Everyone has been going a little crazy for Harry Potter this week, slightly more than usual thanks to the big 20-year-aniversary; so when Quora users asked what characters from the wizarding world were called in other languages writer and publisher Andy Kerr shared some magical wisdom.
There are a lot of translators out there who probably wish that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had remained, well—unnamed. Voldemort’s name presented some interesting challenges to translators, due to Rowling making “Tom Marvolo Riddle” an anagram of “I am Lord Voldemort” in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
‘Voldemort,’ said Riddle softly, ‘is my past, present and future, Harry Potter...’
He pulled Harry’s wand from his pocket and began to trace it through the air, writing three shimmering words: TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE
Then he waved the wand once, and the letters of his name re-arranged themselves: I AM LORD VOLDEMORT
The first time I read that passage, I wondered aloud: “How are they going to translate that?
Different languages handled it somewhat differently; French got a lot of leeway, on account of being the first translation of the work, before any central control had been established over how names should be translated:
French: Tom Elvis Jedusor (“Je suis Voldemort”)
Aside from “Voldemort” already being French for “flight from death” (which is wholly appropriate) the French translators went above and beyond:
There is an additional level of wordplay in the French. Because “sort” is used to mean spell, along with the more standard word sortilège, the name Jedusor can be seen as an abbreviation for “jet du sort” meaning a blow with a spell, or “jeu du sort” meaning a game with spells. The French translator deserves particular credit for this level of ingenuity. (Source: Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter)
This has another implication, as well. Since You-Know-Who shed the name of his “filthy Muggle father,” that means that Voldemort’s father was . . . Elvis. If you just pictured magic wands and platform shoes, you’re in good company.
Most translators looked at the arrangement of the names, and saw “Marvolo” as the made-up name that could be flexible between languages:
Turkish: Tom Marvoldo Riddle (“Adım Lord Voldemort”)
German: Tom Vorlost Riddle (“Ist Lord Voldemort”)
Spanish: Tom Sorvolo Ryddle (“Soy Lord Voldemort”)
The Greek translation is interesting in part because it’s one of the few translations that tried to keep “Marvolo” while simultaneously not bothering to keep “Tom” . . . or to make it a proper anagram, for that matter. (There’s an extra omega that the translators hope you won’t notice.)
Not to be outdone, the Slovenian version takes He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and renames him completely:
Slovenian: Mark Neelstin (“Mrlakenštain”)
Some translators decided it was a lost cause from the start.
In Arabic, Tom just writes ‘I am Lord Voldemort’ (أنا لورد فولدمورت) in the air. There’s no mention of Tom Marvolo Riddle.
In Hindi, the name appears as Tom Marvolo Riddle and is rearranged as “I am Lord Voldemort.” The book then switches back to Hindi and carries on. Prince Patel, a student in Jabalpur, India, explains:
There are very few sentences written in English in Hindi Version of Harry Potter and this is one of them. May be because India is [the] second largest English speaking nation and thus didn’t care much about Mai Voldemort Hun (I am Voldy).
Of course, many Asian languages don’t really have the concept of anagrams at all, since there aren’t any letters to rearrange. Here, they included similar sounds, and in some cases, a footnote with the original English so that people can see the clever rearrangement of the letters: