Transposing Proper Names in Frank McCourt’s Memoir Angela’s Ashes from English into Maltese

  • Kenneth Grima

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Cover of Volume 63, Number 1, April 2018, pp. 1-276, Meta

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1. Introduction

Proper names not only identify, but may inform and culturally mark the referent. Hence, translating proper names, both human and non-human, is considered as a “momentous” (Landers 2001: 91) decision in literary translation. Although, as underscored by Ayedh Alqahtani (2010: 53), proper names, in general, do not really manifest any physical traits of the person or artefact concerned, Christensen (2000: 10) insists that “to say the name is to begin the story.” They are not simply individual and spiritual identities, but are also a reference system for others (Heymann 2011: 387). In fact, Watt (1957/2001:18) concludes that proper names in literary texts “have exactly the same function (as) in social life: they are the verbal expression of the particular identity of each individual ….” Furthermore, Ogden and Richards (1923/1985: 212) believe that proper names are associated with specific experiences “which will help to form the context” that will identify the proper name. However, proper names are not simply a means of identification. Whether they refer to people or streets they indicate “cultural and societal identities” (Newmark 1981: 70; Randall 2009: 3; Gavigan 2010: 26).

This paper aims to identify the various proper names in the source-text (ST) and the ‘best’ cross-cultural transposition strategic processes, which can be used during their transposition into the target-text (TT), in order to keep cultural losses to a minimum whilst increasing cultural gains. This involves producing a cultural hybrid TT (Schäffner and Adab 1995: 330; Sun 2009: 89) to maintain the ST’s original cultural environment and to make the ST acceptable within the target environment, which includes the target-reader, target-language (TL) and target-culture (TC), whilst being conscious of the Maltese bilingual, but not necessarily bicultural, reader.[1]

To achieve these aims, an extended practical translation exercise by the author himself is used involving the translation of Chapter 1 from Frank McCourt’s (1997) memoir Angela’s Ashes from English into Maltese.[2] The choice of Angela’s Ashes for this study is based on the memoir’s “cultural capital” (Bassnett and Lefevere 1998: 5) and on the cultural similarity between Ireland and Malta, even though not always with the same intensity and/or at the same level.[3] A reasoned analysis of specific excerpts or “textual features” (Dickins, Hervey et al. 2002: 231) taken from the aforementioned chapter follows which helps in the discussion and analysis of the transcultural translation process and the strategies used in the cross-cultural transposition process.

Such an approach provides many opportunities for the author to analyse the various proper names in the ST in detail and how best to transpose them into the TL-TC. As stated by Bassnett (2002: 117), it also helps to analyse the way in which the proper names present in the respective excerpts and the emphatic cultural swing(s) occurring during the transformation of the ST from one literary system to another, both written in a particular language and shaped in their respective culture, affect the cultural decisions taken by the translator. Following Lisheng (2010: 94), the author also discusses the way these proper names are neutralised and/or absorbed within the system and the norms of the TL-TC is also discussed in conjunction with the principles of choice functioning in the same system.

Hence, this paper focuses mainly on a comparative textual analysis in order to support the aims illustrated above.

2. Cross-cultural strategic processes

Whilst some proper names may carry meaning, others do not and are just an act of identification (Vermes 2003: 90). Hence, their transposition involves a delicate process of decision-making during which the translator must carefully consider the underlying cultural meaning of the proper name to render it appropriately into the TT-TL-TC. Several strategies exist. Throughout this research, proper names with a ‘conventional’ meaning and no specific cultural meaning were transposed using a source-language (SL)–source-culture (SC) approach, except when an established translation already existed. Contrarily, proper names with a cultural “loaded” meaning experienced strategic indeterminacy (Hermans 1988: 11-13) ranging from a SL-SC to a TL-TC bias approach. Each strategy was meant to make the TT appropriate for the comprehension of the bilingual target-reader whilst preserving the authentic effect achieved by the proper name’s cultural semantic content or meaning (Vermes 2003: 103; Zarei and Norouzi 2014: 160).

The author’s main concern was to transpose the cultural functionality of the proper name rather than simply its words (Nord 2003: 189). Four different categories of transposition (Figure 1) were considered, to avoid unnecessary cultural loss in the “contextual effects” (Álvarez and Vidal 1996: 59; Nord 2003: 183; Vermes 2003: 99; Zarei and Norouzi 2014: 159).[4] These included:

  • Category ‘A’ transference;

  • Category ‘B’ translation;

  • Category ‘C’ modification;

  • Category ‘D’ omission.

Category ‘A’ (transference), also referred to as retention, preservation, non-translation or reproduction, implies the transposition of the ST names fully unchanged (SC-SL oriented approach), e.g. ST “Margaret,” TT “Margaret.” A translation (Category ‘B’ translation) in brackets may follow. This is the most common and quickest solution available, used normally with transcultural or unfamiliar proper names. It may involve phonological, e.g. ST “David” (ˈdeɪvɪd), TT “David” (ˈdävid), morphological, e.g. ST “Ellis Island,” TT “Ellis Island” [gender marked],[5] or graphological adaptation, e.g. ST “Nurse O’Halloran,” TT “Ners O’Halloran.” It may also include explanation by adding minimal information meant to provide some of the implicit/explicit background SC knowledge contained in the proper name that the target-reader may lack in his/her own culture, e.g. ST “the Glens of Antrim,” TT “f’The Glens, il-widien dojoq qalb il-muntanji ta’ Antrim” [in The Glens, the narrow valleys among the mountains of Antrim]. This is done discreetly, without interfering with the literary text, either within the text or as footnotes, notes or glossary.[6]

