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In Russian translations of stories about Spider-Man, the name of that superhero is translated as Человек-Паук (Chelovek-Pauk), which is a composition of the Russian words for man and spider, but you can't find an analogous Russian name for Batman in Russian translations. His name is simply rendered phonetically, Бэтмен.

I understand that questions about marketing decisions are off-topic here, so I want to make my question focused on the linguistic aspect of the matter. What I want to learn is how the issue is seen from the standpoint of the Russian language. To be more precise, is there any good possible translation into the Russian, or does just anything sound bad, not catchy, too long, unrelated to the original English name, or simply off the target? In other words, wouldn't Pushkin be able to come up with a smart Russian name for Batman if he were to translate a story about him into Russian?

I myself tried to come up with a good Russian name for that superhero and ended up having a bunch of names to choose from - Летучий Человек, Крылан, Рукокрыл, Рукокрылый, and Летучий. I'm curious how such names would be rated by native Russian speakers.

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    It's not a question about Russian language - it's a question about marketing decisions made during translation of two brands. Человек-паук is just shorter than saying "Человек-летучая-мышь" each time. – shabunc Apr 30 at 18:54
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    В романе "Волкодав" Марии Семёновой есть персонаж Летучий Мыш. Отсутствие мягкого знака должно демонстрировать, что Мыш мужского рода. Такая вот неожиданная (и сомнительная) игра с русским языком. – Elena Apr 30 at 19:43
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    There's a fun community called "Дореволюціонный Совѣтчикъ" that create songs and texts about the modern realia using pre-1917 Russian language stye, lexicon, spelling, and overall entourage. For example, in their discourse rap/rapping is called "мавританскій верлибръ" ("moorish vers libre"). They call Batman "Человѣкъ-нетопырь", Spider Man "Сударь-мизгирь", and King Kong "Конголезкій Царь" — Pushkin style, by the way.))) – Yellow Sky Apr 30 at 22:07
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    I believe that @Mitsuko questions should be protected from closing 😫 She usually goes very deep and tries to understand the underlying meaning of the words and expressions that aren't clear to the native speakers. – DK. May 1 at 9:57
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    @DK.: her questions are awesome, and I always enjoy them. They just don't always have right format for this site. I always try my best to make them fit for our Q/A format. – Quassnoi May 1 at 19:11
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I'm going to omit marketing requirements in my answer (like the ability to put the localized name of the character into the company approved slot on a piece of merchandise, which is a big thing) and focus on the language.


Spider-Man is a man who is also a spider.

He literally "does whatever a spider can": climbs walls, shoots webs and eats flies.

Whatever name is chosen in Russian for him, it would better reflect this side of his personality.

Batman is a human who is somewhat into bats. He wears a mask with latex ears, drives a bat-themed vehicle and they use this bat-shaped silhouette on the searchlight to summon him.

This gives the translator some liberty: it does not need to say "bat" right in the name.


The name should work.

Человек-паук is a barely okay name: it's not too long, relatively easy to write and pronounce, and is a literal translation of the original. No one gets fired for being too literal.

There's a good chance that someone's nickname as a teen was "Spider-man" in the English speaking world, even before the advent of the comic character.

The chance of someone being called "человек-паук" on a regular basis, as a moniker, in Russian is slim.

So it's not that good a translation, but it would do.

Человек — летучая мышь is just plain unacceptable.

First of all, летучая мышь is a feminine name in Russian which means it would only work for a female character in storytelling.

Second, it's not something you can pronounce more than once. It's gonna be contracted one way or another.

Бэтмен is just shorter and it is the original. And no one gets fired for using the original.


The name should be catchy.

Some writers have an ear for things like this, others do not.

Человек-паук is not the best name out there, but it's catchy enough. Just by saying it out loud, everyone immediately gets who are you talking about.

Нетопырь and all other chiropteran names give the wrong idea about the character. This is a good name for a small minion to The Viy, not for a grim and troubled vigilante billionaire. Those just don't ring the right bells in Russian.

It's something that one can get used to, like everyone did with Человек-паук, but it's not the best option or even a good option.


All this requirements have something in common. If you can't come up with a really good name which would click, there's always a safe default way: just use the original.

There were many failed attempts to come up with a good translation for a foreign name or nickname into Russian which had since defaulted to the original: Румпельштильцхен (Хламушка, Гном-Тихогром); Рапунцель (Колокольчик), Оле-Лукойе (Оле — Закрой Глазки) etc.

I can't say with confidence that it's impossible to translate this name into Russian, but apparently it's not that easy.

There are good translations for Cinderella, Thumbelina, Snow White and Spider-Man but there are none for Rumpelstilzchen, Ole Lukøje, Rapunzel and Batman. Those from the last group have defaulted to the originals, and not because people didn't try.

So the answer to your question would be:

Not all names are made equal, even if they use the same pattern in the original language.

Spider-man works in Russian translation, Batman doesn't and he's in a good company.

Of course it may happen so that the minute after I post this answer someone would come up with a brilliant translation for Batman which would then get traction, become approved by DC Comics and make its author a fortune.

This would make me feel embarrassed but happy.

However, it didn't happen to lots of names and, from the looks of it, not gonna happen to Batman either.

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  • I am sorry, when did Spider-Man eat flies? – Baskakov_Dmitriy May 1 at 21:53
  • Also, I've heard many fans calling Spider-Man by his original name: "Спайдер-Мен", "Спайди", or even "Спуди" (or similar mockery names). – Baskakov_Dmitriy May 1 at 21:59
  • @Baskakov_Dmitriy: I'm not deep into these movies but I remember a scene where he caught a fly and I just kinda thought he ate it. Feel free to edit my answer if he didn't! – Quassnoi May 1 at 22:06
  • Great answer :) Thanks :) – Mitsuko May 2 at 9:39
  • @Baskakov_Dmitriy Has Peter Parker ever eaten bugs? – Eugene May 4 at 14:03
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Sometimes it's just a tradition. For one story, translator translates the name, and it sticks. For another story, the name is transliterated, and it sticks too.

Mostly it depends on "catchiness" of the name. "Человек-Паук" is short and strong. "Человек-Летучая мышь" is long and a bit weak (in Russian culture, bats did not gather any sinister lore).

A good translator would try to invent a "catchy" character name. One classic example is the translation of "Alice in Wonderland": Name translation variants Every translator had tried their best to made the most reflective and "catchy" translation of a name from English to Russian.

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  • Great answer, but really it is sometimes very stochastic what sticks and what doesn't. "Человек-муравей" sounds (subjectively to me, but also anecdotally to many people) awkward and silly, but it's the official translation. "Энтман" would have been better, has a zing to it, especially as more and more people in Russia are getting comfortable with English. – Unknown artist May 2 at 15:37
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    Also, and I'm just rambling here at this point, Человек-нетопырь would have worked... – Unknown artist May 2 at 15:39
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Летучий Человек

  • (or Летающий человек) - longish but possible.

Крылан

  • sounds bad, uncomfortable to pronounce.

Рукокрыл, Рукокрылый

  • a little strange but maybe.

Летучий

  • for me, the best option that you suggested.

Batman (Бэтмен) (we pronounce like [betmen] or [betman])

  • sounds good, short, catchy word.
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    The problem I see with the first four is that Batman neither has wings nor can he fly. Nor does he bite, use echolocation, sleep upside-down in caves or suck blood, for that matter. He's just "bat-themed". Unlike spider-man, who does whatever a spider can. – Curiosity May 8 at 10:28
  • image, appearance made with reference to the bats – Vik Williams May 8 at 10:36

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