GIRAFFE.

In the comments to this post, I referred to “my favorite Nikolai Gumilev poem, one of those rare foreign works that modifies your sense of a word in your own language—I can never think of giraffes without smiling because of that poem,” and the good AJP took me (gently) to task for linking to a poem unintelligible to the Slavonically challenged and asked me to provide a translation. So I’ve tossed one together; warning: it was a quick job and I am in the throes of a bad cold that fills my head more with mucus than inspiration, so please do Gumilev the courtesy of assuming that all infelicities, banalities, and other wrongnesses are exclusively the fault of the translator. (Those who can read the original will realize that I have bent the sense here and there; I can only respond that English has lamentably few rhymes for “giraffe.”)
        Giraffe
Today I can see that your look is especially sad
And your arms are especially fragile, as if made of chaff.
Listen, my dear: far away, by the shores of Lake Chad,
Roams the exquisite giraffe.
It was granted the gift of proportion, voluptuous grace,
And its skin is adorned with a pattern remarkably fine:
Only the moon, smashed to pieces, descended from space
To rock in lake water, could dare try to match its design.
From afar it resembles a caravel’s colorful sail,
And its gait is as smooth as the frigatebird’s radiant flight.
I know the world sees many wonders in all their detail
When it takes to a grotto of marble for refuge at night.
I know all those stories of maidens who’ve never been kissed
And of passionate princes who rule a mysterious plain,
But you have inhaled for too long the lugubrious mist,
You no longer desire to believe anything but the rain.
And how can I tell you of faraway creatures that pad
Among tropical palms, among flowers too fragrant by half…
You’re crying? But listen: far off, by the shores of Lake Chad,
Roams the exquisite giraffe.
    —Nikolai Gumilev (tr. Stephen Dodson)

Comments

  1. Who’s this Steve Dodson person? He’s a fantastic translator.

  2. Who’s this Steve Dodson person? He’s a fantastic translator.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, tell him to come here more often.

  4. Victor Sonkin says:

    That’s a great translation.
    A minor nitpicking comment: the first line of the last stanza – doesn’t it read in Russian “и как я тебе расскажу про тропический сад”? It’s a rhetorical question, “So how am I supposed to tell you…” I understand the need to bend the sense here and there, but this point seems important enough (and I’m wondering if your Russian version for any reason read ‘и так я тебе расскажу…’).
    Sorry about that. I couldn’t even imagine this poem could sound that well in English.

  5. Thanks for the praise, all, and the nitpick is quite correct: fortunately, it’s easily fixed, and I shall do so forthwith.

  6. I’m not sure it is correct. The version you’ve linked to is punctuated with a period… not really sure what to make of that. If we were to read “Oh, how I shall tell you!” I would prefer an exclamation point. If we are to read “But how can I tell you?” I want a question mark. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we could find some punctuation that made the whole thing a subordinate clause… “you cry as I tell you…?”. Bleh. Poets, please punctuate carefully, especially in Russian.
    That’s not what I came here to say, though. Mostly I was wondering how the giraffe became the subject in line 11, and the world became a direct object, when “zemlia” is clearly nominative in the original.
    Also, please accept my sincerest appreciation. Poetic translations of Russian to English are a noble cause, if ever there was one, and I’ve done just enough to know that they’re *hard* to do this well!

  7. Mostly I was wondering how the giraffe became the subject in line 11, and the world became a direct object, when “zemlia” is clearly nominative in the original.
    Sloppiness, my dear fellow, sheer sloppiness. I’ll fix that, too.

  8. It’s awfully nice of Hat to show such devotion to his readers by leaving us a poem when he should be wrapped up in a blanket sipping chicken soup.

  9. I have actually just had a dinner of chicken soup and am feeling somewhat restored. (It helps that the Mets won 1-0 earlier today and the Yanks are in a 22-4 hole going into the bottom of the ninth.)

  10. ‘i know all the merry tales of the mysterious countries
    about a black maiden and the passion of the young warlord’
    maa nee…
    i mean, great translation!(except the maidens who’ve never been kissed)

  11. thanks

  12. rootlesscosmo says:

    Many thanks, that’s a fine poem and as I don’t know Russian your translation is my only way of reading it. I particularly like “lugubrious mist” which seems to have echoes of Edward Gorey. And the meter is a kick–has it a special name? I see four dactylic feet in all but the last lines of stanzas 1 and 5, and what musicians call a “pickup” or Auftakte (can’t recall the term in prosody, sorry) at the beginning of most lines, and an extra stressed syllable to end… I have utter confidence that our generous host, and several commenters too, will help me out.

  13. Thanks to Nikolai, Stephen, and Hat.

  14. Yes, this Stephen guy does inspired translations, what great work. I’m filing it, I’ve never done that with a poem before.
    I can only respond that English has lamentably few rhymes for “giraffe.”
    If he had substituted ‘camelopard’ he could have rhymed it with… leotard, she-o-phard and much more, possibly.
    Giraffe rhymes with laugh (at least, it does when I say it).
    Thanks, Language.