Category B(translation) involves the transposition of the proper name, or its classifiers (e.g. ST “River” in “River Shannon,” TT “ix-Xmara Shannon” [the River Shannon]) into the TL by using an equivalent expression that provides the same implications, or almost, for the target-reader as the original proper name had for the source-reader (a TC-TL oriented approach, as categories ‘C,’ modification and ‘D,’ omission). This can involve a literal translation, i.e. a calque or loan translation or an official, e.g. ST “other California Sans,” TT “Sanijiet l-oħrajn Kalifornjani” [the other Californian Sans], or recognised, culturally equivalent translation (exonym), although not necessarily sharing complete identical cultural connotations, e.g. ST “the Statue of Liberty,” TT “l-Istatwa tal-Libertà” [the Statue of Liberty]. Dickins, Hervey et al. (2002: 36) argue that when there is a “standard indigenous” TL equivalent proper name, the translator is expected to use it, unless there is a valid reason which favours exoticism into the TT which would not be conveyed if a standard TL equivalent were utilised.

Category ‘C’ (modification) involves the replacement of the original proper name with a TL-TC name, which may lead to a substantial change in the form and/or cultural implications of the original proper name, and therefore in the effects imparted by the proper name in the SC-ST. According to Vermes (2003: 101), modification occurs when the specific proper name does not carry the same connotations in the TC as in the SC leading to a loss of relevant “contextual implications” in the TT. Three procedures may be involved:

  1. Globalisation or neutralisation: the replacement of the culture-specific proper name with a TL generic culture-unspecific noun or name which, although it may lack the cultural nuances of the original proper name, still manages to transfer effectively its referential meaning, e.g. ST “Long Island Railroad Station,” TT “stazzjon tal-ferrovija” [train station].

  2. Localisation or substitution: the replacement of culture-specific proper name by another name from the TC with which the target-reader is likely to be more familiar, thus avoiding any loss of effect leading to drastically damaging the meaning of the original proper name (hence a process of cultural adaptation). Although this seldomly used strategy may change the meaning of the ST since the TT may differ from the former, it may eventually help to save much of what might be lost during the translation process, e.g. ST “Chancellor of the Exchequer,” TT “il-Ministru tal-Finanzi” [the Minister of Finance]. This also applies to the next procedure.

  3. Transformation or replacement: the replacement of the original culture-specific proper name by another in the SC with which the target-reader is more familiar. This is normally used when the translator is concerned with the background cultural knowledge of the target-reader (see procedure ‘b’ for further discussion), e.g. ST “Daily News,” ST “New York Times.”

Category ‘D’ (omission) involves the deletion of the original proper name into the TT without the translator considering any other transposition strategy. It is extremely rare and only done if the original proper name causes major confusion to the target-reader. Moreover, it involves proper names with little importance in the TC and which do not convey important cultural meaning to the overall message of the ST-TT, e.g. ST “Not until late December did they take Male to St. Paul’s Church to be baptized …,” TT “Damu sal-aħħar ta’ Diċembru biex ħadu lil Male biex jgħammduh…” [Not until late December did they take Male to be baptized].

Figure 1

Major categories involved in the transposition of Proper Names

Major categories involved in the transposition of Proper Names

-> See the list of figures

3. Transposition of proper names[7]

Farhang Zabeeh (1968: 73) classifies proper names into five main classes, i.e. personal names, place names, time names, institution names and artifact, which she then divides into 21 further subsections. On the other hand, Sam Coates-Stephens (1992: 73) classifies proper names into eight categories ranging from personal names, to place names, corporation names, legislation names, information source names, event names, object names, and to origin names. For the purpose of this paper, we will be dealing with the transposition of proper names falling within the following categories:

  • people names;

  • geographical names;

  • names of institutions, buildings and monuments;

  • names of Biblical and Greek mythological figures;

  • names of Irish and English mythological, historical and political figures, institutions or episodes;

  • nicknames;

  • titles and forms of address;

  • other proper names.

3.1. Transposition of people names

In Angela’s Ashes, being a memoir, it is very likely that all the common people names encountered are non-fictitious. Some of these may also be “cultural markers” (Nord 2003: 184), as they specifically indicate to which culture the respective character belongs. Newmark (1981: 70) believes that proper names of people, which do not have meaning or connotations, should not be translated unless they have an accepted translation in the TL. Nevertheless, the tendency nowadays seems to favour full transference of people’s names (Newmark 1988: 214-215; Vermes 2003: 103), even though they may be pronounced differently in the TL leading to a possible change in nationality (Nord 2003: 185). Leppihalme (1997: 91) underscores that changes are permissible if the losses caused by the unfamiliarity of the name is considered serious. Whilst certain people names in the ST do not have an indigenous equivalent in the TC, others have a standard Maltese equivalent. Although the translator is expected to use the TL equivalent name once it exists, the author opted to retain the original people names without any adaptation or specification added (Table 1), whether such names are considered “transcultural” (familiar) or “unfamiliar” with the target-reader (Leppihalme 1997: 90), for the following reasons. First of all, it helps to preserve the individual’s “nationality” (Newmark 1988: 214). Secondly, it is the most common strategy used by literary translators (Leppihalme 1997: 90-94). Thirdly, it does not affect the target-reader despite the loss of unfamiliarity (Dickins, Hervey et al. 2002: 91). Sometimes, it is very likely that the equivalent proper name in the TL is not necessarily used, or widely used, in the TC, thus making it sound even more alien to the target-reader than the original proper name itself. Finally, it helps to maintain a greater degree of exoticism in the TT (Dickins, Hervey et al. 2002: 36).

