Asterix French-to-English Names Explained

Category: Asterix
Last article published: 26 May 2016
This is the 8th post under this label
One of the joys of reading Asterix the Gaul in various translations (according to your linguistic abilities) is that there's so much word play in the French original, translators have had to create new puns for their own language's editions. Today, we're looking at the regular cast's names in the original and English editions, to see if they managed to improve on them, had to admit defeat, or changed the meaning of the work. Changing the names of characters isn't necessarily hard to do, so long as your language has enough terminations that sound like the comic series' name terminations. An easy guide: Generally...

Male Gaul names end in -ix
Female Gaul names end in -ine (rhymes with inn)
Roman names end in -us
Roman camp names end in -um
Egyptian names end in -is
Greek names end in -os
Iberian (Spanish) names have a "y" separating two names that end in -on
Goth names end in -ic... And so on.

Luckily, the two heroes of the books, Asterix and Obelix need not change their names. An asterisk is the same as an asterisque, which carry the double meaning of Asterix being the star AND a footnote in history. Similarly, the menhir-carrying Obelix plays on obelisk as much as the French obélisque. But the sesterce stops there. Other characters have largely been renamed. Let's look at village's most prominent figures.

Obelix's little dog is, in French, Idéfix (idée fixe), literally "fixed idea", carrying the meaning of single-mindedness. An animal trait? In English, he become Dogmatix, which is a double pun as it has "dog" in it, but what a small canine has to do with dogma is a bit vague. Bonus points for there being a thematic link between a "fixed idea" and a "dogma" though. It shows the translators weren't just coming up with random name puns.

The druid who makes Asterix's magic potion is, in French, Panoramix, and surpringly, they changed it even if "panoramic" is a word. The word's meaning, "an unobstructed and wide view of an extensive area in all directions" speaks to the druid's clarity of vision and ability to see the bigger picture. So what's he called in English? Getafix. I hate this. They're playing with the idea that the potion is an addictive drug (it isn't), and is just inelegant. I believe it's those connotations that made the short-lived American series change it to Magigimmix (magic gimmicks) and the '70s British newspaper strip to Readymix.

The village chief, up there on his shield, is, in the original Abraracourcix (à bras raccourcis), literally "with shortened arms", from the French phrase "tomber sur quelqu'un à bras raccourcis", i.e. to attack someone with violence (not something we in French Canada ever say, I had to look it up) might be appropriate for a usually out of reach warlord, though he's far more toothless than that in the comics. While I've grown up with that name and all others seem wrong to me, the English Vitalstatistix is perhaps better, speaking to the political side of running the village.

The terrible bard everyone wants to shut up is Assurancetourix (assurance tous risques, i.e. "comprehensive insurance") is an odd one because I always heard it as "assurance touriste", but I'm not sure tourist insurance is a thing. I guess he is a disaster. The English Cacofonix is the more appropriate pun. But are these translations sometimes a bit on the nose? I'll let you decide.

I could do this all day as there are dozens if not hundreds of characters in Asterix, from every nation of the Ancient World. Just in the village itself, I've skipped over Agecanonix/Geriatrix (point goes to English version), Ordralfabétix/Unhygienix the fishmonger (more appropriate pun in English, but I still affect the original), his wife Iélosubmarine/Bacteria (in English, they go with -ia terminations French gives to Roman women; the French here is brilliant), and the chief's wife Bonemine/Impedimenta (huh?).

From what I read, a lot of European countries kept the names as is (because people are polyglotal?), whereas others had to change the original terminations because their language wouldn't support them (Iceland changes the -ix to -ur, for example). If you read Asterix in Spanish or German or Japanese or whatever, I'd love to hear how they managed it. Leave us a comment. In meantime, I'll see you in ze funi papairz!

14 comments:

tomg said...

I read Korean so I looked up how Asterix names were translated there. However, the primary characters are only writing phonetically from the French into Korean. The puns or double meanings are lost.

LiamKav said...

Asterix and to a lesser extent Tintin are what got me in to comics. Growing up whenever I went to the library I'd always check one out.

Regarding the names being on-the-nose, I guess it depends on what age you're targeting. I read them long before I knew what "cacophony" meant, so when I found out I thought the pub was brilliant.