  15. English has lamentably few rhymes for “giraffe.”
    Riffraff.

  16. read: I don’t think “black maiden” would work in the year 2009, and besides, my solution is just as good a fairy-tale reference (and allows for a nice rhyme). I make no apologies.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    English has lamentably few rhymes for “giraffe.”
    gaffe, laugh, quaff, staff
    Not much to do with the giraffe theme.
    A note on giraffe gender:
    I didn’t notice right away that the translator used the pronoun it to refer to the giraffe. The word appears to be feminine in Russian, as it is in French (but not in Spanish) and I believe also in Arabic, the source of the word, and the imagery in the description of the giraffe in the poem is more traditionally feminine (“exquisite”, “voluptuous grace”) than masculine. Perhaps “she” would seem strange to anglophone readers, but “he” would jar with the imagery, so perhaps “it” is the best, although it seems too neutral and emotionally distant for the poet’s lush and admiring description of the girafe.

  18. Bill Walderman says:

    Marie-Lucie: Zhiraf is masculine in the Russian original, and Gumilev uses masculine pronouns to refer to him.
    Masterful translation!

  19. marie-lucie says:

    Sorry about the mistake, I really thought I had seen “zhirafa”. But if the original is masculine, why not use “he” in the translation? A lot of people use “he” not “it” to refer to specific animals (I wrote about this in the thread “The psychology of gender”).

  20. “Giraffes are neuter, in English” seems a bit sad for giraffes. Isn’t there an English word that means both m. & f., rather than neither? Not hermaphrodite, obviously; I’m talking about gender here, I think Athel C.-B. would agree.

  21. Yikes. Always press ‘preview’.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, there is the word epicenewhich means “applying to both m. and f.”, so usable for either. An English example would be “child”, and also the names of most animals. But there is no epicene singular pronoun, hence the use of “generic he” for persons, which is now considered unacceptable in most cases. But “they” could be called epicene.

  23. But if the original is masculine, why not use “he” in the translation?
    It would sound weird to me. In Russian there is no choice; you are required to use a “masculine” pronoun for a “masculine” noun (and since most such nouns are not animate, the term is misleading to begin with). In English, unless we are being cute (or talking with small children), we use “it” for animals other than our pets.

  24. Mind you, if this were a children’s poem, I probably would use “he.” But it’s not.

  25. lovely!

  26. marie-lucie says:

    OK, LH. Thank you for explaining the reasons for your choice. There would be the same problem of translation if the poem was written in French, German, etc, except it could be even worse. If I were to translate this poem into French, I would have to refer to the giraffe as ell “she”, but into Spanish as el “he”, because of the differing grammatical gender of the names of those animals in different languages.
    I once read about the following translation problem: an English text included a sentence like “I was observing a bee among flowers, and it looked so busy and serious at its task that I thought it must be a male…”. The advice to the translator was to change “a male” to “a female” for the French version! but since the word for “bee” in French has feminine grammatical gender (une abeille), a French observer (even one as ill-informed about bees as the English one) would not feel the need to reflect that the busy bee must be female (or male for that matter), as “female” would be the default option in French because of the “feminine” gender of the name of the insect.

  27. Thank you, Marie-Lucie. Epicine is clearly the word I was looking for. I’d always thought it had something to do with food or horses, for some not very logical reason.

  28. I’m sorry about your cold, Language. I hope it clears up soon.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    it’s epicEne.

  30. in my language giraffe is anaash, my 2 yo niece recognizes it very well
    no apologies are needed, but why black maidens are not good in 2009, it’s what is said in the poem and nothing racist is in there, all is so romantic
    about the maidens who’ve never been kissed i recalled instantly the UK singer Su/san Boy/le
    i’d prefer to continue to associate the poem with AA, tonkie ruki

  31. English has lamentably few rhymes for “giraffe.”
    half, calf, carafe, behalf, graph

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Right on, Nijma. None of them seem suitable for the poem, unfortunately.

  33. Thanks, M-L, I’m a terrible speller. No doubt in this case it’s because I’m not paying enough attention to its derivation, but in general, if it weren’t for the spell-checker, I’d be sunk.

  34. I think that to rhyme ‘carafe’ with ‘giraffe’ would have real possibilities, except I that I don’t pronounce them the same.

  35. Siganus Sutor says:

    But there is no epicene singular pronoun
    Are there epicene names in English, the equivalent of Dominique, Claude or Camille? I can’t think of any.

  36. half, calf, carafe, behalf, graph
    Yes, that’s what I meant by “lamentably few.” In Russian there are essentially an infinite number, since the perfective gerund of any -ать verb ends in -ав (the one Gumilev uses is обняв ‘having embraced’).

  37. Epicene names. Others are Cody, Cory, and Jordan.

  38. Some people here thought that Noetica was a she and that Nijma was a he. For some time I have been thinking that Athel was a feminine name. Things are not always what they seem to be, et je ne suis pas en train de peigner la girafe.

  39. michael farris says:

    I think ‘it’ works fine for giraffe in the abstract
    “Each giraffe has its own unique pattern of spots.”
    or unknown giraffe
    “See that giraffe over there? It must be 20 feet tall!”
    On the other hand, a known giraffe with a known sex would have to be he or she.

  40. The word appears to be feminine in Russian, as it is in French (but not in Spanish) and I believe also in Arabic
    The way I understand the mystical Arabic grammar is that it doesn’t have gender; it has “sun words” and “moon words” that use the definite articles es and al based on the first letter of the word. So “the sun” is es-shems and “the moon” is al-kamar.
    the translator used the pronoun it to refer to the giraffe
    I didn’t even notice; it sounds perfectly normal.
    if this were a children’s poem, I probably would use “he.”
    Why teach children that the default gender is male, especially if it’s not good English? I’m glad the pets were mentioned, though, as I teach this to my students, thinking people might be offend if their four-legged family members were referred to as “it”.
    At first I thought this translation had no meter, as it was hard to skim. But all those end rhymes jumped out at me. Then I thought of the Hattian trick of reading out loud. My, oh my.