Table 1

Transference of people names which are non-cultural markers

Transference of people names which are non-cultural markers

-> See the list of tables

In extracts (6)-(10) (Table 2), the nationality, role and/or religious connotations of these specific American singers and/or traditional Irish names is evident. Here again, the same strategy is used in extracts (1)-(5). However, whilst these proper names may evoke a “culture bound allusion” in the mind of the source-reader, especially the Irish source-reader (SR1) or the American source-reader (SR2), they do not necessarily have the same effect on the target-reader (Yllmaz-Gümüş 2012: 124):

Table 2

Transference of people names which are cultural markers

Transference of people names which are cultural markers

-> See the list of tables

In extract (11) below (Category ‘A’ transference), McCourt presents the source-reader with a comical situation associated with the semantic meaning of the proper name Male, which is completely lost in the TT. The proper name Male is a “descriptive name” (Nord 2003: 184) since it explicitly indicates the sex of the individual concerned. In fact, it means man or boy and it does not feature as a proper name in any of the dictionaries of names consulted (Macleod and Freedman 1995[13]; Norman 1996/2003[14]; Hanks, Hardcastle et al. 1990/2006). However, the clerk did not understand Malachy because of his alcoholic mumble and consequently, he mistakes male as an adjective with Male as a proper name. Such confusion helps to create a comic situation. Although the Maltese equivalent for male is raġel [man] or maskili [masculine], the author opted to use Male. Nevertheless, unless the target-reader is able to make his/her own connectivity between SL name Male and adjective male and TL raġel or maskili, this “connotational meaning” (Abdolmaleki 2012: 833) and comical situation are completely lost in the TT (although this could be true for any target-reader, it might not be true for the Maltese target-reader who is bilingual, and to some extent, bicultural, although not necessarily):


He thought he might name the child Malachy, after himself, but his North of Ireland accent and the alcoholic mumble confused the clerk so much he simply entered the name Male on the certificate.(para.58)

Ħaseb li seta’ jsemmi ’l ibnu Malachy, bħalu, imma l-kisra ta’ kliemu mill-Irlanda ta’ Fuq u t-tgedwid alkoħoliku tiegħu tant ħawdu lill-iskrivan li spiċċa niżżel Male taħt l-isem fuq iċ-ċertifikat.

[He thought he could name his son Malachy, like him, but the accent of his words from the North of Ireland and this alcoholic mumble confused so much the clerk that he ended up writing down Male under the name on the certificate.]

3.2. Transposition of geographical names

Nord (2003: 184) insists that all SL geographical names are “culture markers” since they indicate which culture they are referring to. Some of these SL names denote more than just the name (Zarei and Norouzi 2014: 159) and revive in the source-reader (especially SR1 or SR2) important historical, social and political circumstances, which are not necessarily shared by the target-reader, such as political oppression or emigration. Hence, although transposed into the TT, they are unlikely to have any ‘cultural referential’ meaning to the target-reader.

The following procedures were considered during the transposition process of the present geographical names:

  1. Geographical names were either transferred (Category ‘A’ transference) or translated (Category ‘B’ translation). These often have specific corresponding forms in the TL, and have been culturally domesticated without any contestation.

  2. Whilst some of the SL geographical names were translated according to their official TL corresponding name, others do not have an official equivalent and were completely retained in the TT without causing any problems as they do not have any specific cultural connotations. In other instances, it was deemed more appropriate to maintain the SC name, even though there was a TL corresponding name, as long as it was clear which place the author was referring to.

  3. In case geographical names included a classifier, this was usually translated. However, toponyms were usually transferred.

  4. Whereas in the past the tendency was to naturalise geographical names according to the TL spelling system, this is not the case anymore. Hence, transliteration was ignored unless officially existing already.

  5. Where the target-reader was unlikely to be familiar with the specific geographical name, a generic term (or a classifier) was added to provide him/her with the appropriate implicit information.

  6. Names of streets were not translated since their only aim was to introduce the target-reader with the SL culture and not to describe their characteristics.

Whilst the SL geographical names in (12)-(15) are probably ‘transcultural’ (Table 3), those in (16)-(21), are most likely culturally ‘unfamiliar’ to the target-reader, whether they are naturalised into the TL or not, thus causing some cultural loss during the translation process (Table 4). Five main strategies were used, mainly Category ‘A’ (transference): CE (Tables 3 and 4), CB1 and CB3 (Table 4), and Category ‘B’ (translation): CC1 (Table 3) and CD (Table 4).

Table 3

Transposition of transcultural geographical names

Transposition of transcultural geographical names

-> See the list of tables

Table 4

Transference of culturally unfamiliar geographical names

Transference of culturally unfamiliar geographical names

-> See the list of tables

The following proper names require some attention:

  1. In Angela’s Ashes, the River Shannon (16) is associated with the misfortunes of Limerick (Buchanan 2002: 13) as a result of its everlasting dampness. Although the Maltese translation of river is xmara, if we were to compare ix-Xmara Shannon [the River Shannon] with ix-Xmara Nil [the River Nile] and ix-Xmara Ġordan [the River Jordan], whilst the latter do satisfy the expectations of the target-reader and TC since their geographical reference is clear to the target-reader (Nord 2003: 186; Yllmaz-Gümüş 2012: 124), the former does not, and hence it is considered culturally exotic.

