Barbara, my literary agent, e-mailed me yesterday with a publishing dilemma. A translated copy of my book, Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, was going to press in Brazil—but the publisher there said the book would not be taken seriously unless we changed my name on the front cover.
Why? Because my name, Bolsta, without the “l,” leaves “bosta,” which in Portuguese translates to . . . ummm, well . . . excrement.
Hilarious! I told Barbara to publish the book under the name Philip Charles, which is my first name and middle name. An easy fix.
When I told this story to an Iranian friend of mine, she informed me that Philip in Farsi means elephant. So of course my sister started calling me Elephant Excrement.
UPDATE: In September 2011, I started to tell this story to my daughter’s yoga teacher, who is from Brazil. All I had to say was that my book was translated into Portuguese and that my name was spelled B-O-L-S-T-A . . . and she burst out laughing! As my daughter commented, it’s nice to know that I am the laughingstock of an entire country!
Brazilian edition of "Sixty Seconds"
Sixty Seconds is also being translated into German, Italian and Spanish. As far as I know, my name in those languages doesn’t equate to excrement or profanity, so we should be good to go!
Click here to visit the website of my Brazilian publisher.
Italian edition of "Sixty Seconds"
Click here to visit the website of my Italian publisher.
Click here to order the Italian translation from Amazon.
German edition of "Sixty Seconds"
Click here to visit the website of my German publisher.
Click here to order the German translation from Amazon.
Spanish edition of "Sixty Seconds"
Click here to visit the website of my Spanish publisher.
Click here to order the Spanish translation from Amazon.
Ironically, considering my Brazilian language snafu, I had written an article for Twin Cities Business magazine about companies that come up with names for products and organizations. In the following sidebar to the article, I wrote about foreign business translations gone bad. Get ready for some good yuks!
In 2002, Nametag International was wrapping up a project to name a new-generation healthcare information solution for one of the leading global manufacturers of engineering and electronics products. Nametag had screened the name Soarus in eight languages by running it through World Test, a linguistic screening tool that helps clients understand what a name might mean in other cultures. At the eleventh hour, the company mentioned it was planning a joint venture with an Israeli company, so Nametag added Yiddish and Hebrew to the mix. Oops. World Test spat out a sound-alike Yiddish word, tsoris, which meant “trouble and suffering.” Undaunted, Levin and Young began tinkering away. A few tweaks here, a few tweaks there, and they ended up with Soarian, a name that retained the strategic position of “rising above new heights” and allowed the company to own a truly global brand with no cultural difficulties.
Not all companies are so thorough. Here are our favorite naming nightmares.
• Coca-Cola in China was translated to Ke-kou-ke-la on thousands of signs. Unfortunately, the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect.
• In Taiwan, “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” was translated to (more…)