Names in The Arabian Nights

A recent request for information from a reader of this blog had me searching for information and analysis on a particular tale from the Nights.  In the first place I went to I was shocked to find no information at all on the tale in question.  As that couldn’t be correct I began to dig deeper.  The result is that I did find the tale listed, but with a radically different spelling of the names of the characters.

As the Nights were originally written using a non-Roman script, any translation also involves the process of transliteration and/or transcription. Transliteration is the process of mapping one writing system to another.  This can be done letter to letter.  Obviously, if there are more letters in the language to be transliterated from than the language transliterated to some sort of scheme must be developed to represent the additional letters.  An example of this is Sanskrit to English.  Sanskrit has 52 letters while English has only 26.  To transliterate Sanskrit into English, diacritical characters are used with the English letters to represent the additional Sanskrit letters.  This mapping permits a reconstruction of the text in the original language.  But, and there is always a but, transliteration schemes have changed over time.  Thus, one ends up with a variety of “spellings” of the same word, especially names over time.  Shiva and Śiva is one example.

The other wrinkle is that of transcription.  Transcription maps sounds from one language to another.  Not only do transcription schemes also vary over time, there are also challenges in representing sounds present in the origin language that do not exist in the host language, not to mention the variations of pronunciation.

Even languages sharing the same script can have transcription issues.  In our Arabian Nights example, in Galland’s translation, from volume 6, we have the tale: “Histoire des amours de Camaralzaman Prince de l’Isle des enfant de Khalendan, et de Badoure Princesse de la Chine.”  Of particular interest is the names of Prince Camaralzaman and Princess Badoure.  This tale first appeared in French in 1705.  In the first English edition of 1707 we have “The Story of the Amours of Camaralzaman, Prince of the Islands of the Children of Khaledan, and of Badoura, Princess of China.”  Camaralzaman makes the transition to English intact but Badoure becomes Badoura.

In the 300 year print history of The Arabian Nights, in English, the situation does not improve.  The spellings “Camaralzaman” and “Badoura” are fairly constant for the first century (1700’s).  They are also pretty prevalent during the second century (1800’s). But, once the big Victorian translators get a hold of the text then things begin to change.  To their credit, those translators were doing their translations from Arabic texts, instead of translating from the French.  Arabic to English presents many more opportunities to introduce transcription variations.  Contemporary transcriptions are taking spellings in whole new directions.

The upshot of all of this is that one has to be aware of these variations.  It makes the process of research just a bit more challenging.

Summary of variations:

Camaralzaman Badoure Galland 1705 (French)
Camaralzaman Badoura Anonymous 1707, 1751, 1763, 1781 (English)
Camaralzaman Badoura Edward Forster 1810
Kummir Al Zummaun Badoura Jonathan Scott 1811
Camaralzaman Badoura Edward Lane 1840
Camaralzaman Badoura H.W. Dulcken 1865
Kemerezzeman Boudour John Payne 1882
Kamar Al-Zamán Budúr Richard F. Burton 1885
Kamaralzaman Badure Albert L. Grimm 1892 (German)
Camaralzaman Badoura Andrew Lang 1898
Kamaralzaman Budur E. Powys Mathers 1923
Qamar al-Zamân Budûr Ulrich Marzolph 2004
Qamar al-Zaman Budur Malcolm Lyons 2008
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