It’s a name changer

It’s a name changer

This photo, taken in August 2012 while changing trains on the St Petersburg metro, remains a favourite of mine.

As a translator, it reminds me that names of places – countries, provinces, cities, even rivers – are among the trickiest areas in the profession, where even the most experienced translator can come unstuck.

L’Aia is the Italian for The Hague, Mailand the German for Milan and Terre-Neuve the French for Newfoundland: these stick in my mind as I’ve had to correct them all when revising translations over the years.

And of course a translator’s job isn’t made any easier when a city keeps changing its name, as happened with St Petersburg three times in the twentieth century.

Every Russian will be reminded when seeing these names and dates of the most famous of all Soviet-era jokes, the one that begins: ‘Where were you born?’ But it’s too familiar to bear repeating here.

The typography used for these names and dates is crude and communistic, perhaps intentionally so. In particular, the Д at the end of Петроград and Ленинград harks back to its origins in the Greek letter Δ. And there is no attempt at kerning between the Т at the end of Санкт and the hyphen. Having said that, the perfect circle of the О in Петроград might just be a nod in the direction of the New Johnston typeface that graces the London Underground with such distinction.