Doctor Who?

Good question. I’m going to write a little bit about the television series Doctor Who, and will state now that I’m not an expert, so if you’re a fan, and I make some mistakes, please forgive me.

One thing I do know, is that the main character of the programme isn’t referred to as Doctor Who, but as the Doctor. Another thing I know, is that the Doctor can regenerate into a new body, and the current incarnation is, for the first time, being played by a female actor.

But after hearing the programme mentioned today, I began to think about the fact that some languages, two of which I’m at least somewhat familiar with (French and Italian), often have male and female terms for people doing the same job. With the Doctor changing gender, does this mean that the translators of the programme have started referring to her using a different title?

No, basically. I thought it would be less likely in French, because the gender-neutral médecin is the most common term for a doctor (it’s gender neutral because the feminine version would be médecine, which is identical to the term for the field of medicine in general). Docteur is used as a title, and the female equivalent would be Doctoresse, but (unusually enough, considering French isn’t shy about using gendered language) that’s not used very often. Probably because it’s quite long as a title. So, the Doctor remains le Docteur in French. I thought Italian might be a little more complex though.

You see, it also features two different words for doctor. Medico, which is gender neutral, and dottore/dottorressa. Things aren’t completely different from French, but generally, dottore and dottoressa in Italian are ussed more commonly than docteur and doctoresse in French, so it wouldn’t be as unusual for the Doctor to be known as La Dottoressa instead of Il Dottore, as she had always been called up till now.

But no, she’s still Il Dottore. And I think that’s mainly for fairly practical reasons. Firstly, the character’s always been called that, and changing the name, even if made linguistic sense, might be confusing for viewers.

And it might be confusing in other ways. I’ve just discovered there’s an Italian television series from the 90s called La Dottoressa Giò which is returning for a new season, so people might get confused about that.

There was also probably an element of damned if you do/damned if you don’t to not changing her name as well. Keeping it masculine may have led to some declaring it sexist to refer to a woman using a masculine word. But using the feminine form might have been seen as sexist by others, who might say why point out her gender? And if the Doctor is an alien, is she really either male or female anyway!? Better just leave things as they are and not actively draw attention to the situation by actively making a change.

A lot of people expected there to be controversy about the Doctor changing gender (and there were a few initial tweets about how ridiculous that the 1,000 year-old space alien might look slightly different than usual after her latest regeneration). And a quick Google has shown me that some Italian articles referenced this by using the word dottoressa, asking, for example, siete pronti per una dottoressa (are you ready for a female doctor?) This article also predicted there would be extra controversy (una polemica nella polemica!) as the female term would need to be used (it’s not clear if they mean that it would be called for grammatically, or if they assumed that her name would change).

But as with her change in gender, it seems most people just don’t really care, and are perfectly happy to accept a female dottore.

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