  41. Siganus Sutor says:

    Thanks Steve. But in the link there are some names that are baffling for me.
    Alexis, Sidney or Jan could be women?
    Evelyn, Marion,Beverly, Lynn or Shirley could be men?
    Oh, my, I’d better watch out now.
    I know all those stories of maidens who’ve never been kissed
    And of passionate princes who rule a mysterious plain…

  42. jamessal says:

    A lovely giraffe indeed. Thanks, Hat.
    Jan could be wom[a]n?
    There’s a woman Jan in the American version of The Office — which, I don’t care what anyone says, is much better than the original.

  43. michael farris says:

    “The way I understand the mystical Arabic grammar is that it doesn’t have gender”
    Every variety of Arabic I know of (classical, MSA and the modern dialects) has grammatical gender (masculine and feminine) though the secondary semantics differ somewhat from those of European languages.

  44. I have met men who had the names Jan, Shirley, and Marion, and believe me, they had problems. Shirley went by his initials in the phone book. On the other hand, “Pat” seems pretty safe, being a nickname for both Patrick and Patricia.
    “lamentably few.”
    I’m just having fun. Oooh, “epitaph”.

  45. Siganus Sutor says:

    Olav.

  46. What a delightful poem! Thanks, Steve, and I hope you feel better soon.

  47. Every variety of Arabic I know of (classical, MSA and the modern dialects) has grammatical gender (masculine and feminine)
    Second person singular has gender: you feminine is “intee”; you masculine is “inta” and the possessives too, although in practice I can’t distinguish a difference in pronunciation. Your name: (m)=ISmak (f)=ISmik
    I have never heard of Arabic nouns changing gender.
    the boy=al-ibn
    the girl=al-bint
    the cat=al-bisse
    None of them change gender.

  48. You know, it’s really not hard to get the facts about these things. If you don’t have a textbook to hand, googling arabic nouns gender gets you pages like this, which correctly says:
    “Arabic nouns are either masculine or feminine. Usually when referring to a male, a masculine noun is usually used and when referring to a female, a feminine noun is used. In most cases the feminine noun is formed by adding a special character, the ta marbuta ـة ة, to the end of the masculine noun…. It’s not just nouns referring to people that have gender. Inanimate objects (doors, houses, cars, etc.) is either masculine or feminine. Whether an inanimate noun is masculine or feminine is mostly arbitrary.”
    Really, teaching English to Arabic speakers does not make you an Arabic expert, and you should be less eager to pick arguments about it. And nobody said anything about nouns “changing gender” (only adjectives do that); the point is that they have inherent gender, which is a well-known fact about Semitic languages, including Arabic.

  49. you should be less eager to pick arguments
    That wasn’t a disagreement, indeed the examples of gender specific personal pronouns I listed were in agreement. It was more of narrowing of the topic from general to more specific. I have unfortunately seen the type of case endings and nunation referenced in the link when I once accidentally picked up a MSA textbook. IMHE, native speakers don’t use that stuff, much less vowel markings–Modern Standard Arabic is a constructed language that nobody actually speaks, although I suppose it must be a prescriptivist’s dream.
    The examples in the link are all about people too, which are different from animals. Otherwise you could just take the word bissa for cat and turn it into female cat by adding tamarbuta =bisseeya and a dog=kelp would become kelba. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that. You can take the word for male student=taleb and change the gender by changing the ending: taleba=female student.
    There are even some animal words that specify gender: the only word I know for “goat” makes the fellahin laugh because it actually means something like “nanny-goat” and is only used for female and I think cheese-producing goats.
    Now that I think of it, bedouin Arabic conjugates verbs differently for 3rd person singular depending on whether the actor is male or female, so I would imagine as soon as the animal starts to do something (like a giraffe roaming) you would need a gender for it.
    I’m not trying to present myself as an expert on anything, except inasmuch as we are all something of experts on our own local dialects–my credentials are in a completely unrelated field. Beyond that I sense maybe a bit of boredom with Arabic. I always enjoy it when the Arabic speakers delurk and have something interesting to say–my remarks were mostly intended to encourage more discussion of a language I particularly enjoy.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: Are there epicene names in English, the equivalent of Dominique, Claude or Camille?
    In France until recently only saints’ names in their French versions (and a very few others) were admitted by civil authorities as first names for new babies. The vast majority of those names are from Latin, a few from Greek, meaning that they are from gender-ful languages and most are specifically masculine or feminine. A male name can be feminized by adding a typically feminine suffix (as in Latin). This means that among traditional names the only epicenes (at least in writing) are the rare ones in which a Latin male name and its feminine equivalent ended up the same through various regular sound changes during the development of the French language, as in the ones you quote: for instance Claude is the name both of a Roman emperor (Claudius) and of a queen of France (from Latin Claudia).
    In the English-speaking world the naming conventions are very different, and far more names both real and invented are culturally acceptable as first names. In particular, besides religiously based names there has been for a long time a tradition of preserving a last name from a part of one’s ancestry as a first name. Naming fashions also have a role to play, such as the use of nature names (Willow, River, Ocean) as first names. During the 20th century more and more male first names started to be given to girls, first with names ending with the sounds i (hence Leslie, Beverley, Shirley, Kimberley, Tracy, Sidney and a (Dana), then with the consonants l and n (which were already in some female names like isabel and Susan but also in formerly exclusively male names, eg Adrian, Morgan, Glenn), and then also with other consonants (Piper, Taylor, Brooke). Names in -is now also tend to be considered feminine, eg Francis used to be the male counterpart of Frances but Francis and Alexis tend to be female names now.. (Apart from these “mainstream” names there are also different conventions, with a lot of creativity both in sound and spelling among the African-American subculture). All in all the pool of names considered suitable for girls has been growing, while the pool of exclusively male names has been getting smaller.

