The names of international cartoon characters usually are maintained in the original language, but sometimes they are translated into the local language. In general, the reasons to do it are very complex. It might be historical reasons: Nowadays it is more globalized, but in the past, when the dubbing and the editorial teams were more fragmented, it was more common to adapt, not only to the script or the orthography but also to find a complete new and different title. Those are the cultural reasons. It is possible that the translator considers that the name needs to be changed, otherwise, it would sound bad.
Huey, Dewey & Louie
It is surprising how often the names of the three nephews have been adapted to the local audiences. More than other cartoon characters. As can be seen, just some languages use English names literally or their transcription. Others chose native names which sound more familiar: in Spanish (diminutive of John, George, James in Spain; Hugh, James, and Louis in America; except in Argentina where they are Hugh, Frank, and Louis), Portuguese (diminutive of Hugh, Joseph, Louis; in Brazil before had other names) and Catalan (diminutive of John, George, James).
Names are sound: The most peculiar cases are the onomatopoeias: in Italian “qua qua”, In Dutch “kwak kwak” or “kwaak kwaak” and in Danish is “rap rap”. Icelandic probably took the names from Danish, however, they say “bra bra” so the onomatopoeic reference is not so evident.
On the other hand, his uncle’s name changes very little. As a matter of fact, only a few languages do not know him as Donald. For example, in Italian “Paolino” is translated as Paul (Paperino is “gosling or duckling”); Danish “Anders” and Icelandic “Andrés” are Andrew; in Swedish is Carl “Kalle”; in Finnish “Aku” could be translated as Augustin; “Paško” is the Slavic name for Pascal, and in Slovenian “Jaka” is Jacob or James, same as Erzya “Jaku”.
Who does not know the name of this cartoon?
Is there on the planet someone who does not call him Mickey Mouse? Well, it does. In many cases, languages choose to adopt the name Mickey phonetically: Miki. Much better! Some even dare to do it with his surname “Maus”. However, in German, it is not, it actually the translation of mouse. So it does Czech Myšák, Hungarian Egér, Finnish Hiiri, or Turkish Fare among others.
“In my country, we do not call it…”
True. But it has changed over time. Remember that he is almost 100 years old. Even the original one was supposed to be called Mortimer. Eventually, Disney’s wife advised him not to do so. As you can see in the gallery, in Brazil was known as “Camundongo Mickey” and “Ratinho Curioso” (Curious mouse). In the 40s and 50s as “Ratón Miguelín or Miguelito” in Spain. “Mikkle Mus” was the name in Denmark until 1949, in pre-war Yugoslavia a copy was known as “Mika Miš”.
Probably the most exotic name is “Michael Musculus”. Latin cartoons exist. Now go and buy one. It is worth mentioning that the similarity between muscle and little mouse is not a coincidence:
“Muscle: from Latin musculus “a muscle,” literally “a little mouse,” diminutive of mus “mouse”. So-called because the shape and movement of some muscles (notably biceps) were thought to resemble mice. The analogy was made in Greek, too, where mys is both “mouse” and “muscle”
So who is Topolino?
The most famous cartoon by Walt Disney is known as Topolino in Italy. Topo means “mouse”, guess what -lino means.
What about Musse Pigg?
Isn’t it a pig? Nop. In Swedish it really means “cheerful” and mus is “mouse”. So we guess it must be an imaginative name like “the animated mouse”.
Dippy Dawg wasan old dog-like character, in the thirties, he changed his name to Goofy, and several aliases were also used. However many kids from around the world know him by a different name. In Portuguese and Danish, Pateta and Hopo can be translated as “fool”. Danish Fedtmule is literally “fat-muzzle”. Norwegian, Swedish, and Sami names mean something like “Long-leg”. Šilja or Šiljo are words to describe an “unusually tall man”. French dingo is derived from dingue “mad, someone who is nuts”. But do you what is literally nuts? Bunduq in Arabic is the word also used for hazelnuts. Other names from the green group do not have a translation. Or do they? Do you know the meaning of Kliunkis? Write it down in the comment section.
Chip and Dale
The original name in English of the couple of chipmunks is a pun on the name of the 18th-century cabinet maker and furniture designer Thomas Chippendale. In the East, the name is usually adapted, while in the East different names are used.
In German in 1952 they came up with the name “Ahörnchen und Beehörnchen”, literally “A-squirrel & B-squirrel” (from Eichhörnchen). You see, German ingenuity at its best. But when the tv cartoon began its emission they were renamed “Chip und Chap”. It resembles the translation of Danish, Italian, and Spanish in Spain.
Another language that changed names was in Swedish, the first name was The two rats. Not very catchy. Later they tried with “herr och fru vessla” (Mr. and Miss Weasel). Currently, “Piff och Puff” are their names.
In the Arabic-speaking countries, they changed from French “Tic et Toc” to Arabic “Shib w Adil”, even though nowadays they are “Sanajib” and “Sanjub”.
In other languages, it seems that there is no reason behind the name. I am really concerned about the Portuguese one: “Tico e Teco“, literally penis and piece. I am quite sure I have made a mistake translating this one. In Dutch, the characters are “Knabbel en Babbel”, which sounds like “Knibble and Babble”. It is one of my favorites.
But definitely the most interesting story in the Finnish one: Chimpmuks are maaorava (literally, ground+squirrel). Recently, in 2008 it was proposed a new name tikutakut, which is based on “Tiku ja Taku“, the name of Chip and Dale in Finnish. The English word chipmunks come from an Ojibwe word ačitamo˙nˀ, which means squirrels.
The name of the Smurfs is a made-up word in most languages. Wikipedia says:
“according to Peyo, the original author of the Smurfs comic strip, the term and the accompanying language of the Smurfs came during a meal he had with his colleague and friend André Franquin at the Belgian Coast. Having momentarily forgotten the word “salt”, Peyo asked him to pass the schtroumpf:
“Passe-moi… le schtroumpf !”
Franquin jokingly replied:
“Tiens, voilà le schtroumpf, et quand tu auras fini de le schtroumpfer, tu me le reschtroumpferas !”
(Here’s the Schtroumpf, when you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back.) And the two spent the rest of that weekend speaking in schtroumpf language.
Later it was adapted to Dutch into Smurf by Armand van Raalte. Some languages chose the French word and others the Dutch. But we have seen in other cases, translators sometimes wake up feeling creative. In 1969 Miguel Agustí came up with the word “pitufo” in Spanish, from Catalan “Patufet”, the local version of Tom Thumb, Little Thumb, or Thumbling. However, the Catalan name had a different origin. It was translated two years before by Albert Jané. He took the name of a local small imaginary being. In 80’s they mushroomed in the East, in Czechoslovakia the name was meant to sound similar to a shade of blue “šmolka”.
The Powerpuff Girls
Itchy & Scratchy
Beauty and the Beast: Cogsworth
The names of a Japanese fictitious sprite, suswatari (Japanese: ススワタリ / 煤渡り “wandering soot”), from the movies My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001). Also called Makkuro kurosuke (まっくろくろすけ; “makkuro” meaning “pitch black”, “kuro” meaning “black” and “-suke” being a common ending for boy names). How did other languages translate it?