Socio-Cultural Aspects of Name Transformation In Translation

Yana Manova – Georgieva

Summary: Translation procedures are unique and responsible processes of transferring direct word-for-word as well as imagining and creating pieces of art, resulting in relevant and understandable texts into the source language. Having in mind the interpretation of names – or more specifically proper names – translators are supposed to keep the cultural identity of the original text and make the readers fully aware of the authors’ ideas and symbolic choices they made when deciding on these particular markers of identity.

Consequently, this paper appears to be an attempt to reveal the symbolism of proper names in Yordan Yovkov’s “Legends of Stara Planina’, translated from Bulgarian into English by John Burnip, presenting ways of transferring proper names – transcription, transliteration and semantic reconstruction, as well as, an analysis of the techniques John Burnip used in his translation. Did the translator manage to keep the original message, did he make it comprehensible for the recipients where exactly symbolism starts, or names just remain a part of the story with not much of a sense? We shall try to reach the answers to these questions on the basis of a close look into the mechanisms of name-rendering and the sounding of the names of Yovkov’s heroes in American context re-read against our native Bulgarian environment.

Key terms: proper names, transcription, transliteration, semantic reconstruction, symbolism

Абстракт: Превеждането е уникален и същевременно отговорен процес, който може да бъде директен буквален трансфер на думи, но и също да бъде процес на представяне и създаване на изкуство, което в резултат е един разбираем и достъпен текст на езика-цел. Когато се има предвид интерпретацията на имената- и по-точно личните имена- за преводача се предполага, че ще успее да запази културната  идентичност на оригиналния текст и да накара реципиентите на текста да разберат идеите на автора, както и избора на символи при определените маркери за идентичност.

Тази статия е опит за разкриване символизма на личните имена в „Старопланински легенди“ на Йордан Йовков, преведени на английски език от Джон Бърнип, като в нея се разглеждат начините за трансфер на лични имена- транскрипция, транслитерация, или семантичен превод както и техниките, които автора на английския текст е използвал. Успял ли е да запази идеята на оригиналния текст, направил ли е разбираемо за неговите реципиенти къде всъщност се крие символика, или имената за просто част от текста без особено значение? Статията е опит да се намери отговор на тези въпроси на базата на детайлен поглед върху механизмите на предаване на имена, както и тяхното звучене в американски контекст.

Ключови думи: лични имена, транскрипция, транслитерация, семантичен превод, символизъм


The translation process as a cultural phenomenon is an actual transfer of ideas, thoughts, and identity for the always demanding and searching professional. It is easy for a native speaker to decipher the message in a story, and consequently to convey it forward- to the people who are interested in it. However, being an outer spectator or experiencing the customs of another people, it is hard to first distinguish the message and then to transmit it to the target reader. It is an interesting, sometimes difficult, but definitely creative and responsible process to transfer one piece of writing from the source to the target language. It is sometimes even difficult for the new generation of Internet users and non-reader- of- books youngsters to distinguish where is the message in the works of authors like Yordan Yovkov, Ivan  Vazov, etc.

Just a tiny but immensely important bit of the ocean of translating communication and messaging is the provoking aim to transfer names. It is precisely proper names that are of interest in the current study. The article is focused on the short stories written by one of the greatest writers in Bulgarian literary history – YordanYovkov. The collection of interest is “Legends of Stara Planina”, translated into English by John Burnip[1]. Special attention is paid to the techniques used in the transfer of personal names. In the process of investigation, ten stories are examined – ShibilThe Roe – DeerThe Most Reliable EscortBozhouraHeroes’ HeadsPostle’s MillsIndjeA Shepherd’s GriefIn Time of Plague, and  On Primrose Meadow.

It is a well-known fact that YordanYovkov chose the names of his characters very carefully. Veselin Ignatov[2] notes that: “names of characters…are anthropogenic signs which need to be actualized in order to evoke or to necessitate definite ideas and suggestions.” (my translation- Игнатов 2002:1). Names occupy a special position in the stories to keep the individuality of Bulgarians, to try to preserve the message Yovkov tried to convey.