  51. rootlesscosmo says:

    Marion
    was John Wayne’s first name. He seems to have chosen to be called Duke” from an early age, so maybe he did have trouble.

  52. M-L, ‘Leslie’, like ‘Francis’, has a feminine counterpart in English: ‘Lesley’, but both are used by women. I don’t think ‘Lesley’ is as common in the US. Other English usages are resolutely divided by sex: Dominic and Dom are always masc., to my knowledge, and Dominique fem.
    Jesse & Jess are epicene. In English, sometimes shortenings of -a endings will get you epicene names that sound male: Fred, George, Eddy (Freda, Georgina, Edwina).
    In Ireland ‘Mary’ is used as a man’s name, often a middle one. It has something to do with Roman Catholicism, but I’m not sure what (possibly his mother has to have been a Mary).
    Athel is short for Athelstan — a more male-sounding name it would be hard to find.

  53. From afar it resembles a caravel’s colorful sail,
    And its gait is as smooth as the frigatebird’s radiant flight.

    I’m going to try and learn this poem. God knows what these two lines were in Russian, but they can’t have been as good as the translation.

  54. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: ‘Leslie’, like ‘Francis’, has a feminine counterpart in English: ‘Lesley’, but both are used by women. I don’t think ‘Lesley’ is as common in the US.
    Here in Canada I have met only male “Leslie” (now about 60 yrs old) but several women, some quite young, named either “Leslie” or “Lesley”. The latter seems more British to me. I think that names in -ley are originally place names in Britain: place > lord of the place > family name > male name with “feminine-sounding” ending > female name. In Sheridan’s The Rivals (where Mrs. Malaprop appears), one of the characters is “Ensign Beverley”, with whom the heroine is in love. She refers to him as “my Beverley”.
    Other English usages are resolutely divided by sex: Dominic and Dom are always masc., to my knowledge, and Dominique fem.
    I have met one “Dominic” and heard of a few more, but never a “Dominique” among English speakers. “Dom” as a full name, rather than short for “Dominic”? The only thing I associate with “Dom” is the French clerical title (for an abbot, I think), as in “Dom Pérignon”. Perhaps the use of “Dom” as a male name is a misunderstanding of this title?

  55. marie-lucie says:

    In Ireland ‘Mary’ is used as a man’s name, often a middle one. It has something to do with Roman Catholicism, but I’m not sure what (possibly his mother has to have been a Mary).
    In some old French families it was (perhaps still is) the custom of having “Marie” as one of the names given to a male child. The higher the family was in society, the more names the child would have (royal children might have as many as ten names). The reason is only partly that extra names are needed for identification and are given as a desire to recall relatives such as grandparents, etc: the main reason (originally) is that giving the child a saint’s name calls on that saint for protection of the child. Including the name of the Virgin Mary therefore means placing the child under her protection (this is also the original reason that so many female names started with “Marie” – something now unfashionable). If it were simply a recall of a boy’s mother’s name, one would expect more female names to occur among those given to a male child, but only “Marie” was used in this way. This custom is not peculiar to France, witness “Maria” in Spanish “José Maria” (a common male name) and in “Rainer Maria Rilke”.
    In Protestant countries, naming was not limited to saints’ names, hence the greater variety of names as I mentioned above.

  56. Albin is witch in my language maybe it came from Arabic

  57. No, Dom is short for Dominic. The best-known one is Dom Joly, a British comedian who was born in Beirut, where he was at school (tangentially) with Osama bin Laden. I think he has a French background (Joly).

  58. Of course, Leslie Caron is French (half).

  59. Siganus Sutor says:

    one would expect more female names to occur among those given to a male child, but only “Marie” was used in this way
    If I’m not mistaken Anne too was/is a feminine name sometimes given to boys. If you remember, there was a connétable* de France whose name was Anne.
     
     
    * which was not quite an ordinary constable

  60. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: If I’m not mistaken Anne too was/is a feminine name sometimes given to boys. If you remember, there was a connétable* de France whose name was Anne.
    I think that was Anne de Beaujeu. The once mighty word “constable” has fallen very low.
    There are two names Anne. The male name comes from the Biblical masculine name Hanna or Hannas, rather than the feminine Hannah which is the origin of feminine Anne (the name of Mary’s mother). Of course the two versions of the Biblical name have the same root, but they are not the same name, any more than the two Claude in French. This is not the same case as including Marie among a boy’s names, a name by which he will never be addressed.