  2. According to Greenwood, Wallis etal. (2003: 662)[15], the Glens of Antrim (17), known simply as “The Glens,” is an area in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, which consists of nine valleys (or glens). Walter (1995/2008: 609)[16] defines glen as “a deep narrow valley, especially among mountains,” the same as Aquilina (1999-2000: 1181)[17], whose definition includes wied dejjaq bejn muntanji għoljin [a narrow valley among high mountains]. The author suggests that rather than completely retaining the original proper name into the TT, he splits Glens from Antrim whilst specifying the idea of ‘narrow valleys among mountains’ through additional information. Thus, he opted to use The Glens, whilst providing a descriptive and functional specification about the proper name, i.e. il-widien dojoq qalb il-muntanji ta’ Antrim [the narrow valleys among the mountains of Antrim].

  3. In extract (18), Erin reflects “an archaic or poetic name for Ireland” (Butterfield 1979/2003: 556)[18]. The difficulty arises from the probable unfamiliarity of the proper name Erin to both source-reader (at least SR2) and target-reader. Such a difficulty is reduced thanks to the self-explanatory information provided by the text itself, “Erin which is Ireland”(para.274) translated as Erin li hi l-Irlanda [Erin which is Ireland].

Of great relevance are the strategies used in the transposition of the following proper-names: other California Sans (22) and Limerick (23)-(24), the latter used both as a noun and as an adjective, respectively:


He had a few dollars in his pocket from the last job and he had an uncle in San Francisco or one of the other California Sans.(para.56)

Kellu xi ftit dollari fil-but mill-aħħar xogħol li kellu u kellu ziju joqgħod San Francisco jew f’xi wieħed mis-Sanijiet l-oħrajn Kalifornjani.

[He had some dollars in the pocket from the last job he had and he had an uncle who lives in San Francisco or in any one of the other Californian Sans.]


Angela wanted to give him a middle name, Munchin, after the patron saint of Limerick but Malachy said over his dead body.(para.59)

Angela riedet tagħtih it-tieni isem, Munchin, għall-qaddis patrun ta’ Limerick imma Malachy qal lanqas jekk imut zoptu.

[Angela wanted to give him the second name, Munchin, for the patron saint of Limerick, but Malachy said not even if he died suddenly.]


No son of his would have a Limerick name.(para.59)

L-ebda wieħed minn uliedu ma kien se jkollu isem Limerickjan.

[No one of his children was going to have a Limerick name.]

The state of California in the USA includes twenty-four cities that start with ‘San’ (Dickey 2003: 157, 202)[19]. Hence, Sans in (22) refers to this multitude of cities. In Maltese, San, like Sant’ or Santu [Saint], is a title given to holy people, e.g. San Pawl [Saint Paul]. It also occurs in various Maltese village names or zones, e.g. San Ġiljan [Saint Julian’s]. However, this word in English does not have any religious connotation whatsoever as it does in Maltese. Still, the author wonders if Frank McCourt was aware of the religious usage in other languages, such as Italian, and, eventually decided to play around with this word to create a linguistic pun between the meaning of San in the sense of California cities starting with ‘San,’ and that of ‘holy,’ thus emphasising the overwhelming Roman Catholic atmosphere amongst his Irish counterparts. The following translation options were considered: (a) is-Sanijiet l-oħrajn Kalifornjani [the other Californian Sans]; (b) il-Qaddisin l-oħrajn Kalifornjani [the other Californian Saints]; (c) is-Sanijiet l-oħrajn ta’ Kalifornja [the other Sans of California]; and (d) il-Qaddisin l-oħrajn ta’ Kalifornja [the other Saints of California]. In the second and forth options, the word qaddisin [saints] is used metaphorically. Also, although qaddisin has an allusion to ‘holiness’ in Maltese, it does not infer any reference to those cities in California bearing ‘San.’ Therefore, there could be no immediate association by the target-reader between the Maltese word qaddisin and the English allusion Sans. In the first and third options the association between Sanijiet [Sans] as both ‘holy’ and ‘cities starting with San in California’ is maintained, even though it still requires some extra effort from the target-reader’s part. The third option is probably the most straightforward. However, it does not emit the exotic figurative and melodic meaning associated with the original proper name. Hence, the author opted to use the first option, since the exotic figurative and melodic meaning associated with the original proper name is maintained.

In extracts (23)-(24), Limerick is used twice, first as a noun ‘saint of Limerick,’ then as an adjective ‘a Limerick name,’ i.e. a name typical of Limerick. Regarding the first instance, in conformity with the main strategy adopted with geographical names, Limerick (23) is transferred as Limerick in Maltese since no official translation exists. As regards extract (24), the author suggests two options: (a) the use of the Maltese adjective Limerickjan, based on existing forms such as “Chomskjan” [Chomskyan] (Briffa 2007: 101)[20], or (b) the use of minn Limerick [from Limerick]. Although one is likely to use this latter construction to refer to one’s place of origin, e.g. Jien minn Malta [I am from Malta], it is not used to indicate the origin of one’s name or surname. In this case, the derivative adjective is often used, e.g. kunjomi Malti [my surname is Maltese].[21]

3.3 Transposition of names of institutions, buildings and monuments

In extracts (25)-(29), a generic noun (or classifier) is used to form part of the SL overall proper name, i.e. School (25), Station (26), Church (27), Society (28) and Hospital (29) (Table 5).