The issue of name transformation in translation has been subject of interest in the works of  Jakobson,  Newmark, Nida, Braun, Hatim and Mason  etc., and it has also been a challenge not only for experienced translators but for novices, as well, to find the formula for the best target text. It is undeniable that a good translation is the translation which successfully identifies the cultural limits of the source language and conveys the information to the target text, keeping the identity peculiarities and the spirit of the original.

Roman Jakobson[3] (1959:233) introduces three kinds of translation: intralingual, which is rewording or paraphrasing, summarizing, expanding or commenting within a language, interlingual – the traditional concept of translation from source to the target text or the “shifting of meaning from one language to another”, and intersemiotic, which involves the changing of a written text into a different form, such as art or dance.

Newmark[4] (1988:45-47) differentiates word-for-word, literal, free, faithful, semantic, adaptation, idiomatic, and communicative methods of translation. Translators should follow the strategy that is suitable for their purpose of translation. One can use various methods of translation, undergo different procedures as long as the final result is an understandable and beautifully structured entity which is culturally- relevant and structurally well- rendered.

Definitions of proper name

In the process of translation, however, names tend to remain blank spots or even are literally copied from the source text in various writings of undergraduates. There, of course, appears the other tendency – Bulgarian students choose English variants of their names in their English classes. Thus, Georgi becomes George, Rozaliya is Rose, Petar is Peter, etc. Undergraduates are creative when it comes to choosing their names, but translating them, it is sometimes difficult to achieve the goal of preserving and transferring the meaning of this entity in the source text.  Giving an entity a unique name it becomes specific, and the attempt to transfer it requires understanding of the culture of the source text. Gergana Apostolova [5] suggests that: “The transformation of names in the process of translating is as important as choosing names for real people.” (2002:7) and this is what lies in the focus of the current paper. Transferring the name, one can feel the mood of Bulgarian culture.

Popular dictionaries such as Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary define a proper name or noun as: “the name of a particular person, place or object that is spelt with a capital letter” while Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, suggests that a proper noun is “…a noun that in its primary application refers to a unique entity, such as London, Jupiter, Sarah, or Toyota, as distinguished from a common noun, which usually refers to a class of entities (cities, planets, persons, corporations), or non-unique instances of a certain class (a city, another planet, these persons, our corporation) ”.

Danchev [6] in his Bulgarian transcription of English names divides names in two basic groups- anthroponyms and toponyms. The first are those with referents people and the latter- places. Anthroponyms can be genetic, place, profession, wishing, protective, etc. When conveying information related to translation of personal names, there are three processes to undergo. Names can be transliterated, that is to substitute graphemes from the source to the target text; or transcribed, which is the process of phonetic rewriting of one language to another (Danchev 1978).There exists also the process of semantic reconstruction – translation of the name or part of it in order to preserve the meaning and symbolism for the target reader.

Name transformation and symbolism in translation

With his work on “Legends of Stara Planina” John Burnip lays a fundamental issue, namely how to transfer culture by means of proper names. In the process of translation, there appear eighty-one personal names and nicknames in the ten stories of the collection. In addition to that, there are interesting examples of toponymy, but this will not be subject of discussion in this paper.

When analyzing the transfer of proper names, one can see that a relatively small part is the names with a translated part, showing character, job or nickname of the person. Their number is 22. (see table 1).focusing on the meaning in each of the translated names, what strikes the attention is the name of “Дели Кадир” which is presented as Crazy Kadir. The attributive shows the character in the story, who Ignatov defines as a real personality. With the name of Old Yana the Kalmouchka /баба Яна Калмучката/ the name is associated with “Яга” and “калмук” has the meaning of a loose and mean person. Another interesting symbolic meaning contains the name of Vulko Son of Misfortune /Вълко Бинбеля/. It is in relation to his way of always seeking trouble.