  61. “Otherwise you could just take the word bissa for cat and turn it into female cat by adding tamarbuta =bisseeya and a dog=kelp would become kelba. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that.”
    Actually, it does. I don’t know about biss, since my dialect doesn’t use it, but kelba is fine. Of course, a lot of animal nouns have specific masculine and feminine forms, like jmel “he-camel” vs. naga “she-camel”, in which case you can’t just add -a; and natural gender tends to be irrelevant for smaller animals.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: Of course, Leslie Caron is French (half).
    I did not know that Leslie indicated a “half” English origin but always assumed it was a pseudonym, since at that time most actors did not use their own names professionally. Authorities when she was born were lenient in allowing her to have an English name (fortunately one easily pronounceable in French). They could have refused to register her birth unless she had a French first name.
    When I was quite young I remember hearing of a priest who had refused to baptize a baby boy named Eric: Je ne baptise pas des enfants qui ont des noms de vedettes de cinéma (“I don’t baptize children who are named after movie stars”), even though Eric was not at all uncommon in French at the time.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Now I understand why Leslie Caron starred in an English movie about a French girl in London (The L-shaped Room): she must have grown up bilingual in French and English.

  64. I merely got it from Wiki,

    Caron was born in Boulogne-sur-Seine, Seine (now Boulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine), France, to Claude Caron, a French chemist, and Margaret Petit, an American dancer.

    ‘Petit’ doesn’t sound fantastically American, but it allows her to join the Wiki catagory: “French people of American descent”. It has 18 members, of whom only she and Josephine Baker are well-known in the conventional sense (that I’ve heard of them).

  65. Je ne baptise pas des enfants qui ont des noms de vedettes de cinéma (“I don’t baptize children who are named after movie stars”)
    I wonder what he’d have done with Madonna.

  66. The question is surely what she would have done with him, and would the resulting book of photographs have been a bestseller.

  67. Erik Satie’s mother was Scottish, and he was originally baptised “Eric” as an Anglican. (The “k” was an adult affectation motivated by Viking fantasies — Satie was from Normandy). His mother died when he was very young, and he was rebaptised Catholic.
    I’ve always wondered whether in cases like that you have to unbaptise the child first in order to get a blank slate for baptism.

  68. Erik Satie’s mother was Scottish, and he was originally baptised “Eric” as an Anglican. (The “k” was an adult affectation motivated by Viking fantasies — Satie was from Normandy). His mother died when he was very young, and he was rebaptised Catholic.
    I’ve always wondered whether in cases like that you have to unbaptise the child first in order to get a blank slate for baptism.

  69. Oddly, I have just encountered a similar case (in a fictional setting). Having finished Pnin, my wife and I have embarked on What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies, an author we’ve both heard good things about but never read, and one of the characters is a young woman from a Catholic Canadian family who marries an Anglican Brit and converts (to the dismay of her family). A very Catholic aunt gets the first child of the marriage rebaptized Catholic; since there is no mention of a prior unbaptism, I take it that is not a necessary (or perhaps even possible) procedure.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    LH, Happy reading! I like Robertson Davies.
    About (re)baptism: As far as I know there is no such thing as “unbaptism”. If you are from another religion and convert to Catholicism, it is almost as if you were a newborn. In Satie’s case, his Anglican baptism was invalid for the Catholic church, so it was as if he had never been baptized. An adult convert would be asked to go through some formal lessons in Catholicism before being baptized, but an earlier baptism by some other church would not count.

  71. Hat: I third the Robertson Davies recommendation.
    In fact, all baptisms by Christians “count”, unless the particular sect requires total immersion (as Baptists among others do) and the previous baptism was by sprinkling, pouring, or partial immersion. In cases of doubt, a conditional baptism is performed, with words like “If you are not now baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Trinity”. (A few sects baptize in the name of the Son alone, but most insist on the Trinity.)
    In the Catholic Church specifically, baptism is an ex opere operato ritual; that is, if the right things are done, the baptism is valid independent of the mental state of the baptizer. Thus one can be baptized by a person in a state of mortal sin, and even if the baptizer says in nomine Patria [fatherland] et Filia [daughter] et Spirita Sancta the baptism is still valid.
    The other sacraments are more complex. The Catholic Church recognizes holy orders, for example, even in priests who are not in communion with Rome, provided they have the Apostolic Succession in a direct and physical chain of layings-on-of-hands; Anglican orders are not valid for a Catholic, however, because from a Catholic standpoint the rite is incorrectly administered and thus the chain is effectively broken.

  72. M-L: “Recently” being when, for the civil acceptance of saints’ names only?

  73. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Since there are quite a few instances of “rebaptism”, either there must be a lack of recognition by the church of baptisms by other faiths, or parents think that there is (or are afraid to admit to the earlier baptism). It is true that if no priest available another person can perform an emergency baptism, but a proper ceremony by a priest using holy water must be conducted later. My sisters and I were born during the Second World War and received emergency baptisms, and were properly baptized much later, when we were all in school, in order to participate in First Communion ceremonies. Not many people remember their baptism, as they were babies when it happend: I remember mine with embarrassment.
    Hozo: the civil acceptance of saints’ names only
    Rather, the civil acceptance of names beyond those of saints. I am not sure exactly when restrictions on first names were lifted, but it was in the last few decades. One reason was the large number of non-Christian immigrants who could not be denied the right to give their children traditional names. Another was a resurgence of minority names, especially Breton names in Brittany. I remember hearing an interview with a Breton couple who had had problems registering their first four children, as local authorities were reluctant to accept the names (although some Breton names had been acceptable for a long time, for instance Annick (f) and Yannick (m)), but when they wanted to name their fifth child “Adraboran” (which is reminiscent of Abracadabra) that name was flatly refused and it took a long time (and I think court battles) before the child’s birth was registered.
    Before that (probably shortly after the revolution), the only officially acceptable names were those figuring on either the traditional Catholic calendar (where each day has several saints available) or the Revolutionary calendar (where in order to replace the Catholic calendar as a source of names each day has the name of a flower, a tool, all sorts of things, most of which would never actually be used as names). In practice the only source was the Catholic calendar, but there was a little more latitude, especially for regional traditions (eg the use of some Biblical names in Protestant areas), although foreign names, especially those not consonant with French pronunciation, were not allowed. Local authorities usually had the last word, so the law was not applied consistently throughout the country or even between one city or village and another (eg the acceptance of “Leslie” for the Caron family).
    Nowadays there are few restrictions if any. Many French children are given English names, usually those of movie stars, although in most cases the parents only have a very vague idea of how these names are pronounced in English.