Table 5

Transposition of names of institutions and buildings

Transposition of names of institutions and buildings

-> See the list of tables

Whilst Nord (2003: 184) and Vermes (2003: 103) stress that, unless the original proper name is referring to an internationally recognised name, the generic noun referring to the functionality of the proper name must be translated in order not to make the reference incomprehensible to the target-reader who does not know the SL-SC. Simultaneously, Newmark (1981: 73) argues that the translator may still decide to leave it untranslated since this is related to the SC. The author opted to retain the SL name in the TT, including the generic nouns, to maintain a greater degree of exoticism in the TT, even if these could have been easily translated accordingly as Skola [School], Stazzjon [Station], Knisja [Church], Soċjetà [Society] and Sptar [Hospital]. Moreover, since in the ST, the initial letter of each classifier is written in a capital letter like all other words within the respective proper name, it confirms that this is part of the overall proper name. Also, regarding extracts (25) and (29), it is a common practice in Malta to refer to church and private schools or state colleges and to hospitals, both public and private, in English. As far as extracts (27)-(28) are concerned, the author wanted to make sure that no association is made either with any local church dedicated to St Paul, who happens to be one of the patron saints of Malta or with ‘St Vincent de Paul Residence,’ a well-known care residence for the elderly run by the State in Malta.

Regarding the translation of acronym “WPA” in extract (30), Newmark (1981: 77) underlines that these are normally retained in the TT, unless there is already a recognised TL-TC equivalent. Yet, their usage can be disadvantageous; especially if the target-reader is not familiar with them (Zarei and Norouzi 2014: 156) as they interrupt the reader’s flow of attention, disturb continuity (Newmark 1988: 92; Landers 2001: 93) and may lead to confusion and misconception (Zarei and Norouzi 2014: 156) because of their lack of meaning to the target-reader (Vermes 2003: 100). This can apply to the source-reader as well. Although the translator may opt to define or add the translation of the acronym’s title which would put less processing effort on the target-reader (Vermes 2003: 100), how would we know if the source-reader himself/herself were acquainted with such an acronym?

In each of the above cases, the use of a footnote could help the target-reader understand better the ‘cultural referential’ meaning of the proper names. However, if footnotes are absent in the ST but included in the TT, the latter becomes simply an exercise of reflection which destroys the author’s attempt to indulge the reader into a creative exercise of illusion (Landers 2001: 93). Hence, such translation strategy was discarded.

3.4 Transposition of names of Biblical and Greek mythological figures

The following proper names (31-37) refer to Biblical and Greek mythological names (Table 6). These are normally naturalised in Maltese both because of a long tradition and because these are directly translated from Latin and not from the original (as done in English). Newmark (1981: 70; 1988: 214) and Abdolmaleki (2012: 833) state that names of saints and of prominent figures of classical Greek mythology are usually translated into the TL, unless their nationality is important. This should not be a problem in our case as most of the target-readers are acquainted with Roman Catholic saints and Greek mythological names. With regards to extracts (36)-(37), both Psaila and Diacono (1992: 516)[22] and Aquilina (1999-2000: 1335) translate English Hercules as “Erkole.” ST Achilles is only translated by Aquilina (1999-2000: 18) as “Akille.” On the other hand, Xuereb, an expert in the translation of the Classics, gives Maltese “Ħerkulis” (Xuereb 1999: 58-61)[23] and “Akilles” (Xuereb 1989: 437).[24]

Table 6

Translation of names of Biblical and Greek mythological figures

Translation of names of Biblical and Greek mythological figures

-> See the list of tables

3.5. Transposition of names of Irish and English mythological, historical and political figures, institutions or episodes

All proper names in Table 7 (38-44), are cultural markers with Irish historical and political connections that, however, do not elicit any ‘culture bound allusions’ in the target-reader (and probably neither in SR2) due to their unfamiliarity, although exceptions exist, e.g. (42)-(43). These have all been transferred into the TT (Category ‘A’) either through cultural exoticism (CE) or cultural borrowing (CB1). Here again, the author opted not to use footnotes for the same reasons in Section 3.3:

Table 7

-> See the list of tables

The following aspects need to be considered:

  1. Regarding extract (42), Briffa (2007: 216) translates Arthur as “Arturu” or “Turu” in Maltese. Nevertheless, he then translates King Arthur as “ir-Re Arthur” (Briffa 2007: 216). On the contrary, Aquilina (1999-2000: 116) refers to King Arthur as “[i]r-Re Arturu.” However, in our Maltese culture, we are more likely to refer to these classical English heroes and leaders, such as King Arthur, in the original, since we Maltese know them by their English name. Hence, the author opted to retain the original proper name in the TT.

