The Best French Translations of “Harry Potter” Vocabulary

"Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers" Gallimard cover for Folio Junior edition.

September 1, 2018, marks the 20th year since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in the United States. Unfortunately for France (often a little behind the curve on English language trends), the French translation of the first Harry Potter book didn’t come out until October 9, 1998: Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers (Gallimard), translated by Jean-François Ménard.

In honor of the 20 years it’s been since Americans first read Harry Potter, here’s a list of some of the funniest and most interesting French translations of Harry Potter vocabulary. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it might be enough to inspire you to order a French edition of the book and find out the rest of the translations for yourself.

The Magical World

Poudlard

Hogwarts. “Poudlard” comes from “pou-de-lard” which means “bacon lice.” (Bacon lice, hog warts? Get it?)

Le Choixpeau magique

The sorting hat. The translation is “magical skin choice,” which is disconcerting. It’s also a play on words on “chapeau,” the French word for hat.

Gryffondor

Gryffindor. Essentially the same.

Poufsouffle

Hufflepuff. Absolutely the best house name since it means “puff blow.” The translator determined Poufsouffle to be the best translation because of the idea behind the name Hufflepuff — huff and puff.

Serdaigle

Ravenclaw. Surprisingly, “serdaigle” doesn’t mean “raven claw,” it means “eagle claw.” In the book, the Ravenclaw mascot was changed to an eagle.

Serpentard

Slytherin. (“Serpent” is snake.)

Moldu

Muggle. It’s a reference to “mou de bulbe” meaning “soft in the head.”

Dragées surprises de Bertie Crochue

Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. “Dragée” is a pill or small candy coated with something.

Une baguette magique

This magical baguette is in fact a magic wand. The follow-up question truly is, how many more pages was the French edition of Harry Potter just because every time someone said the six-character (including spaces) word “a wand,” the French book had to fit in the twenty-character word “une baguette magique”?

Le sortilège de Désarmement

Another term that got longer in French, the disarming spell is “the spell of disarmament,” just as every other French spell is “the spell of [something].”

Le Terrier

The Burrow where the Weasleys live. This is particularly great since a terrier is a small dog… so, in English, the translation would indicate that Ron lives at a terrier (or is it in a terrier?).

Fourchelang

If you have this “fork tongue” then you speak parseltongue.

Le Magicobus 

The Knight Bus. “Magico” is kind of a goofy version of “magique.” (It’s especially amusing to read it as magic-o-bus.)

Un détraqueur

A dementor. A “détraqueur is something that makes things go wrong or break.

Pré-au-Lard

Hogsmead. “Pré-au-Lard” was chosen because it translates to “close to the lard” as in, “close to Poulard.”

Bièraubeurre

Butterbeer. It translates as “beer with butter” … how delicious.

La Marque des Ténèbres

The Dark Mark. A straight-forward translation, “the mark of darkness.”

Les Mangemorts

Death Eaters. Another good ol’ literal translation — “eat deaths.”

La Salle sur Demande

The Room of Requirement. This one makes sense, it’s a “room on demand.”

Les Reliques de la Mort

The Deathly Hallows, or “the relics of death.”

Characters

Many names stayed the same. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Rubeus Hagrid, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Cedric Diggory, Dudley Dursley, James and Lily Potter, all of thet Weasleys, and many more characters, all kept their original names.

Neville Londubat 

Neville Longbottom. Think of it like “long-du-bas,” or “long-in-the-bottom.”

Drago Malefoy

Draco Malfoy. To understand the seemingly simple adjusted translation for this one, you have to know why J.K. Rowling chose Draco Malfoy. “Draco” comes from the latin word for dragon; shortening “le dragon,” the word for dragon in French, makes “Drago.” “Malfoy” comes from the old French “mal foy,” meaning “mauvaise foi,” or “bad faith.” In French, it’s “Malefoy.”

Nick Quasi-Sans-Tête

Nearly Headless Nick. Very appropriate, “Nick Partially-Without-A-Head.”

Professeur Chourave 

Professor Sprout. A “chourave” is a kohlrabi, which is a type of wild cabbage.

Severus Rogue

Severus Snape. It’s a great translation — could “Severus Rogue” be any more fitting? In French, “rogue” is not someone who makes their own rules, it’s an old rare word meaning “arrogant” or “unpleasant.”

Ça fait longtemps que je n’ai pas posté sur Harry. C’est une véritable passion, quand j’étais plus jeune, je me disais toujours un jour ça me passera, c’est sur! Mais en fait, j’ai 26 ans, et j’aime toujours autant, je suis toujours autant fasciné par l’univers, à l’affût de la moindre chose qui pourrait sortir en rapport avec Harry Potter⚡️———————————————————— • En plus maintenant que je vais être maman, j’ai hâte que ma fille soit plus grande que je puisse lui faire découvrir et j’espère lui faire aimer cet univers ✨ On est beaucoup à partager cette passion sur Bookstagram, des personnes de tout âge, ce qui me rassure dans le fait, qu’on est jamais trop vieux pour aimer la magie 😍✨ • • Je vous souhaites une bonne journée à tous des bisous de Poudlard 😘😘 #harrypotter #potterhead #hp #harrypotteretleprincedesangmêlé #poudlard #gryffindor #gryffondor #rose #fleurs 🌸💫✨

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Maugrey Fol-Oeil

Mad-Eye Moody. It’s a reference to the verb “maugréer,” meaning “to mumble.” “Fol-Oeil” is like “crazy-eye.” So in English, if you translated it back to English, his name would be more like Mumble Crazy-Eye.

Barty Crouch

Barty Croupton. And the son’s name is Barty Croupton Junior. Honestly this one is funny just because it’s one letter away from crouton.

Dolores Ombrage

Dolores Umbridge. This one actually is not inspired by the French word “ombre,” meaning shadow. The translator chose “Ombrage” because of a typo on “Umbridge” in Newsweek.

Voldemort / Tom Marvolo Riddle

Saved the best for last. Voldemort stayed Voldemort because his name comes from the French “vol de mort” meaning “flight of death.” (Generally, J.K. Rowling seemed to enjoy giving villains names with French roots: Voldemort, Draco Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange…) Voldemort’s other names did have to change though. So “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” became “Celui-Dont-On-Ne-Doit-Pas-Prononcer-Le-Nom” (he of which we should not pronounce the name). “You-Know-Who” became “Tu-Sais-Qui” (you know who). “The Dark Lord” became “le Seigneur des Ténèbres” (the lord of darkness).

Best of all, Tom Marvolo Riddle became Tom Elvis Jedusor. Elvis. ELVIS! The change was key, because in the third book Riddle explains that if you shuffle the letters of Tom Marvolo Riddle, you get “I am Lord Voldemort.” You can’t shuffle the letters of Tom Marvolo Riddle and get “Je suis Voldemort,” but you can with Tom Elvis Jedusor. Because of the genius of the translator, the pun with Riddle’s last name was not lost: Jedusor sounds like “jeu de sort,” meaning a game of chances.