• Yelena McCafferty

Those intriguing movie names

Updated: Jul 31

It has been a long time in lockdown, and as people were forced to stay at home, some companies came out as clear winners. Among them are Zoom and Netflix, of course. And while Zoom allowed many of us, interpreters including, to carry on working, Netflix gave us a chance to engross in captivating dramas and indulge in hilarious comedies, with no face masks or social distancing in sight.


As a translator, I am always curious about how names of movies have been translated into Russian. Take The Queen's Gambit, for example. In Russian it was released under the name of «Ход королевы» (The Queen’s Move). Since in chess terms a gambit is an opening where a player makes an early sacrifice to achieve a subsequent advantage, one can’t help thinking that the Russian translation of the movie title has been simplified.


The same is true for another popular drama – The Undoing. In Russian the title has been translated as «Отыграть назад» which literally means “to dial it back”, “to rewind”. The original English title, of course, means that and the downfall.


Sometimes films acquire whole new titles. The French series Dix pour cent (10%) has been translated into English as Call My Agent. In Russian they kept the original – “Десять процентов”.


Adapting names of movies to languages and cultures is nothing new of course. The 1959 American romantic comedy Some Like it Hot was released on Soviet screens as… «В джазе только девушки» (Only Girls in Jazz). If you’ve seen it, you may agree with me that the Russian version is actually quite insightful while the original American is more abstract.


A new name certainly gives a film another interpretation. And with one film acquiring a variety of names in other languages, it can be a linguistic delight too, not just a spectacle. And just like a good director won't fix a bad script, a good name won't fix a bad movie; a good movie, however, can give rise to several successful names.


[Tip: Film-makers should make sure written and spoken phrases in a foreign language are correct. Contact us for assistance with Russian translations on 0207 0436940 or enquiry@talkrussian.com]


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