  2. Regarding extract (44), three transposition options were considered: (a) Red Branch Knights; (b) Il-Kavallieri tal-Fergħa l-Ħamra [The Knights of the Red Branch], a literal translation of the proper name which is syntactically and semantically acceptable (but not culturally naturalised) since in Maltese, the word fergħa [branch] is used both as “branch of a tree” but also figuratively as a “subsidiary annex/extension attached to the main institution” (Aquilina 1987: 325)[25]; and (c) il-Kavallieri tar-Red Branch [the Red Branch Knights], thus combining two strategies. Each option could be accompanied with an explanatory footnote in order to provide a descriptive specification, i.e. providing information which does not only give descriptive information about the proper name but also explains its functionality in the SC. However, footnotes were disregarded. The second option was discarded since the Maltese version would sound even more culturally unnaturalised compared to the full retention of the proper name in the TT. In the third option, the word Knights, being written in a capital letter in the ST, confirms that it forms part of the overall name of the military order, i.e. Red Branch Knights. The first option was, therefore, preferred.

In extract (45) below, reference is made to a specific historical and political episode in relation to the prohibition of sales of alcohol in the USA. Aquilina (1999-2000: 2426) translates it as “projbizzjoni” [prohibition]. He also provides the following explanation, “il-liġijiet tal-projbizzjoni … li kienu jipprojbixxu li jagħmlu jew ibigħu x-xorb alkoħoliku l-aktar fl-Amerika bejn l-1920 u l-1933” [the Prohibition laws which used to prohibit the making or selling of alcoholic drinks mostly in the USA between 1920 and 1930]. The original proper name was translated using standard calque together with the addition of extra information within the main text, il-liġijiet tal-Projbizzjoni [the Prohibition laws] in order to specify the functionality of the proper name. The author also considered the possibility of including a footnote intended to specify the description of the proper name by adding extra information. Such a combination would help to neutralise the perceived impact of the proper name onto the target-reader: Fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika, il-Liġijiet tal-Projbizzjoni, magħrufa bħala ‘The Prohibition Laws’ jew ‘Prohibition’ fil-qosor, kienu jipprojbixxu l-bejgħ, il-manifattura u t-trasport tax-xorb alkoħoliku. Dawn il-liġijiet kienu fis-seħħ bejn l-1919 u l-1933 [In the USA, the Prohibition Laws or ‘Prohibition’ in short, used to prohibit the selling, manufacture and transport of alcoholic drinks]. The information added would be both explicit, thus spelling out extra information already implicit in the proper name (il-liġijiet tal-Projbizzjoni) and added (the rest), i.e. the addition of extra information not implicit in the proper name through descriptive specification (Categories ‘A’ transference, and ‘B’ translation). However, here again, footnotes were disregarded:


In New York, with Prohibition in full swing, he thought he had died and gone to hell for his sins.(para.11)

Fi New York, bil-Liġijiet tal-Projbizzjoni fl-aqwa tagħhom, ħaseb li kien miet u mar l-infern minħabba fi dnubietu.

[In New York, with the Prohibition Laws at their best, he thought he had died and went to hell because of his sins.]

3.6. Transposition of nicknames

Four different nicknames (46-49) were encountered (Table 8):

Table 8

Transposition of nicknames

Transposition of nicknames

-> See the list of tables

Three main strategies, one of which is combined with another strategy, were used in order to maintain the informality and characterisation associated with the SL nickname in the TT (Bandia 1993: 71):

  1. Paddy (46) is a “popular pet form of Patrick” (Norman 1996/2003: 294). The author opted to fully retain it into the TT without any specification or added information.

  2. Proper names the Hound of Culain (47) and the Hound of Ulster (48) were translated by means of a calque. Hound refers to “a dog used for hunting” (Walter 1995/2008: 699). Although both Psaila and Diacono (1991: 550)[26] and Aquilina (1999-2000: 1390) translate hound as “kelb tal-kaċċa” [a hunting dog] or “kelb għall-kaċċa” [a dog for hunting], both TL nicknames, even though translated into Maltese, are not ‘culturally referential’ to the target-reader leading to unavoidable cultural loss.

  3. Extract (49) presents an interesting analysis. Ab Sheehan is the nickname of Angela Sheehan’s brother and Frank’s uncle Patrick or Paddy. Ab seems to be a non-standard abbreviation of the religious title Abbot, since the standard abbreviation for English Abbot is “Abb.” (The Oxford dictionary of abbreviations 1998: 6)[27]. According to Walter (1995/2008: 2), an abbot is “a man in charge of a monastery.” Butterfield (1979/2003: 2) adds that an abbot is “the superior of an abbey of monks.” Hence, he is a religious figure. Psaila and Diacono (1991: 2) and Aquilina (1999-2000: 2) translate it as “abbati,” with Aquilina (1999-2000: 2) adding “superjur ta’ komunità ta’ patrijiet f’kunvent jew monasteru” [a superior of a community of friars in a convent or monastery]. However, according to Serracino-Inglott (1975: 2)[28], the word abbati in Maltese can be confusing for the fact that it can both mean abbot and an altar boy. The author used Il-Pirjol [The Prior] to replace The Abbot together with the verb laqqmuh [they nicknamed him] implying that ‘he was given a nickname’ and thus replacing ST he was called. Eventually, no change is made in the transposition of the referential meaning of the original proper name, although this may lead to some level of undertranslation. By using Pirjol [Prior], which means “superjur tal-patrijiet f’kunvent ta’ xi ordnijiet” [a superior of friars in a convent of any order] (Serracino-Inglott 1981: 72)[29], an acceptable level of synonymy between the referential meaning of both Maltese Pirjol and English Abbot is achieved as they both refer to a conventual superior (Serracino-Inglott 2000: 2, 434)[30], even though Pickett (2000: 1394) concludes that the prior is “next in line below the abbey,” hence, not exactly equal. Moreover, by using Maltese Pirjol, all chances of confusion with homonym abbati [abbot; altar boy] are eliminated.

