What’s the Italian for Batman?
Why, Batman of course. That’s also the word for Batman in French, and many other languages. There are a couple of reasons why superhero names don’t tend to be translated from English into other languages.
One is simple recognisability. These characters are already so famous from the predominance of English-language culture throughout the world, that translating them into other languages might make them less recognisable. And is it really necessary to translate them for people to recognise them? Do we really need to understand that Iron Man’s suit is made of iron by translating his name into L’Homme de Fer, or L’Uomo di Ferro? (though Popeye is known in Italian as Braccio di Ferro – Ironarm!) If we think his suit is made of steel or zinc, but know that he likes to crack wise and shoot bad guys, isn’t that OK?
The second main reason we don’t translate superhero names is because compound nouns are very much a convention of Germanic languages, and directly translating these names into other languages would make them much less impressive. Batman in Italian would have to be L’Uomo di Pipistrello (literally the man of the bat). Not quite as intimidating, is it? Nor would the French translation be: L’Homme de Chauve-Souris. This is perhaps even more preposterous because chauve-souris, the French word for bat, literally means bald mouse. Imagine: Fear not citizens, for I, The Man of the Bald Mouse, shall save you! (Edit: though thank you to Gilles in the comments for pointing out that compound nouns like L’Uome Pipistrello and L’Homme Chauve-Souris are possible!)
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this this evening because recently I’ve been reading a Batman comic book that I bought while on holiday in Italy, to get some Italian reading practice. Obviously Batman is called Batman, though I’m curious if he’s sometimes called something else. You see, if you’re familiar with Batman, you might know that sometimes he’s known as The Batman, or The Bat (usually just to his friends).
While living in Belgium, I watched Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises with French subtitles. Batman was mainly referred to as Batman in the subtitles, except for when, in English, he was called The Bat or The Batman, which the subtitles translated as Le Chauve-Souris. And even though, yes, it sounded perhaps a little silly, I got used to it, and it made sense. It was necessary to create a name that was different enough from Batman to be distinctive, as that was the intention of calling him The Batman or The Bat in the films. Simply translating them as Le Bat or Le Batman probably wouldn’t have felt distinctive enough for French speakers who might be unfamiliar with English and therefore not fully appreciative of the difference between bat and Batman. Plus, Le Chauve-Souris is at least an accurate translation of The Bat.
I’m therefore curious to see if Italian translations do something similar. I haven’t read much of Batman: Anno Uno yet so I haven’t discovered this, and perhaps in the original English version Batman is simply never referred to as The Bat or The Batman. Bats (pipistrelli) have been referred to, as in the title of this post (I will become a bat…), but somehow I don’t think I’ll discover that Gotham’s most criminal denizens live in fear of Il Pipistrello. But, we’ll see!