Table 1

Bulgarian Partly translated names into English
Бей ефенди BeyEff’endi*/ Bey Effendi/ The Bey
О. Амфилохий Father Amphilʹochius
Поп Лукан от Жеруна Father Loukʹan of Zhʹeravna/ Father Loukʹan
Димчо кехая Dʹimcho the Overseer
Поп Миндо Priest Mʹindo
Поп Руско Father Rousko
Стоил Войвода Stoʹil the Captain
Дядо Нейко Бардучката Gaffer NeikoBardouchka
Сиври Билюкбаши Sʹivri the Captain
Дели Кадир Crazy Kadʹir
Сяро Барутчията Syaro the Powdermaker
Гърбавото The Hunchback
Найден- намерено Naiden- found
Баба Яна Калмучката Old Yana the Kalmouchka
Тахир ага Lord Tahʹir
Никола Узуна Tall Nikʹola/ the Tall One
Добри Войвода Dʹobri the Captain
Вълко Бинбеля Vʹulko Son of Misfortune
Вълчан войвода Vʹulchan the Captain
Цонко Войводата Tsʹonko , the Captain
Димитър Крайналията Dimʹitur Krainalʹiya
Божил Кехая Bozhʹil the Overseer

A fact that somehow remains aside with the transfer of names is the direct transliteration of units, which in Bulgarian have symbolic meaning, but are in a way hidden and may not be understood by non-natives. This can be applied to the meaning of names like Божура( it is a name of a flower and it is a symbol of the girl’s beauty), Калуда(it comes from the root word for ‘black’ and it serves as a comparison between mother and daughter). The Bulgarian name Велико, Величко which is mentioned several times contains the wish for the bearer of the name to become well-known and remembered as a great person. One cannot fail to mention also the names of Рада (meaning joy), Иван (sympathetic), etc. Names like Syaro the Powdermaker, Sivri the Captain, etc. are anthropomyns with real referents. When interpreting allusions as it is the case with Crazy Kadir, Syaro the Powdermaker, etc. the translator still decided on the translation of the attributive, which he sees as a feature of a person’s character. In this case, the allusions mentioned are of famous people from the past, and after Leppihalme(1997) [7], aiming probably at characterizing people, suggesting unconscious impressions and attitudes in characters. In the case with no coincidence with real personalities, Yordan Yovkov purposefully named people in relation to their features of character or what they are supposed to suggest to the target reader.

The word “overseer”, which can be found in several names, is used with the meaning of “кехая”, which can be placed after the personal name and it can mean “a village crier” or “a person who breeds sheep”. The translator here preferred the term “overseer” accompanied by the definite article – Dimcho the Overseer, Bozhil the Overseer, etc. There are also two variants of the Bulgarian word for „поп“. One can come across “father”, as well as“priest” as in Priest Mʹindo /Поп Миндо/ and Father Rousko /Поп Руско/.

When classifying transliterated names, the result reveals that here is the greatest part – 51(see table 2). For the sake of better transfer of names, the author of the English version of the text decided to include the stress in the names of people, as it can be seen from the table.