  74. Siganus Sutor says:

    I think that was Anne de Beaujeu.
    Anne de Beaujeau was a real woman, even if she was regent of France, wasn’t she? I was thinking of Anne de Montmorency.
    A funny anecdote told by a Mauritian gentleman who was waiting to be called back to the counter in a bank in Madagascar:
    Like a lot of Catholics here, he has several first names, which order doesn’t necessarily follow the canonical order in France, where the name commonly used is generally the first one if I am not mistaken. So the cashier calls: “Marie L…”. Nobody moves. He calls again “Marie L…!”. The gentleman thinks it is quite extraordinary that in Madagascar, in this very bank, at this very moment, there is another member of the L… family, but who knows. He doesn’t move. The cashier is starting to get angry and calls for the third time “Marie L…!!”. The gentleman moves to the counter, to check if there might be something about him. The cashier looks at him with wide eyes and asks:
    — It’s you Marie?
    — No, I’m Joseph.
    Indeed he was, being Marie Fernand Joseph.

  75. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus, you are right, the Connétable was Anne de Montmorency.
    “canonical order” of French names: nowadays the usual name is the first one, but in previous centuries there was some variation: often the usual name was the last one, as in the case of the Mauritian gentleman. Sometimes also the person uses one of the other names for public consumption (eg a writer or actor).

  76. methodist says:

    there must be a lack of recognition by the church of baptisms by other faiths
    The Methodist church recognizes baptisms of other churches, also confirmation, even if the other denomination does not reciprocate. So if a Roman Catholic wanted to join the United Methodist church, if they had already been baptized and completed whatever religious study was deemed appropriate by their previous church, they would be able to join the church without any other requirements. Ordination by another denomination would not be accepted though, and the Anglicans (that the Methodists originally branched off from) would not accept the Methodist ordination either, since the succession was broken. (The founder, British John Wesley was an ordained Anglican, but the original American bishops more or less ordained themselves.)

  77. On Mars, all baptisms are recognised. We are an equal-opportunity planet.

  78. Wonderful, wonderful poem! I can’t imagine that it’s better in Russian than in this English. I’m curious about the meter too: did the Russian suggest it? I love that sort of cantering anapest, and I wonder why you don’t meet the five-footed sort very often: it works beautifully.

  79. I think each denomination has its own policy about other denominations’ baptisms. The Orthodox Church usually accepts any baptism where the person has been baptized in the name of the Trinity, and the person is chrismated. But it depends on the jurisdiction, bishop and the individual case.

  80. bruessel says:

    I may be missing the obvious here, but I can’t think of a single movie star called Eric.

  81. Eric Roberts

  82. On French naming: I remember reading that besides names of Saints, names of historical figures (César, Aristide) and mythological figures except deities (e.g. Hercule, but not e.g. Jupitre) were also admissible, at least in 20th century Civil law. Is that correct?
    Gumilev is one of my favourite poets. Have his works been edited in English translation?

  83. Bill Walderman says:

    “I’m curious about the meter too: did the Russian suggest it?”
    The translation brilliantly matches the meter and rhyme scheme of the original.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    bruessel: I was quoting the priest’s words (as reported in my presence). Perhaps since there was no St Eric in the calendar, the priest assumed that such an exotic (to him) name must come from a movie star.
    A calendar as published for household use (the way it is in France) can only list one saint per day, but there are usually several saints associated with the same day, so different countries have different preferences. Also, as new saints are created, the list of saints grows, and conversely some years ago the list was scrutinized and some saints who were attested in legend rather than history were removed, such as St Christopher.

  85. marie-lucie says:

    Hans: besides names of Saints, names of historical figures (César, Aristide) and mythological figures except deities (e.g. Hercule, but not e.g. Jupitre) were also admissible, at least in 20th century Civil law. Is that correct?
    Yes, I forgot about that. Those names were very popular in France before the 20th century, at first among the nobility and later among the general public. The part that is striking about the old law was the acceptance of both the Catholic and the Revolutionary calendar, since in the latter most names (except a few feminine flower names) would sound ridiculous, leaving the Catholic calendar the major source of names for the general population. Again there were some exceptions, for instance Diane, the name of a divinity, was reasonably common among upper-class folk (perhaps because of Diane de Poitiers, a famous mistress of two kings, father then son, in the 16th century). But that law is no longer valid.

