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Sight Magazine – Essay: Karl, Karel or Karol? The translation confusion over the name of King Charles III, explained

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Prince Charles is no more. In the English-speaking world, we are now used to calling the former Prince of Wales “King Charles III”. As the king chose to keep his birth name like her royal title, the change isn’t too difficult. But in other languages, things are more complicated.

Looking at major foreign news outlets, Charles’s name is translated in different ways. His title of king is usually translated into French KingSpanish KingGerman KonigRussian король (corolla), Finnish kuningaCzech kralPolish krolBulgarian крал (kral).

Britain’s King Charles III attends the state funeral and burial of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, in London, Britain September 19. PHOTO: Reuters/Tom Nicholson

For the Germans, this marks a change. Queen Elizabeth II was most often referred to using its English title – die queen –, rather than the German word for queen, Konigin.

But while German and some other Western European languages ​​do not translate the royal name, many Slavic languages ​​do. The Czechs were called Elizabeth Alžběta, the Russians Елизавета (Yelizaveta), the Poles Elżbieta. His son is, as king, called respectively Karel, Карл (Karl) and Karol.

“Prince Charles is no more. In the English-speaking world, we are now accustomed to calling the former Prince of Wales ‘King Charles III’. As the King chose to retain his birth name as a royal title, the change n It’s not too difficult, but in other languages ​​things are more complicated.

But the practice is not necessarily the same according to the linguistic groups. Bulgarian, a closely related Slavic language, seems to call the new king крал Чарлс (kral Charles).

Finnish, a non-Slavic language of the Finno-Ugric group, translated his mother’s name to Elisabet, but left Charles alone. In Spanish, the queen was Isabel II and her son is Carlos III. French is surprisingly easy because the noun is the same in both languages ​​- The king CharlesIII.

As Prince of Wales, Charles’ name was generally left as it was. In the Czech National Corpus (a database of 4.7 billion words of Czech texts), I found over 10,000 examples referring to principle Charles, but only one example of his name in the Czech form principle Karl. Curiously, as the Charles in King Charles III is a royal name, it is treated differently.

This led to some confusion. In the early days of his reign, the king’s name appears with different translations. One recent evening I checked Web Corp., an interface for searching linguistic data on the Web. In Czech I found it called kral Karl III. 170 times (with the dot after III indicating that it is an ordinal number, as is Czech custom), but also recorded 45 copies of kral CharlesIII.

The Czech Language Institute in Prague answered questions from the Czech media about the name of the new king. Kamila Smejkalová, who heads the institute’s linguistic advisory service, told me that they recommended Karel III., while acknowledging that Charles III. is also used.



Confusion over British royal surnames (Elizabeth or Alžběta, Philip or Filip) led the institute to write a information document on the issue in the days following the Queen’s death.

Advice suggests that in Czech monarchs are treated differently from other members of the royal family, including – previously – Charles, Prince of Wales. Now that Charles is king, they recommend translating his name rather than leaving it in its English form. The guide explains: “The names of monarchs are traditionally adapted in Czech…therefore we can expect – and the media use of this name supports it – that now and in the future we will find both forms [Charles and Karel] named after the British monarch. Some speakers will respect the tradition and nativize his name to Karel III. Others will prefer the Charles III form, which is also permitted, as the heir apparent has always been styled Prince Charles.”

Now, says Smejkalová, we can see a clear preference for Karel over Charles. As soon as mainstream media opted for the former, it tipped the scales. However, practical concerns can also play a role.

Smejkalová notes that if Charles had been the IV, rather than the III, the Czechs would have called him Charles IV., to avoid confusion with Karel IV., the most famous Czech king, who became Holy Roman Emperor in the 14th century.


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English translations
In English, a foreign ruler has his own name, but the title he has is translated. For some languages, we swap the order of first and last names to conform to our practice of placing the personal name before the last name. For example, the Hungarian Orbán Viktor is known in English as Viktor Orbán. There are exceptions, such as Chinese, where President Xi Jinping’s last name remains in pole position.

The names and titles of monarchs are a special case and not entirely consistent. A monarch inherits a title, which may have an equivalent in a foreign language and may be translated, just like president or prime minister. The royal name of the monarch may be different from his personal name, as was the case with Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, whose name in personal life was Albert.

For contemporary rulers, English tends to translate titles, but leaves royal names alone. The Spanish head of state is King Felipe VI (never Philip) and that of Denmark is Queen Margrethe II (not Margaret II).

Some states in the Middle East are an exception. Rulers may retain local titles, such as emir or sheikh, which have been adopted as English words.

If we go back in history, the picture is more complex. We keep some familiar historical titles in the original language (Kaiser Wilhelm of Imperial Germany and the Tsars of Russia). However, we call Catherine the Great an Empress, rather than her Russian title of tsarina.

We leave the German royal names untranslated as above, but the less familiar ones are often anglicized. The tsars are known as Alexander or Nicholas rather than Aleksander or Nikolay. We retain the semi-Anglicized Ivan, rather than using its English equivalent John.

Translation here, as everywhere, is a balancing act. The name and title of a hereditary ruler can be deeply country-specific, but monarchy is found all over the world.

Each language has its own dynamic vocabulary and translators must strike a balance between the foreign and the familiar. Their decisions will chart a slightly different course in each language accounting for British royal succession.The conversation

Neil Bermel is professor of Russian and Slavic studies at University of Sheffield. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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