Table 2

Bulgarian original –YordanYovkov Transliterated names by John Burnip
Шибил Shibʹil/ Shibil
Рада Rʹada/ Rada
Мустафа Moustafʹa
Цоно Tsʹono
Стефан Stʹefan
Дойна Dʹoina
Калистрат Kalistrʹat
Димана Dimʹana
Драгота Dragʹota( at all places with the stress)- after the second part of the story- without the stress
хаджи Емин HadjʹiEmʹin( at most places with the stress)
Косан Kosʹan
Кара Имам Karʹa- Imʹam
Марга Marga
Ранка Ranka/ Rʹanka(once with the stress- the second mentioning)
Кара Колю Karʹa- Kʹolyou
Калуда Kalʹouda
Божура Bozhʹoura
Хаджи Вълко HadjʹiVʹulko
Ганаила Ganaʹila
Василчо Vasʹilcho
Жечевица Zhʹechevitsa
Пена Pʹenа
Радул Rʹadul
Али/ Субашът Али Alʹi
Милуш Milʹoush
Додованяка PenkoDodovʹanyak
Люца Lyoutsa
Марин Marʹin
Женда Zhenda
Върбан Vurbʹan/ Vurbʹaan
Едерханоглу Ederhʹanoglou
Индже Indjʹe
Кара Феиз Karʹa- Feʹiz
Гочо Gocho
Пауна Paʹouna
Кара Фиджи Karʹa-Findʹi
Али Паша AlʹiPashʹa
Пазвантоглу Pazvʹantoglʹou
Пенчо Pencho
Юмер Драза Youmʹer- Drazʹa
Димчо Dimcho
Елена Elʹena
Хаджи Драган HadjʹiDragʹan
Тиха Tiha
Дочка Dʹochka
Люцкан Lyoutskan
Вълко Vʹulko
Стоян Stoyʹan
Вълчан войвода Vulchan
Курта Kourta
Гълъб Gʹulub

The initial part of the investigation focuses on the transfer of vowels. One can immediately see that the Bulgarian /y/ vowel becomes /ou/ in all examples, as it is in Moustafa (Мустафа), Kalouda (Калуда), Bozhoura (Божура), etc. The Bulgarian /й/ is transferred to /i/, as it is in Doina (Дойна).  The names, containing the letter /ю/ are transliterated by means of three vowels /you/, as it can be seen in Kara Kolyou (Кара Колю) or Lyoutsa (Люца).  The vowel /ъ/ is shown as /u/ in the name Vurbʹan/ Vurbʹaan (Върбан) or in  Gulub( Гълъб).

The second section of interest is the transfer of consonants. There is not a fundamental deviation from the accepted rules for transliteration. The example with Hadji/ Хаджи/ and Indje/ Индже/ shows a different variation of the transfer of /дж/ to /dj/. This, however, has some previous background since the word ‘hadji’ is shared by the languages from the East and has been long known to the English language.

To sum up, there are certain differences, but this is surely due to the fact that the new Law of Transcription of Bulgarian names was introduced in 2009 and the book was published in 1990. There is the so called Streamline System of transliteration of Bulgarian names to other languages, which opposed to the Danchev system[8], suggests different ways of transliteration. The author of the English version of the collection “Legends of Stara Planina” probably followed Danchev’s system, introduced in An English Dictionary of Bulgarian Names: Spelling and Pronunciation. What is distinguishable with this system is the Bulgarian letters /у/ and /ъ/ to be transliterated as /ou/ and /u/ , which is the case with Gulub, and  Bozhoura, for example. For the combination /ой/ Danchev proposes /oi/, as it can be seen in the name of Doina. However, Danchev’s suggestions as well as the common practice of transliterating our names for international documents are eclectic since they are using English and French bases. That is why Bulgarians are asked to spell their own names in the Latin manner each time we go to have our identity documents issued.

To finish with the analytical part, there are eight names with translated attributive (“gaffer”, “old”, “grannie”, “mother” for older woman who is not a relative), showing either the relationship or the age of the character presented. (see table 3)

Table 3

Bulgarian Names with translated attributive
Леля Гана Mother Gʹana
Дядя Руся Сапунджията Old Rʹousi the Soapmaker
Дядо Руси Gaffer Rousi
Баба Ана Grannie Anna/ Old Anna
Дядо Иван Gaffer Ivan
Дядо Гуди от Чукурово Gaffer Gʹoudi of Choukʹourovo
Дядо Въльо Gaffer Vʹulyou
Дядо Нейко Old Neiko

It becomes obvious that the greatest part of personal names were transliterated, probably aiming to preserve the original way names are transferred. However, there are cases where the name is either given additional information about or it is translated for the sake of better understanding of the character described. Semantic reconstruction is a way to convey the symbolism in an item, which is the most important role of translators because if they manage to find symbolism in every detail, they will definitely be as close as possible to the source text, and thus create a piece of art with recognizable identity for the target reader.

