Levit and Dabner?

When Freakonomics gets published in a new language, they always send me a couple copies. I just got the Serbian version:

The first thing I noticed is that it is a pretty sad looking apple/orange on the cover.

The second thing I noticed is that it was written by Stiven D. Levit and Stiven Dz. Dabner. Isn’t it strange to change the names of the authors? I can see if you are using a different alphabet you might not have a choice, but would it be normal to take the second “t” off my last name, or to turn “Dubner” into “Dabner?”

Seeing this, I wondered what they would do with the popular names listed in the last chapter. In most of the foreign versions, they simply reprint the American names. (I wonder how much the Korean and Chinese readers got out of this chapter?). But not in the Serbian version.

If you were a Serbian reader, you would be left believing that some of the blackest names in America are Sanis and Precis, and some of the whitest are Dzejk and Hanter. And our predictions for the most popular American names in 2015: Vejverli, Kejt, Aser, and Vil.


Don't blame me, I voted for Vejverli!


It's common in Eastern Europe to print foreign names using their prounciation. Hence I grew up learning about Waszyngton located in Wirginia named after Jerzy Waszyngton.

The downside: bad spelling.
The upside: proper pronounciation.
The ugly side: first names are often translated into their local equivalents(Jerzy = George).


Serbian uses the Latin alphabet, but is a Slavic language. Dubner would be read as Doobnaer. Double Ts are not something common in Slavic languages.


In korean version of the book, they listed in english. There wasn't any problems


Actually, the "official" alphabet in Serbia is Cyrillic, and both of the alphabets are phonetic, hence the need to transcribe all of the foreign names. And to tell you the truth, I'd rather have American reporters spell Milosevic's name Millohshevich than hear them improvise proper pronunciation.

As for the last chapter, if you were a Serbian reader who doesn't know a bit of English (which is, admittedly, rare) you'd think Jake was Yakeh, Kate - Kahteh, and wouldn't be sure exactly how to pronounce the W in Will.


I've always found the whole name translation thing a bit odd. Take Chistopher Columbus. According to Wikipedia, his name is also: Christophorus Columbus, Cristoforo Colombo, and Cristóbal Colón. What's up with that?

I'm not famous, but my name, Emmett, could be translated as: Emilio, Emil, Amemmentaru, Emmetario, Emen, Emmentacioulies.... Ok, maybe some of those were made up, but still... I think of my name as my name. If you want to write about me in French, my name is Emmett. If you want to write about me in Spanish; it's still the same name. If you have another alphabet, then I don't know what to do - but at least, translate John back as John.

Given the same alphabet, shouldn't a name always be the same? Why call a Jaun a John or vis a versa?

Question here: why translate at all? Who expelled the Moors from Spain in 1492? Was it Isabelle or Isabel, or was is it Elizabeth - why didn't we just ask her? Can't we jsut pronounce the name with an accent?


David Jacobs

I always wondered about that, since seeing a news report on Steve Pratt's arrest for alleged espionage in Kosovo — his name in the Serbian television footage was given as "STIV PRET".


I agree with kasia. Latvian language newspapers always spell names according to the pronunciation. So George Bush becomes Džordž Bušs; John Wayne becomes Džons Veins (male names and surnames must end in an 's'); Rita Hayworth becomes Rita Heivorte (female names and surnames must end in an 'a' or 'e').


Serbian alphabet is a phonetic one. Words are written the way they are pronounced. We maybe loose something by writhing Levit instead of Levitt but the upside is that we know how to pronounce your name properly. For us (Serbian people) for example the spelling quizzes for kids that one can see on some American TV stations are something quite awkward since if one hears some word automatically knows how it is spelled. Also, questions of a type : "How is this word spelled?" are uncommon. On the other hand from my text we obviously have problems with the usage of articles in foreign languages (for this problem the good reference would probably be some works by Chomsky).


What surprises me is that your author name is in Latin not in Cyrillic (well, their version of Cyrillic.)

I'm not from an area that uses Cyrillic but if you ever have a go at it, it's very easy to learn! It took me about 10 minutes as there is a lot of crossover with Latin. (Obviously it's like learning how to type, the more practice you get the faster you can go.)

My brother and I used to work in the same office together and we'd all use Cyrillic in all written memos to each other... it really helps to cut out the busy-bodies. Of course we had to give a reason, explaining that we were going overseas and practicing Cyrillic for our stay in Mongolia. Weirdly enough, we actually ended up deciding to go to Mongolia - leaving in June.

To the authors, this is a post on Dilbert Blog you might find interesting - he says that when people have to write an argument on something they didn't believe at first, most end up believing it - then even stay true to those beliefs even after a few months. Enjoy :




Translation of names is not uncommon and, definitely, not a bad thing since it makes everything easier for the reader. Should Ivory Coast be called Cote d'Ivoire as it is in Ivory Coast? Should Christopher Columbus be Cristoforo Colombo just because that's his Italian name and he's from Italy? Should China be called whatever it is called in China? Should I always stick to the Swedish pronunciation of my name (Robert) because that's how my parents intended my name to be pronounced?

Translation, even of names, is almost always good. Else we wouldn't do it.


I wonder how they translated the name w/ jello in it. :-)


Note that this is not a translation like in the case of Ivory Coast but just a phonetic writing. If it was a translation then Steven would be Stevan and John would be Jovan in Serbian.


Dunno why, but I just can't help but laugh


Yeah, why would you need as much as about three most popular Serbian names in the US?



Aren't there only 8 million Serbian speaking people in the world? Maybe 4 million that don't speak or read a more common language. Did the Da Vinci Code bother with that many?



Wow... You make it sound as though translating a book is a special favor granted by the American publishers and/or authors to the poor non-English speaking souls. What quota do you propose? 15 million? 20?

A Serbian publisher thought that the book would sell here, contacted the authors/publishers and paid its own translator. Simple as that.

And as rasha pointed out, names are not translated, they are transcribed for proper pronunciation (well, in theory). With the Cyrillic alphabet also being used in Serbia, not doing that would be quite painful for the eyes.


You make it sound as though translating a book is a special favor granted by the American publishers and/or authors to the poor non-English speaking souls.

Isn't it?


Er, I don't think it is. If a foreign publisher thinks that a book will sell in their market, they'll pay the book's publisher and/or author for the rights, and then organize everything else by themselves. If it's a book that requires high-quality print, or has pop-outs and other gimmicks, the publisher gets pre-printed pages, but unbound and without text, and then prints the translation in. But it's rare, and neither Freakonomics nor the Da Vinci code fit into that category.

In any case, it's the readers who pay for everything in the end, so I really can't see how the whole business is a bother to the original publishers.

We like to have it on our language to be shoure that pronunciation is right. Someone doesn't know English and your name would be readed as it's written (one of ours gramatic rules :) ) Sorry, and interesting book :)