small and witty Gaulish warrior, from a fictional Gaulish village on the north coast of Armorica (Modern Brittany), the only village to have successfully resisted the Roman occupation of Gaul.

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