There is also the tool of making a glossary where but only a couple of names are explained e.g. Stephen Young in opposition to Stephan Karadja, as well as the name of Stara Planina in the title of the collection as the Bulgarian native name for the Balkan Mountains.


The process of translation is target-reader oriented. It always aims at conveying symbolism, ideas, and meaning in various ways, using different procedures and methods.

Transferring anthroponyms, in reality, is a responsible deed bearing the fact that they are loaded with emotional and semantic meaning. A master translator analyzes and produces the piece of writing, having examined the authors’ cultural background, previous works, and writing behaviour.

However, upon reading The Legends about the Balkan, for the first time, a Bulgarian reader naturally winces at the resounding of the names. It is not only a matter of alphabet-insufficiency: it is a matter of adoption of sounds even when unheard.

There are also the foreign sounding names of Yovkov even to us, Bulgarians. When giving a text of Yovkov’s for class translation to BA graduates, we often use the glossary tool, employed by Burnip to create our own or to extend the given one.

In the Bulgarian cultural environment, proper names are to be highlighted and paid special attention to, as their symbolism carries half the importance in the translation process. It is interesting even for the native speakers to investigate the name symbolism and better comprehend what may remain unveiled for the one who accepts names just as names. A further exploration is naturally to be grounded on the notion of intercomprehension, as described by Todor Shopov inIntercomprehension Analysis [9].

Authors cited:

[1]  Burnip, J(1990). The Inn at Antimovo and Legends of StaraPlanina by YordanYovkov translated by John Burnip, 1990, Slavica Publishers

[2] Игнатов, В(2002). Личните имена и прозвищата в „Старопланински легенди“(електронна версия). Liternet, 2002

[3]     Jakobson, R.(1959) On linguistic aspects of Translation, 1959

[4]   Newmark, P.(1988) А Textbook of Translation, Prentice HaH International vUIO Ltd., 1988

[5]     Apostolova, G.(2004) Names and the translation, Liternet, 2004

[6]       Danchev, A.(1978): Данчев, А. Българска транскрипция на английски имена. София: Народна просвета, 1978.

[7]      Leppihalme, R. (1997) Notes on culture bumps:an empirical approach to thetranslation of allusions. Clevedon,Multilingual Matters.

[8]    Danchev, A. M. Holman, E. Dimova, M. Savova, An English Dictionary of Bulgarian Names(1989): Spelling and Pronunciation, Nauka i Izkustvo Publishers, 1989 , 288 …

[9]     Shopov, T.(2003) , Understanding Babel,St, Kliment Ohridski University Press , 2003


1) Apostolova G. Names and the translation, Liternet, 2004

2) Braun D. Names and Natural Terms- The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language, ed. Ernest Lepore, Barry Smith,Oxford University Press, 2006

3) Burnip, J. The Inn at Antimovo and Legends of StaraPlanina by YordanYovkov translated by John Burnip, 1990, Slavica Publishers

4) Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 2nd edition

5) Danchev, A. M. Holman, E. Dimova, M. Savova, An English Dictionary of Bulgarian Names: Spelling and Pronunciation, Nauka i Izkustvo Publishers, 1989 , 288 

6) Danchev 1978: Данчев, А. Българска транскрипция на английски имена. София: Народна просвета, 1978.

7) Hatim and Mason 1990: Hatim, Basil & Mason, Ian. Discourse and the Translator. Longman, 1990.

8 ) Игнатов В. Личните имена и прозвищата в „Старопланински легенди“.Liternet, 2002

9) Jakobson R. On linguistic aspects of Translation, 1959

10) Leppihalme, R. (1997) Notes on culture bumps:an empirical approach to thetranslation of allusions. Clevedon,Multilingual Matters.

11) Newmark P. А Textbook of Translation, Prentice HaH International vUIO Ltd., 1988

12)  Shopov, T. , Understanding Babel,St, Kliment Ohridski University Press , 2003

Internet sources:



15)Старопланински легенди


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