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BB Book Club | Book Titles In Other Languages

Mongolian edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone*

While we haven't started reading it yet (although high-fives all round if you have!) July's Book Club pick is Portuguese Irregular Verbs, by Alexander McCall Smith. You can find the BB Book Club July announcement here, but in short, the book tells the tale of a professor of philology, the study of written words and language.

In keeping with a language theme, and before we dive into the 128-page story, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the books we know and love, and check out their translated titles. Book titles that are translated often have completely different titles than the original, and this happens for a few reasons: the translated language simply doesn't have a word that means the same thing as the original language word, or the phrase, metaphor, simile or structure of the original version doesn't translate well, or turns into waffle in the new language.

Some of the book titles I'm sharing today have been translated from their original language into English, and some have gone the other way. One is similar to the original English version, but for the most part, the translation has made a big difference.
philology - noun: // the study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning.

1 | The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green


The Macedonian translation of this well-loved Young Adult novel by John Green is 'The World is not a Factory for Fulfilling Wishes'. The original title, if you remember the story, is an altered version of a quote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, when the character Cassius says: "the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars." In this context, one interpretation says that it is not fate that drives people to their decisions, but rather simply being human, and all that comes with that. Green takes the quote and changes it in TFIOS, the meaning being altered to infer that the fault most definitely is in our stars; there are some things that happen in life that are thrown upon us, with no fault of our own (like cancer in the story). The Macedonian translation, then, doesn't really have the same meaning, nor the same catchy nod to Shakespeare.

2 | Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer


While the original English title doesn't really make too much sense - I guess Twilight is when the sun goes down? Vampires, sun, Edward sparkling etc - but the French translation is 'Fascination'. Um. I guess that's true?

3 | Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver


Short, simple, makes sense in English. The German title of this YA story is 'When You Die, Your Entire Life Passes Before Your Eyes, They Say'. Long, with commas, and I guess it makes sense in German.

4 | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson


Originally published in Swedish, the title was 'Men Who Hate Women'. When it was translated into English in the American market, it was changed. This has to big one of the biggest book title changes in recent history. The whole focus of the title changes from a man-centred one to a woman-centred title.

5 | The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien


There have been many translations that have been a bit iffy when it comes to Tolkien's Middle Earth stories, but the Swedish translation of 'The Hobbit' is 'The Hompen'. To make it funnier, some of the main characters, locations and creatures were renamed, including poor Biblo Baggins, whose named changed to Bimbo Backlin. In fact, there was a lot of funny translations in The Hobbit - you can find them here. Even just a skim read of this article will have you picking up the Swedish changes.


While we may laugh at the translated versions of some of these books, it's important to remember that it goes both ways: an original title in a language other than English might not work if it's translated to English. Every language has different sayings, different meanings, and a different culture driving the way the language works, so a translation is never going to be spot on.

And, after all that, these titles I've shared have been translated back into English so we can enjoy them. We may have missed the meaning behind some of them, too.

Do you know any other books that have different translated titles? Feel free to share them! 

*Photo by Anjali; shows Mongolian edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the translation of which reads pretty much the same as the English. Don't mess with Rowling! 

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