Fantasy Novel Names + Inconsistent Transliteration = Chaos - Travis Senzaki

Fantasy Novel Names + Inconsistent Transliteration = Chaos

It’s been a while since I’ve updated anything on this page besides my word counts and (what I think are) amusing and interesting comments on the Writing Progress Tracker. Shame on you if you haven’t been reading them religiously, by the way. I’ve kept up with my novel progress, but I’ve been struggling with getting anything else going outside of that. I was feeling burned out and tired from the words, a family trip, and one of my more stressful seasons at work. I can’t guarantee I’m back for good, but I’m here for at least the next few paragraphs.

Enjoy them.

At present, I’m leaning toward self-publishing for my novel The Banner of the King. This is a personality-based decision for me. I have a hard time trusting anyone else to act in my best interests, or believing that such a thing is even possible. I’d rather my situation be completely within my control. That way, I alone am to blame for any failures (and, of course, I alone reap any benefits).

Banner is in its second draft at this point, so I’m nowhere near ready to release it, but I already have an idea of what I want to do with it, if not precisely how. Once of those plans includes translation. Since my wife, Sawa, operates a Japanese <-> English translation business, I have someone close at hand that I can trust to render my book into Japanese. And recently, I have become aware of just how important it is to have a good relationship with your translator.

Sawa is reading A Song of Ice and Fire in Japanese and recently finished the third book (The Continent of the Sword Storm, in Japanese) and moved onto the fourth. While she had a few minor bones to pick with the translator of the first three books, such as treatment of the word “bastard sword” (which, if memory serves, was literally translated as “bastard’s sword” and thereby lost the amusing pun from the English), the fourth book has spurred a series of complaints.

Apparently, between the third and fourth books, there was a change in the translator, which led to a complete overhaul of how a lot of names are rendered in Japanese. For those not familiar with the language, foreign words such as place and person names are rendered phonetically in Japanese’s katakana writing style. Apparently, the translator of the fourth book changed the phonetic reading of several of the characters and places so much so that she could not recognize them as being the same person. Since the names are so foreign-sounding to begin with, it does not take much of a change to make them seem to be different people.

Spoiler Alert: If you have not yet read the fourth book and do not want to know who is still alive (or perhaps dead but still important enough to be mentioned), please stop reading now.

Jaime Lannister’s name changed from “Jeemu” (Jaym) to “jeemii” (Jaymee), which is how I always pronounced it anyway. Brienne of Tarth went from “Burien” (Bree- en) to “Buraiennii” (Brye-en-knee), etc. Fans of the series will now how painfully slow and frustrating the fourth book was, even without worrying about name changes, but having to relearn character’s names would make it even more so. It’s a testament to how much she loves some of the characters (not including the two above) that she continues reading.

Hey, George R. R. Martin, if you’re reading this, when books six and seven are ready for translation into Japanese, if you insist that your Japanese publisher uses TranSenz, you’d be doing your Japanese fans a favor. I promise not to spoil anything.

Also, if you’re George R. R. Martin and you’re reading this, please leave a comment. I would like to know who one of my two-to-three regular readers are. But I digress.

There are not many languages that require the same level of attention to the translation as Japanese. Target languages that use the Roman alphabet should be free from problems like the ones above, but when you run into languages with their own alphabets and inexact phonetic equivalents, I’d say it’s in everyone’s interest- especially your fans’- to have someone you trust review the foreign phoneticization of your names. That goes for self- and traditionally-published authors.

And that’s my two cents.

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