3.7. Transposition of titles and forms of address

In the ST, various titles and forms of address are used (extracts 50-55, Table 9).[31] Although they may seem less complicated to transpose into the TC, translating English titles and forms of address can still be quite complicated (Nord 2003: 183).

In extracts (50)-(51), although both Mrs. and Mr. are literally translatable into Maltese as Sinjura (abbreviated to Sin. or Sa) and Sur, respectively, the author decided not to naturalise them (except for removing the period after these abbreviations as per British usage), for the following reasons. Firstly, it seems that these forms of address are quite often used in the ST to express some sort of social differences (Baker 1992: 98), whilst the Maltese equivalents do not necessarily convey the same social distance. Secondly, by retaining these titles, it will help to remind the target-reader that the text is originally situated in a ‘foreign’ cultural background. Thirdly, both SL titles are very much in use locally, with or without the same social connotations. Whilst the above forms of address were very easy to transpose into the TT, the following involved the use of more complicated strategies:

  1. In (52), McCourt is referring to “the person in the British Government who is responsible for deciding tax levels and how much money the Government can spend” (Walter 1995/2008: 223). Aquilina (1999-2000: 950) translates it as “Kanċillier tal-Iskakkier” [the Chancellor of the Chess-Board] whilst continuing with “Ministru tal-Finanzi” [Minister of Finance]. It is suggested that this proper name should be transposed intact into the TT whilst providing the target-reader with an explanation of the term within the text, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi tar-Renju Unit [the UK Minister of Finance]. This helps to spell out extra information which is already implicit in the proper name by specifying the functionality of the proper name.

  2. In (53) according to Walter (1995/2008: 1029), papa is both “UK old-fashioned formal or US informal [for] ‘father’.” Although, whenever Frankie McCourt in Angela’s Ashes refers to his father as Dad, it is transposed as Pa in the TT, there exist other forms of addressing one’s own father in Maltese which include papà, tata, abb or missier, in short, miss, but also “daddy” (Briffa 2007: 209) or da. Whereas papà, daddy and da are used concurrently today, tata and abb are not in use whilst missier or miss are considered as very formal revering terms used by older generations to address their fathers. Hence, in order to reflect more the ‘UK old-fashioned formal’ form of address rather than the ‘US informal’ term for father, the author translated papà as daddy, thus using an English term which is used in spoken Maltese. This means transposing the SL name by using another English term. Still, the informality which may be attributed to the term papà as used in an American context, is completely lost in the TT.

  3. In (55), when talking about siblings in Maltese, the need is felt to specify whether these are male or female siblings (Briffa 2007: 209). Sisters is translated as “aħwa bniet” [sisters siblings] (Aquilina 1999-2000: 2957), with the above proper name transposed as l-aħwa bniet MacNamara [the MacNamara sisters siblings]. Another possible version could be l-aħwa bniet, [Delia u Philomena] MacNamara, [the sisters siblings, Delia and Philomena McNamara] whereby the names precede their surname, rather than acting as a (pseudo-)adjective defining sisters.

Table 9

Transposition of titles and forms of address

Transposition of titles and forms of address

-> See the list of tables

3.8 Other proper names

The following extracts (56-60, Table 10) refer to the transposition of proper names of Scottish (56), American (57)-(58) or Irish (59) song titles, and the name of an American newspaper (60). These are transferred by using minimally adapted retention, as is common practice (Newmark 1981: 73). They are not naturalised in Maltese since the target-reader is accustomed to songs/newspapers with an English name. Moreover, such a strategy helps to maintain a greater degree of exoticism in the TT (Dickins, Hervey et al. 2002: 91):

Table 10

Transference of names and titles of songs and newspapers

Transference of names and titles of songs and newspapers

-> See the list of tables

4. Cultural losses and gains

There were 97 proper names in the ST divided into eight subthemes (Table 11). Geographical names were the most common (28.87%), followed by names of common people (26.80%), titles and forms of address (10.31%), names of Irish and English mythological, historical and political figures, institutions or episodes (9.28%), names of Biblical and Greek mythological figures (8.25%), and names of institutions, buildings and monuments (7.22%). The remaining proper names included four examples each of nicknames (4.12%) and song names (4.12%), and one example of a newspaper name (1.03%). The most commonly used strategies were:

  • Category ‘A’ (transference): cultural exoticism with complete retention and no specification (CE, 43.30%);

  • Category ‘A’ (transference): cultural borrowing with minimally adapted marked retention and no specification (CB1, 25.77%);

  • Category ‘B’ (translation): cultural communication with fully faithful official domestic replacement with the same propositional meaning as the original proper name (CC1, 19.59%).

The remaining four strategies were used between:

  1. seven times

    a. Category ‘B’ (translation): cultural literal/direct translation with standard calque or loan translation (CD, 7.21%)

  2. two times

    a. Category ‘A’ (transference): cultural borrowing with minimally adapted retention and explicit descriptive specification (CB3, 2.06%) and

  3. once

    a. Category ‘A’ (transference): cultural borrowing with minimally adapted unmarked retention and no specification or CB2 (1.03%)

    b. Category ‘B’ (translation): cultural communication with official approximate faithful replacement with almost the same propositional meaning as the original proper name or CC2 (1.03%).

