Names in Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes and Close Range: Wyoming Stories and Their Hebrew Translation

By Friedman, Sara | Bucknell Review, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Names in Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes and Close Range: Wyoming Stories and Their Hebrew Translation


Friedman, Sara, Bucknell Review


"Bob Joe," [Silvano] said quietly in American, burning with hatred for Sicilians. "My name are Bob Joe. I work for you, please."

"It's these Pranken, these paws, that will build our farms and the town. Let the name show the work of our hands" ... "So call it Pranken, then." ... but when they filed the papers at the county seat, the word was written down as Prank. "If we called it Hande," said Loats, "it would have turned into Hand, a not bad name. But Prank? A joke. Your life place becomes a joke because language mixes up!" (1)

The machine had killed a ranch hand years earlier in a rollover accident at the weed-filled irrigation ditch--Maurice Ramblewood, or what? Rambletree, Bramblefood, Rumbleseat, Tumbleflood? ... Maurice Stumblebum ... Morris Gargleguts. (2)

NAMES--given, taken and forsaken--assume a central place in the narrative structure of these two works through elaborate, self-referential naming schemes comprising various types of metaphorical and allusive names, odd-sounding names, and variant spellings. Cultural identity and conflict are refracted in names given to characters; names parents give their children; renaming by oneself or by others; nicknames; and place names. There are also real names of places and historical figures, and, finally, copious glosses and comments on the etymology, derivation, aptness, and implication of the names. Nearly all the names elicit interpretation by different means of self-referentiality, until it becomes apparent that the cumulative significance extends to the entire naming scheme.

One of the major concerns in literary translation is preserving the foreignness of the source text and the source culture in the target text without reducing it to the familiar. These two works posit a source culture that is foreign to itself, dissonant, fragmented. It is the purpose of this essay to examine translation's ability to account for this cultural representation.

In Accordion Crimes, a novel spanning one hundred years of immigration to America, the central motif of renaming attests to the immigrants' desire to assimilate into the perceived unity of American society and the often disastrous results, as well as to the denial of their cultural identity. In Close Range, set in the American West inhabited by unlovely and unlucky would-be cowboys, it is the density of odd and metaphorical names that exposes the absurdity and randomness governing their lives.

Although proper names are not normally translated, it is generally acknowledged that meaningful names present a special problem and might be translated in order to convey their characterization properties and thematic import. (3) While it might seem that translating a name with an identifiable semantic component presents no difficulty, there are nonetheless reasons for leaving it untranslated:

   translators can choose to leave all proper names--both conventional
   and meaningful ones--in their original form, thus leaving the
   foreign cultural setting as an aspect of the "otherness" of the
   original text fully intact and actually emphasizing it. On the other
   hand, they can also decide to translate those names that have a more
   or less equivalent form in the target language, or indeed all names,
   naturalizing the whole nomenclature of a translated text and helping
   to integrate it into the culture and textual habits of its
   prospective audience. (4)

Luca Manini suggests a twofold reason for the practice of not translating names: 1) the risk of blunting the original cultural context which the names evoke, by supplanting them with those recognizably belonging to the target culture; 2) the difficulty involved in preserving ambiguity and allusions that resist reduction to identifiable components.

In Proulx's work, the semantic element in names is but a strand in the "onomastic web." (5) Even names with no semantic or allusive significance accrue meaning and elicit interpretation in a hermeneutic circle whereby the parts can be understood only in light of the whole and the whole only in light of the parts. …

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