  86. ….although in most cases the parents only have a very vague idea of how these names are pronounced in English.
    I used to know a woman named “Nathalie” who pronounced the first syllable to rhyme with “bath”. Probably she was named out of a book. I’d have to say that that was her name in American, a variation like John, Ivan, Jean, Johann, Juan, etc.

  87. ….although in most cases the parents only have a very vague idea of how these names are pronounced in English.
    I used to know a woman named “Nathalie” who pronounced the first syllable to rhyme with “bath”. Probably she was named out of a book. I’d have to say that that was her name in American, a variation like John, Ivan, Jean, Johann, Juan, etc.

  88. Bath rhymes with giraffe. You could have used that, Language.
    Among flowers too fragrant in the bath…

  89. marie-lucie says:

    JE: a woman named “Nathalie” who pronounced the first syllable to rhyme with “bath”.
    Sometimes the reason for this is because it is seen as a feminine counterpart of Nathan.

  90. And China is trying to eradicate all names other than those on an ever-shrinking government list. How I hate these people who want to force everybody to be just like everybody else.

  91. michael farris says:

    “How I hate these people who want to force everybody to be just like everybody else”
    I think you speak for all us when you say that.

  92. I want to be like Language.

  93. Traditional Chinese naming is absolutely insane. The father apparently had absolute discretion and could name according to any scheme or whim he wanted.

  94. Traditional Chinese naming is absolutely insane. The father apparently had absolute discretion and could name according to any scheme or whim he wanted.

  95. marie-lucie says:

    If China has the largest population of any country in the world, and the official language contains many homophones (same consonants, vowels and tones) there must already be thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people with the same name combinations. And the government wants to reduce the number of names further? What an administrative nightmare.

  96. I thought the name Dom came from Portuguese, although I don’t recall where I got that idea.
    I learned recently that the masculine name Evelyn is pronounced Eev-lin.
    When I was a boy (in the late forties) a young man in a house near my neighbourhood (in Victoria, B. C.) was said to sport the name Beverley, which we made sport of. I haven’t run across this masculine name since.
    In the late eighties I met a young Chinese from Hong Kong whose name was Jonafon.
    Here in Haida Gwai there are two Quebecois called Eric and Patrick, which are not anglicized names (I mean to say they were baptized thus).
    I’ve not been much of a poetry reader, but this one is a beaut. Thanks.
    Language, I read your blog with great pleasure. My degree (more than forty years old) was in languages and linguistics, but I’ve not lived and worked among minds as wonderful as those that haunt your blog.

  97. marie-lucie says:

    Iakon: I thought the name Dom came from Portuguese, although I don’t recall where I got that idea.
    Probably because there are words which have n in Spanish or French but m in Portuguese (eg the French article un/une = Ptg um/uma).
    Here in Haida Gwai there are two Quebecois called Eric and Patrick, which are not anglicized names (I mean to say they were baptized thus).
    The names Eric and Patrick have long been used in French. The French priest I heard about, who refused to baptize a baby as Eric, was unusually strict for the time.
    Haida Gwai: I have never been there but used to live on the mainland in the Nass Valley, at just about the latitude of the Northern shore. Have you done any work with the Haida language?

  98. My brother had a French co-worker named Patrick. I believe he was descended from an Irish expat, possibly in the military.

  99. My brother had a French co-worker named Patrick. I believe he was descended from an Irish expat, possibly in the military.

  100. Beverley Nichols, a writer on gardening, is the best-known Englishman with that name. I see his first name was actually John.
    I knew a French boy in the ’60s at the Lycée Francais called Patrick Ploum. He might have been Belgian, but I don’t think so. His French friends always pronounced it as Patrique.

  101. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: a French boy … called Patrick Ploum. …. His French friends always pronounced it as Patrique.
    At first I was taken aback by your last sentence as there would be absolutely no difference in French pronunciation whether the name was Patrick or Patrique. But I suppose you mean that the i in English Patrick is shorter than the one in ique, for instance in unique or antique. In French there is no such distinction, the i is sort of intermediate between the two English pronunciations. Expecting one of two possible sounds, and hearing something intermediate, one interprets the heard sound as the other one (just as the same grey looks dark next to white but light next to black), so expecting English Patrick, you heard what sounded to you like Patrique when in fact it was something intermediate. (If the other French speakers had been Canadian, Patrick would have sounded more like the English pronunciation of the name, for reasons which are too technical to explain here).

  102. The best French (sur)name of all: “Grass-Mick”. A painter friend of Satie’s.

  103. The best French (sur)name of all: “Grass-Mick”. A painter friend of Satie’s.

  104. marie-lucie says:

    I had never heard of Grass-Mick. A French painter, but not a French name.

  105. marie-lucie: I can’t say that I’ve ‘worked’ on Haida. Like others (not all people are interested), I’m absorbing bits and pieces. The 37 consonants and damaged hearing are stumbling-blocks.

  106. Beautiful. And who would have thought you can make a rhyming poem about a giraffe so lovely. No don’t laugh, I’m half o’ gaffe.

  107. marie-lucie says:

    Iakon, I am sorry to hear about your damaged hearing, which would indeed be a stumbling-block to language study. Write to me if you like. I miss the Canadian West Coast.

  108. Grass-Mick was born Augustin Nicolas Grasmick.

  109. marie-lucie says:

    Still not what you would call a traditional French name (but no reflection on the man himself).

