Silly English names

November 20, 2015


All stories by Goscinny and Uderzo which have been officially translated into English were translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. Their first volume was published by Brockhampton Press in 1969. However, there have been some additional translations, one in English prior to the Bell/Hockridge version and two in attempts to enter the U.S. market.

Translating names[edit]

In Asterix stories, many of the original names are humorous due to their absurdity. For example, the bard is Assurancetourix (assurance tous risques or "comprehensive insurance"), the translation of which is pointless since the bard has no connection to insurance of any kind — it's the silliness that makes it humorous. To maintain the spirit and flow of the story the translators change the joke in the name to a comment on the character. Thus in the English language edition the bard's name is Cacofonix which is an allusion to the term cacophony (a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds), since the central trait of the bard character is that the Gauls all hate listening to his music.

This happens in the original as well, as with Geriatrix (French: Agecanonix — canonical age — a French expression meaning very old or ancient), but it is not common, while absurd names in English, such as Dubius Status, are reserved for minor or one-story characters. Fictional place names however tend to be equally silly in all translations, for example the four camps (castra) which surround Asterix's village: Compendium, Aquarium, Laudanum and Totorum (Tot o' rum, colloquial English for shot of rum) — in French this camp is called "Babaorum", a pun on baba au rhum or rum baba, a popular French pastry. (In one of the American translations, one of these camps is named Nohappimedium.)

Lost in translation[edit]

Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge have been widely praised for their rendition of the English language edition, maintaining the spirit and humour of the original even when direct translation is impossible — as it often is when translating puns between languages which are not closely related. A good example occurs in — when Obelix redistributes the water in the spa pools by diving in, the other guests complain and the druid in charge arrives asking Vitalstatistix, "Where are your Gauls?" In the original French he responds Mes Gaulois sont dans la pleine ("My Gauls are in the full one") which is a play on a famous (in French) quote Les Gaulois sont dans la plaine ("The Gauls are on the plain") which of course sounds exactly the same, though not in English. Instead the translated reply is "Pooling your resources" (the water), a clever double entendre on a common phrase even though the original pun is lost.

Sometimes nothing of the original joke is salvageable. In, there is a scene in Londinium where a greengrocer argues with a buyer — in the next panel Obelix says (in French), "Why is that man wearing a melon?" This relies on the fact that the French word for melon is also the name for the iconic British bowler hat; with no way to convey this in the English translation, in the British edition Obelix says, "I say, Asterix, I think this bridge is falling down" referring to the children's rhyme "London bridge is falling down", leaving the original joke incomplete. In the panel shown, the reply of the British man on the right was "Rather, old fruit!", in some publications of the book; a good pun and typical of the way the British address each other in Asterix in Britain. In the same book, much of the humor came from Goscinny's high-fidelity rendition of the English language using French words. This, of course, is totally lost by retranslation in English, but compensated for by making the British characters speak in an antiquated, early-twentieth-century style.

Sometimes the translators even go further and add humor of their own when it is appropriate. An example of this is in, where a group of Goths who kidnapped Getafix run puzzled through a forest populated by Romans looking for Asterix and Obelix, who they think are responsible for the kidnapping. In the original, the Goth chief says "Faut pas chercher à comprendre", meaning "We shouldn't try to understand", a common French phrase with no particular pun attached. In the English version, the chief instead comments "Ours is not to reason why", a reference to The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which states in its third stanza "Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die".

Comparison of names of major characters[edit]

Original name
Meaning Description British name American name
American name
Portuguese name
Astérix asterisk (because he is the star), also the medical term asterixis refers to a periodic loss of muscle tone, the opposite of what Astérix displays when he drinks the magic potion Gaulish warrior Asterix
Obélix obelisk (An obelisk is similar to a menhir; and the obelisk symbol † often follows the asterisk.) Menhir
delivery man
Idéfix idée fixe (theme or obsession) Obelix’s dog Dogmatix Ideiafix
Panoramix Panorama (wide view) Druid Readymix Magigimmix
Abraracourcix : (hit, lambast) violently Village Chief Vitalstatistix Macroeconomix Abracurcix
Bonemine Bonne mine (healthy look) Chief's Wife n/a Belladonna Naftalina
Agecanonix âge canonique (canonical age) Village elder Geriatrix Arthritix Veteranix
Assurancetourix Assurance tous risques (comprehensive insurance) Bard Cacofonix Malacoustix Chatotorix
Cétautomatix c'est automatique (it's automatic) Blacksmith Automatix
Ordralfabétix ordre alphabétique (alphabetical order) Fishmonger Fishtix Epidemix Ordenalfabetix
Iélosubmarine Wife of Fishmonger Ielosubmarina
Falbala falbala, a furbelow; a piece of clothing added to a dress, usually seen as a bad taste luxury Minor recurring character Philharmonia

In earlier translations, such as in Valiant and Ranger/Look and Learn (see below), other versions of names have appeared.

Valiant comic[edit]

An edited-down version of Asterix the Gaul appeared in, a boys' comic published by, beginning in the issue dated 16th November 1963. It appeared in colour on the back page. Set in the Britain of 43AD, the strip was originally called Little Fred and Big Ed. Little Fred and stone mason Big Ed lived in the village of Nevergivup which was surrounded by eight Roman camps: Harmonium, Cranium, Pandemonium, Premium, Rostrum, Aquarium, Maximum and Luadanum. Their druid was called Hokus Pokus. As the story progresses and Obelix is absent from the action, the strip was renamed Little Fred, the Ancient Brit with Bags of Grit. The story concluded in the issue dated 4th April 1964.

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