An Odd Dog and onomastics

posted in: Claudia Boldt | 19

Odd Dog by Claudia Boldt is an ever so slightly absurd tale about a rather unusual dog, a dog who prefers apples to bones.

Helmut has a prized apple tree, laden with ripening fruit. Helmut also has nightmares: His neighbour, Igor, may at any time be plotting to steal all of Helmut’s much loved apples.

One day the juciest apple falls from Helmut’s tree… but onto the wrong side of the fence. Disaster appears to have struck. Igor has Helmut’s prized possession!

What is Igor going to do? How is Helmut going to respond?

For those wanting to unpick this quirky story there’s plenty packed into Odd Dog; the encumbrance of desire and possession, what it feels like to be different, the power of sharing, the acceptance of difference, and whether the world is full of threats or opportunities.

For those just wanting a fun read there’s a lot to enjoy in Odd Dog; the offbeat humour (what? a dog that doesn’t like bones?), the stylish, characterful illustrations, the reassuring reminder that the world is actually a good place, full of good people. The dogs, the classy illustrations, the anxiety all make this a great book to pair with Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton.

For those interested in translation and cultural differences, it’s fun to see that the names Helmut and Igor are “untranslated” in the German version of Claudia Boldt’s offbeat tale (do watch the video, even if you don’t understand German, for it will give you a good flavour of Claudia’s illustrations):

And yet, in the US version of this book, the dogs have been renamed: Helmut is Peanut and Igor is Milo.

With my British/European sensibilities, this “translation” doesn’t work for me; the names Peanut and Milo are just too sweet, and don’t have the same quirky, old-fashioned, absurd feel about them, that I think Helmut and Igor have, and which really adds that little bit of hard-to-put-your-finger-on-flavour to the tale. I’d love to know what my North American readers think about this… And I’d love to hear from German readers too – I suspect Helmut and Igor don’t have the same feel in German (where they are – I believe- far less unusual than here in the UK) as they do in English.

All this got me thinking about name changes in different English versions of the same book (rather than translations into other languages). Here are some other examples:

  • Wally (UK) vs Waldo (US) – Where’s Wally? by Martin Handford (“When Handford first designed his leading man, he named him Wally – a shortened formed of Walter or Wallace but commonly used in Britain as a slang term for a somewhat spacey person. However the American publishers of the books felt the name would not resonate with the North American readers“).

  • Harris (UK) vs Harry (US) – Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton. According to Chris, his original idea was to have the dog with a human name, and the dog owner with a dog’s name. The name change (Harris > Harry) was made by the US publishers, for reasons unclear to Chris.

  • Zozo (UK pre 1970s) vs Curious George (US) – the books by HA Rey and Margret Rey (“In 1941, when Curious George books were first introduced, George VI was England’s king. To avoid insulting him by having his name be used by a monkey, it was decided to call the book’s protagonist “Zozo“, but later UK editions reverted back to Curious George).

  • Maugrim (UK) vs Fenris Ulf (US pre 1994) – The captain of the White Witch’s guard in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is called Maugrim. But American editions (up until 1994 when Harper decided to revert to the original British texts and renumber the books according to internal chronology) changed Maugrim’s name to Fenris Ulf.

  • Alemayu (US) vs Mammo (UK) – the boy’s name in Jane Kurtz’s Fire on the Mountain was changed from the original Alemayu to Mammo for the UK edition.

  • Mardie and Lisbet (UK) vs Meg and Betsy (US) – in translations of Astrid Lindgren’s Madicken, Madicken and Lisabeth are renamed differently in US and UK editions of the translation.

  • ‘The Wrong Thing’ (Aus) vs ‘something strange’ or ‘the strange thing’ (uncapitalised, US) – In Isobelle Carmody’s picture book The Wrong Thing (originally published in Australia), the unnamed “Wrong Thing” becomes ‘something strange’ or ‘the strange thing’.

  • Sauci (original US) vs Dashi – One of the characters in the Octonauts was originally named Sauci in the picturebooks by Meomi. Apparently Sauci became Dashi to avoid connotations with “Saucy”.

