San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

What’s in a Name? Movie Title Translations

Many of you probably watched the Oscars last month the pure English version, I assume, instead of the irksome voiceover version in Spanish.

As well as wanting to see the dresses and find out what was happening in the movie world, I was curious how they were going to translate Slumdog Millionaire into Spanish. As it turned out, they kept referring to it by its English name, but, sure enough, when I opened the newspaper the next day, I saw it was being advertised with the pedestrian title Quisiera ser millonario ( I d Like to Be a Millionaire ).

I wasn t surprised. While we seem to like quirky or mysterious titles such as Dust or The Squid and the Whale, the Latino public apparently is made nervous by this Gabriel García Márquez notwithstanding and translators tend to convert Gringo titles into something more intelligible. In fact, titles that are nothing like their counterparts in English seem to be attempts somehow to explain or explain further the theme of the work. Unfortunately, the result is often prosaic or formulistic.

There Will Be Blood is a movie about a cold-hearted petroleum magnate. The title in Spanish? Petróleo sangriento ( Bloody Petroleum ). BrokebackMountain, about a couple of gay cowboys, was translated as Secreto en la montana ( Secret on the Mountain ). Down Came a Blackbird, about a treatment center for torture victims, became you guessed it Torturados ( Tortured ). The Academy Awardwinning Louis Malle film about a man in love with his son s fiancée, Damaged, was transformed to Una vez en la vida ( Once in a Lifetime ). The In-Laws, a comedy about the adventures of two unlike fathers of a couple soon to be married, ended up Hasta que la muerte nos separe ( Until Death Do Us Part ).

The Clearing, about a kidnapped executive, translated into Secretos de un secuestro ( Secrets of a Kidnapping ). Fargo became Fargo, secuestro voluntario ( Fargo, Voluntary Kidnapping ), and Up at the Villa, about an aristocratic woman who has a one-night stand with a poor refugee, was retitled Solo bastó una noche ( Only One Night Was Enough ). Tortilla Soup should have been easy, but no, it just had to translate as Cocinando la vida ( Cooking Life ). (See box for other examples of titles that have translated into everything you always wanted to know about the work and more.) Sometimes, of course, the odd translation is simply due to a flawed understanding of English or of the work itself. The BBC miniseries of Dickens Bleak House was translated as La casa desierta ( The Deserted House ). Dickens is well known for using names symbolically; in this case, Bleak House is simply the name of the protagonists house, which is not at all deserted. The only thing bleak about it is its occupants inability to win their court case.

Another BBC series was Thackeray s Vanity Fair. The word fair in English has some 10 meanings, among them, only one noun: fair, as in county fair. In the case of Thackeray s work, fair is an adjective coming after the noun for poetic reasons, and means pretty. However, it became translated as Feria de las vanidades ( Fair of the Vanities ).

Finally, in a silly little movie titled Drop-Dead Gorgeous, the translator dropped the hyphen and added a comma, and it became ¡Muérete, Linda! ( Drop Dead, Gorgeous! ).

Then there are the really strange ones that don t seem to make any sense at all. Sleepless in Seattle became Sinfonía de amor ( Symphony of Love ). A documentary about in vitro fertilization, Ice Babies, became Todos los chicos de mi vida ( All the Guys in My Life ). The popular TV series Sex and the City was changed to Sexo en la ciudad ( Sex in the City ), a slight change that managed to alter its entire focus.

Then, once in awhile, the name of a movie like American Pie is simply left as is, as if to say, Oh well. If we can t understand it, we might as well leave it in English.

But turnabout is fair play. The title of the Academy Award-winning Spanish movie Mar adentro means open sea or offshore. In English, it was translated as The Sea Inside. Finally, the Spanish movie Abre los ojos ( Open Your Eyes ) was so named for the last words of the movie, indicating that everything had been a dream; the remake in English was renamed, without reference to anything in the film, Vanilla Sky.

More Nonliteral Movie Title Translations

Atonement                                         Expiación, deseo y pecado  ( Atonement, Desire and Sin )

Beautician and the Beast                     La niñera y el presidente ( The Babysitter and the President )

Boston Legal                                      Justicia ciega ( Blind Justice )

Charlie Wilson s War                          Juego de poder ( Power Play )

Crash                                                  Vidas cruzadas ( Crossed Lives )

Ghost                                                  La sombra del amor ( The Specter of Love )

I Am David                                         La fuerza del valor ( The Strength of Courage )

Miller s Crossing                                  De paseo con la muerte ( Traveling With Death )

The Celestine Prophecy                        Las nueve revelaciones ( The Nine Revelations )

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants    Amigas inseparables ( Inseparable Girlfriends )

Two Weeks Notice                              Amor a segunda vista ( Love at Second Sight )

White Noise                                         Voces del más allá ( Voices From Beyond )



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