  110. A late comment about the translation: I like it very much, and can attest to its closeness to the original using a very personal criterion: it produces on me the same impression as does many an original poem by Goumilev, namely, that of something big-R romantic (as in, well, Byron or, to keep it to Russian, Lermontov) and at the same time very deliberate and exquisite; the impossible feat of painting a cute miniature with broad strokes. I think another famous poem by Goumilev, the sonnet where he starts with something like

    I dream of treasures and of ancient glories,
    And a blood-smeared oriental sword.
    and goes on to something cute like
    Here’s that city with its sky-blue domes
    With jasmine blossoms in the shady groves
    is a more extreme example of what I was trying to show. Then again, I might be totally wrong about both the original and the translation. Would be curious to know if anyone shares my impressions.

  111. I very much like ‘the impossible feat of painting a cute miniature with broad strokes’.

  112. it produces on me the same impression as does many an original poem by Goumilev
    Then I consider that I have succeeded. And I like your description of Gumilev a lot.

  113. Most animals have a default grammatical gender in Russian. For instance, носорог “rhino” is masculine by default, and to designate a female rhino you would have to say самка носорога. On the contrary, an antelope is female by default, and one would have to say самец антилопы to designate a male one. For a female elephant, we have a specific word (слониха), but for a default elephant (слон) one would use the masculine word. (I know it’s not PC, but that’s just how it works.) Now, the interesting thing is that for the giraffe, you have two words, a masculine жираф and a feminine жирафа, and in Gumilev’s time it was not clear which was default! Proof: Dahl uses the masc. one, and Brockhaus&Efron the fem. one. So my point is, Gumilev DID have a choice. Although of course, if he chose the feminine word, he would be in a fix for rhymes.

  114. marie-lucie says:

    SV: Most animals have a default grammatical gender in Russian. For instance, носорог “rhino” is masculine by default, and to designate a female rhino you would have to say самка носорога. …
    The same thing happens in French and probably other gender-ful languages: un rhinocéros vs un rhinocéros femelle but une girafe vs une girafe mâle.
    for the giraffe, you have two words, a masculine жираф and a feminine жирафа
    I thought I had seen жирафа somewhere.

  115. Marie-Lucie, I just came across General Patrice de Mac-Mahon, while I was reading about Sevastopol in another connection. Another not very French name, he was the sixteenth of seventeen children and of originally Irish stock; however, his grandfather had been made Marquis de Mac-Mahon by Louis XV. I suppose this means that non-French names do have some history of acceptance in France, doesn’t it?

  116. Some people still think that une grenouille (a frog) is the female of un crapaud (a toad) and that un rat a (rat) is the male of une souris (a mouse). They cannot be blamed too much, as it would need to come from some member of the human species, in which things can be pretty mixed up. Especially in countries like Thailand.

  117. Don’t forget the owl and the pussycat.

  118. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: non-French names do have some history of acceptance in France
    Oh yes, absolutely.
    Some people still think that une grenouille (a frog) is the female of un crapaud (a toad) and that un rat a (rat) is the male of une souris (a mouse)
    Many children think that, before they realize that it can’t be true (especially between a rat and a mouse). Another falso pair is une limace (a slug) and un escargot (a snail). But some people who have never encountered the animals and did not listen in school might go on through life still harbouring these ideas.
    (I am puzzled by the rest of your post).
    AJP: I knew the poem, but not the sequel in which they are supposed to have had children! The illustration of the poem suggests that the owl is female and the cat male, but I had always thought that it was the opposite (the owl serenades the cat on the guitar). On the other hand it is the cat who proposes marriage.

  119. I’m not certain those are Edward Lear’s drawings, though he was quite a good artist, a bit like a Victorian Saul Steinberg. I agree, I always thought the owl was the male.

  120. marie-lucie says:

    On Wikipedia the drawing of the owl with his guitar in the boat is identified as being by Lear.
    “cat” seems to be a default feminine in English. For instance, in Walt Disney cartoons most animals seem to be male, but the cat is usually female (except Tom in Tom and Jerry). “tomcat” needs to be used to specify a male, unlike for instance “nannygoat” to specify a female goat. (A person described as “an old goat” is always a man).

  121. michael farris says:

    “an old goat” is indeed a man in my dialect, but goat is neutral, a male is a billy and a female a nanny.

  122. marie-lucie says:

    MF, you are right, I had forgotten about “billy”.

  123. Siganus: non-French names do have some history of acceptance in France
    Er, that wasn’t me. But maybe it was Siganus Rivulatus, or Siganus Argenteus. Or even Siganus Magnificus.
    (I am puzzled by the rest of your post).
    That was just some sort of feeble joke, to say that amongst Homo sapiens it wasn’t always clear cut who was male and who was female. In a country like Thailand one can see a very feminine woman who will turn out to be a man. I remember an article, or a TV programme, about a school in Thailand (maybe a primary school) where they had set up a third type of toilets beside those for “girls” and “boys”. I think this is unimaginable in most other countries.

  124. Here’s the article, from the BBC:
    Thai school offers transsexual toilet
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7529227.stm
    “Between the girls’ toilet and the boys’, there is one signposted with a half-man, half-woman figure in blue and red.”

  125. Kampang is proud of its toilets. Spotless, and surrounded by flowering tropical plants, they have won national awards for cleanliness.
    I can’t imagine going to a school whose toilets are even entered for national cleanliness awards. My school was in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world’s longest continuous row of urinals. They subsequently tore it down.

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