  • So what’s in a name? Is it really the case that a given character “by any other name would smell as sweet”?

    My thanks to Farah Mendlesohn, Emanuelle Burton, Jane Kurtz, Ann Dowker, Danielle Smith, Helen Dineen, Chris Haughton, Virgina Lowe and Sinead O’Higgins for help compiling this list of name changes. If you’ve any more to add, please let me know via the comments.

    But now, returning to the lovely Odd Dog, we were inspired by the picnic scene in Claudia Boldt’s book to recreate our own doggy-apple-y scene. First I created a tree capable of standing upright on its own. I cut the two sections out of a thick cardboard box, using a stanley knife for all the branches.

    Next we printed with apple halves to make our apples for the tree. The hardest thing was cutting the apples in half with a perfectly vertical slice – necessary to get a good apple shaped print. The girls also used a half onion to make prints on the tree, to simulate bark.

    With our tree assembled and laden with apples we invited the dogs to a plasticine picnic – the girls used the plasticine to create lots more little apples, and baskets for gathering them. Soon Helmut and Igor were having great fun on our kitchen table!

    Whilst making our apple prints and picnic we listened to:

  • When Will The Good Apples Fall by The Seekers
  • On a Picnic We Will Go by Lois & Bram Sharon
  • Irresistible Igor by Bobby (Boris) Pickett

  • Other activities which might be fun to try alongside reading Odd Dog include:

  • Making dogs to play with! I like these dog faces from Walnut Acre, and these dogs from polystyrene cups from Danielle’s Place.
  • Baking something delicious with apples. We like this recipe from the BBC children’s programme, “I can cook”.
  • Baking a cake to resemble an apple – here’s a (US) recipe from FamilyFun, and here’s a (UK) recipe from Total Food Geeks.

  • Disclosure: I received my copy of Odd Dog from the publishers. Nevertheless, this review reflects my own and honest opinion.

    19 Responses

    1. Library Quine

      I agree about the names, but then I am UK based/biased. Hulmet is a great name for a dog and a pun on the word ‘mutt’ too!
      I have another for you with the series of picture books about Ferdie/Fletcher e.g. ‘Ferdie and the Falling Leaves’ (UK) v. Fletcher and the Falling Leaves (USA). As she’s UK based I guess Ferdie came first (and is the one that I prefer).
      Library Quine recently posted..Supporting Early Literacy Environments in the Library

    2. Elli

      Didn’t Alex T Smith post something recently (in the past couple of months or so) about how ‘Claude’ was translated into something different in French? Apparently the name ‘Claude’ sounds quintessentially French to English readers, but not to French ones! Unless I’m getting completely muddled…
      Elli recently posted..Road Trip

    3. choxbox

      Amazing what all you think up!

      And a lot of names in Asterix have been changed from the original French to English, and I suppose other languages.
      Like Getafix was originally Panoramix, Cacofonix was Assurancetorix (or some such) – but I think the English names are better suited than the originals!

    4. choxbox

      Similarly Dogmatix was Idefix, but the English name even has a pun built in 🙂

      Definitely brilliant translation this stuff is!

    5. Zoe

      Oh yes Library Quine! I should have mentioned the Mutt /Helmut thing – it’s just lovely isn’t it! And thanks so much for adding to the list with Ferdie / Fletcher. Again, a change I can’t see the reason for.
      Zoe recently posted..An Odd Dog and onomastics

    6. Zoe

      Thanks Choxbox, yes, there’s a lot to be said about names when the whole text is translated into another language. I suppose I was here more interested in the slightly harder to understand changes when the language is (basically) the same, but changes are still made.
      Zoe recently posted..An Odd Dog and onomastics

    7. victoria

      I agree with you about the names. It never ceases to amaze me how many wonderful Australian books have their names changed to suit America. On of the more recent ones I can think of is how Libby Gleeson’s book ‘Amy and Louis’ became ‘Half a World Away’ because they didn’t pronounce ‘louis’ to have a similar sounding ending to ‘amy’. While you have that wonderful apple tree in the house you need to revisit Yvonne Winer’s ‘Mr Brown’s Magnificent Apple Tree’ and have the apples fall off the tree one at a time.

