Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Learning Japanese, Part 6 - Names

Most of the characters in Frozen Food Agent haven't been given names. This is kind of reflective of Japanese society as a whole, which doesn't put the same emphasis on a person's name as westerners do. Whereas an American may bond to their name, and find it a major disruption when it changes (such as when getting married), historically the Japanese often went by two, three or even more names throughout their lives depending on their professions and hobbies. For example, sumo wrestlers are given a ring name when they start wrestling, and get a new name when they hit the upper ranks of the sport (making 3 names right there). So, names aren't as important in Japan; they're more like titles. And, in Japan, it's a sign of respect to call someone by their title instead of their name (i.e. - Sensei for a teacher or doctor; Bucho for a company manager; and Nee-san for an older sister).

Which presents us with a challenge when trying to translate manga. What do we do with major characters that don't get names, or with minor characters that aren't even referred to by a title? The old fallback is to use "cop 1", "thief 1", etc. for minor characters. Unfortunately, in English always using a title is boring and unnatural (like always saying "sister" (if the character is not a nun), "customer" or "you".) Americans prefer to see the character's name, at least occasionally, while Japanese feel that using a title is more friendly (i.e. - nee-san, "sister").

Our hero is never given a name. He's either just called "officer" or "icicle yarou". Now, "yarou" is a fairly rude form of "you" or "that person". So, it's just as correct to use "icicle bastard" as it is to use "icicle guy". However, "bastard" is a fairly loaded word in English, and "guy" doesn't have the same impact as the original. The person doing the insulting just wants to be derogatory without starting a fight. So, "icicle boy" is a reasonable choice. In all other situations, I'll stick with "officer" for our hero even though I just said that this usage is not natural English.

There are two people in this manga that get names - the hero's friend, Mushu; and the hero's rival, Captain Balloon. Otherwise, Mushu's wife is either just "girlfriend" or "her"; the dirty cop is "dirty cop"; and the smuggler is "smuggler". The exception is the "Medical Examiner", who is at least given a title. And the "Examination Robot", of course.

To be continued...

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