There's probably a good commentary to be done on translations vs adaptions. It's interesting that with Manga and Anime we've very much moved towards the former, keeping the original names largely intact and no longer pretending that, say, Sailor Moon is actually taking place in America. The fact that lots of Japanese shows actually use English puns in the first place makes it even odder (just look at Dragon Ball and its cast of vegetables).

Has this come up because Anthea Bell, the English translator, died back in October?

Anonymous said...

In German, they weren't as punny. The dog is still Idefix, but the druid is Miraculix, the chieftain is Majestix, and the bard is Cacophonix. What the hell kind of terrible parents did Cacophonix have, to give him a name that doesn't work unless he goes into music and is terrible at it?

It's like how thd Doctor's parents named him "Pete". (Yes I still insist on believing that.)

Siskoid said...

Liam: I didn't know. It came up because I'm going through each blog category alphabetically and writing a post that fits each one. A strange, sad coincidence.

LiamKav said...

Anon:

Maybe they were hoping that it would be an ironic name? Or maybe it's a nickname and he's oblivious to the meaning?

Siskoid: It was sad. I recall reading an article on the amount of work that had to go into "Asterix in Britain" just to have it make sense, due to the sheer number of untranslatable puns.

Green Luthor said...

The word "dogmatic" can refer to being strongly and unwaveringly opinionated or principled. So I'd say "Dogmatix" works well enough; it's not quite single-mindedness, but it does convey someone whose views are "fixed ideas", I suppose?

Brendon Wright said...

It's a curiosity of culture that you see "dogmatic" primarily in it's etymological sense rather than in its common usage.
In all five decades of my life I've never seen the word used in relation to actual dogma, but to mean more "like dogma". It's always used in relation to a mule headed person (not literally a mule head, you understand...) who swears BLIND that their idea is right, no need to consider the facts.
I think you'll find that though it's used in regards to religion (the sort of people who wouldn't know God if they met Him and would complain that he's breaking all their rules) it certainly means "a fixed idea". Not fixed as in undeniably correct but fixed as in "don't question it." I'm pretty sure Soviet political literature of the 50's was dogma...

Brendon Wright said...

Another curiosity of culture is the Franca lingua they taught us at school in the mid Eighties... I'm pretty sure the text book we used had been around since the 60's and I've noticed a lot of the (very basic) French we learned is pretty darned archaic! I think a lot of the grammar is no longer in use by any self respecting locuteur de la langue...
(I was a pretty lame student, my Latin was also "abominabilis")

LiamKav said...

I agree with Brendon regarding "dogmatic". I've heard it used far more in its metaphorical sense than its original meaning. A bit like the term "canon" 😀

Brendon Wright said...

Brilliant! Common usage and all that.
If Liam and I agree on something it could be true...

LiamKav said...

Either that, or the apocalypse has started. Which will probably be some relief, if true.

Brendon Wright said...

Though in this world of Cultural appropriation, the evils of being in a majority, all the isms etc et cetera... I should point out that I may probably be wrong.

Brendon Wright said...

Oh, I'm not licenced for firearm use. Hopefully there won't be zombies.

(required field must not be blank) said...

In Brazilian Portuguese, the names were mostly kept: Asterix, Obelix, Panoramix, Abracurcix (that is Abraracourcix, in a shortened form, meaning "abraço de urso", i.e. a bear's embrace), Chatotorix (that is the village's bard, where "chato" means "a nuisance"), Ideiafix (the dog, literally "fixed idea"), Automatix (the blacksmith), Ordenalfabetix (the fishmonger, literally "alphabetic order"), his wife Ielosubmarina (literally as the Beatles' song), Naftalina (the chief's wife, literally naphthalin, as in mothballs).

Incidentally, you probably never could notice that, in Astérix chez les Bretons, the British always speak "inverted". In French, and as Asterix speaks, nouns come first, then adjectives: "eau chaude" is "warm water". In English you invert: it would be "chaude eau". So the British in Asterix's book speak adjectives first and this is quite a joke on the English. But the English translation entirely loses it (I've seen it and can confirm it). Quite a loss. The Brazilian Portuguese editions preserve the joke, because as a rule we order words as the French do.

Also incidentally, as a reference to Asterix, my wife and I always refer to tea water as "warm water", adjectives first, because of Asterix chez les Bretons.

 

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