There was only one instance whereby cultural literal/direct translation with standard calque or loan translation (CD, 1.03%) was used in conjunction with explicit functional specification. Categories ‘C’ (modification) and ‘D’ (omission) were never used. Table 11 provides the frequency of strategies used for all types of proper names according to their respective subtheme.

The main problem regarding the transposition of proper names was not about how to preserve their identification into the TT but how to render “an accurate output” (Al Rabadi 2012: 43) in the target-reader whilst preserving them. Although generally, as pointed out by Ayedh Alqahtani (2010: 53), the strategy adopted was the preservation of most proper names, this still constituted a major difficulty as far as the transposition of their specific historical, social, linguistic and cultural connotations from the SC to the TC was concerned. This is because whilst in most cases, such proper names convey a well-known meaning to the source-reader, although one still needs to distinguish between SR1 and SR2, the target-reader may find them abstract and ‘alien,’ and therefore, culturally irrelevant. This led to a second problem: which proper names should be preserved into the TT and which should be localised (Titiškytė 2010: 131)? In this regard, two aspects were considered in order to choose between foreignisation and domestication of the original proper name: the target-reader’s reception level, within a bilingual setting (Maltese and English) and accustomed to the use of proper names in English, and the presumed purpose of the specific proper name in the ST.

According to Abdolmaleki (2012: 832-835), and Zarei and Norouzi (2014: 152-155), transposing proper names, mainly those which are culturally loaded and therefore carry meaning, can be a challenging activity. This is especially so if the target-reader lacks the necessary familiarity with the SC and the social, semantic, historical and cultural background knowledge that may be alluded to by the proper name concerned. Eventually, this may lead to the specific proper name not manifesting any meaning or functionality whatsoever in the TL-TC. Moreover, it seems there are no established rules on how to transpose proper names, and this complicates the situation even further (Nord 2003: 184).

When transposing the encountered proper names, cultural losses were unavoidable (Baker 1992; Dickins, Hervey et al. 2002; Boase-Beier 2003, 2004a, 2004b; Armstrong 2005; Sun 2007, 2009; Dutta 2009; Negro Alousque 2009). Firstly, there were instances when the social, semantic, historical and/or cultural intrinsic allusions, connectivity or identity of the individual proper name with the source-reader disappeared, leading to the overall description in the TT becoming less intense for the target-reader (Leppihalme 1997: 91). Secondly, the probability was that the target-reader ended up not identifying himself/herself with the “foreign” social, semantic, historical and cultural world transposed into the TT, thus feeling distanced from such an “exotic” reality (Nord 2003: 185). Thirdly, by using both a SL-SC and a TL-TC strategic approach, even though the latter with less frequency, the author might have ended up creating a false bicultural/bilingual setting for the target-reader leading to the production of socially, semantically, historically and culturally incoherent scenarios (Nord 2003: 187). Fourthly, the proper name’s “appellative functionality” or the ability of the target-reader to remember something associated with the proper name (and the source-reader) concerned, was rendered quite difficult (Nord 2003: 188-189). All these losses related to proper name allusions could have led to an increase in the target-reader’s “processing effort” (Álvarez and Vidal 1996: 189).

Table 11

Distribution of Proper Nouns by subthemes and frequency (f) of translation strategies (N=97)

Distribution of Proper Nouns by subthemes and frequency (f) of translation strategies (N=97)

-> See the list of tables

Nevertheless, there were also some linguistic and cultural gains (Rao 2009). First of all, new proper names have been introduced into the TL-TC, mainly people’s names, geographical names, and buildings. There were also instances whereby new linguistic creativity appeared in the TL. Finally, new historical, social and cultural connectivities and identities between the SC and the target-reader were experienced.

5. Conclusion

This paper investigated the various proper names embedded in Chapter 1 of Angela’s Ashes and how these influenced the cross-cultural transposition process from the ST (within the SL-SC) into the TT (embedded in the TL-TC) within a bilingual context (but not necessarily a bicultural context). It also set out to explore the potential translation gains and difficulties when dealing with the transposition of proper names as cultural references together with the various translation strategies which could be adopted to overcome them in order to keep the cross-cultural transposition losses to a minimum, whilst maintaining the ST’s original cultural environment, whenever deemed necessary, and producing a TT which is acceptable to the target-reader both linguistically and culturally.

Geographical names were the most common proper names encountered in the ST, followed by names of common people, titles and forms of address, names of Irish and English mythological, historical and political figures, institutions or episodes, names of Biblical and Greek mythological figures, and names of institutions, buildings and monuments. The remaining ST proper names included four examples each of nicknames and song names, and one example of a newspaper name.

Four different categories of transposition were considered in relation to the semantic domain of the respective proper-name, although only two were actually used, i.e. Category ‘A’ (transference) and Category ‘B’ (translation). Wherever possible, the author preferred to preserve the original proper names (transference) to avoid any change in meaning and interference in their functionality as cultural markers. Moreover, a semantic creative translation was preferred, especially with proper names that are culturally and semantically loaded to reduce the amount of processing effort required by the target-reader and to minimise the cultural losses of relevant contextual and cultural implications in the TT.

Eventually, this paper showed that translatability of the various proper names from the ST into the TT is possible, either by means of equivalent correspondence or compensation. Nevertheless, cultural losses for the TC-TL are unavoidable. Still, cultural gains featured prominently as well.