      • Zoe

        Thanks Victoria for that example. Can you think of any characters who have their names changes in editions published outside Australia? And thanks for the tip about Winer’s book – off to check it out now.

    8. choxbox

      True Zoe I did go off on a tangent (as usual) – am a die-hard Asterix fan as you can see!
      But the original names need not have ben changed technically-speaking.

      And yes Helmut and Igor sound like how you have described. Loved reading the other examples too.

    9. Fred

      what a coincidence..we were reading and seeking Charlie ( not Waldo nor wally) in “Où est Charlie” tonight…in french of course…
      by the way, as a child, I was read Asterix in english and as a consequence it took me a while to understand the pun in both the english and french names

      • Zoe

        Charlie? Hmm I wonder why that choice of name Sophie/Fred – do you think it is meant to be something very anglo saxon?

    10. sophie

      The funny thing is that Waldo reminds me (maybe the name is different in the english-american version) the uncle of the 2 english geese in the aristocats. Uncle Waldo is supposed to be a real bad french boy. so is Waldo supposed to be a french name and do you thing our english charlie is your french waldo ??

    11. sophie

      Big mistake !! Waldo is not supposed to be french at all…(the joke with being cooked in sherry instead of wine would not work) He is a real bad english boy…
      So my conclusions are not good. It could have been funny…;-)

    12. Donna McKinnon

      Great topic Zoe. As a former bookseller, this kind of translation, actually it’s not really translation as an pandering sort of cultural interpretation, was very annoying. You wouldn’t believe what the American editions of Harry Potter did to Rowling’s English idioms. (Thank god in Canada just used the British edition.) I don’t see the need to change the names of the characters, or the illustrations, to ‘fit’ foreign sensibilities. It absolutely diminishes the original work. Anyway, Odd Dog looks great. Will seek it out.
      Donna McKinnon recently posted..Beetlemania

    13. Zoe

      Hi Donna, if you want to share an examples of the changes you’ve seen I’d love to hear about them… So never seen any changes for the better?

    14. Danielle (The1stdaughter)

      I’m still so incredibly impressed by all you do with your kiddos. I’m pretty good about reading with them, but the crafty stuff is beyond my patience unfortunately (at least on a regular basis like you do). You’re definitely an inspiration to me!

      As for the names…yeah, we talked about this earlier in the week on Twitter and I’m still not exactly sure why they do it. I wonder if going forward with how one dimensional the world is becoming because of the internet if these types of changes will become fewer and fewer?

      For me the names as they’re originally written seem more genuine and true to the story. That being said, I told the original names from Odd Dog as well as Oh No George to my husband and he definitely prefers the US names. Funny, huh? He doesn’t read as much non-US based children’s literature as I do, other than what we have in the house for the kids so perhaps that’s why? It’s interesting though to get other people’s opinions on it because I think that as reviewers we become entrenched in it and the name changes seem odd, but maybe for the typical reader they do serve a purpose. Who knows?

      I’m just rambling now so I’ll stop, but seriously excellent post & topic!
      Danielle (The1stdaughter) recently posted..Book Review: Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

    15. Heather

      US publisher here! We were told that the names Helmut and Igor serve to illustrate the tensions between Germany and Russia. That was interesting, but we didn’t feel that it was something that Americans would “get” without having a note to explain, as that relationship is not something that we we watch play out every day. We love the international flavor of our titles, but we also take care to make them accessible and appealing to children and parents here, and our thought was that using more common pet names would broaden the audience here in the US. All that aside, your art project above is AMAZING, and it’s been fun to read all of the comments about the book! Best wishes!

      • Zoe

        Hi Heather, thanks so much for commenting and explaining the name changes – very interesting to know. I’m not sure how many young parents in the UK would get the German/Russian thing either to be honest, but very glad you stopped by.

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