Fess Up: What Happens when a Name Can’t Be Translated into Italian?

During our US trip last year, Ross and I visited the Texas History Museum in Austin (new since I graduated from the University of Texas in 1986). They had a temporary exhibit on Davy Crockett, the near-mythical frontiersman who was a Senator from Tennessee before moving on to Texas, where he died at the Alamo. The exhibit included a section on the Crockett revival of the 1950s or 60s, when Disney did a movie and kids wore coonskin caps (raccoon skin, with the tail on). There was a huge poster for the movie, evidently taken from the Italian release.

Most Americans probably remember that the actor who played Davy Crockett was named Fess Parker. Fess is a weird sort of name even in the US, I can’t think what it would be a nickname for. But in Italian, “fesso” means a complete idiot – not the name you want to associate with a movie hero! So the Italian movie poster renamed the actor “Fier Parker.” Fier is a non-existent name in Italy (and probably everywhere else), but you would assume it’s related to the word “fiero” – proud.

I laughed out loud in front of the poster, drawing inquiring looks from a man standing nearby, so then I had to explain to him what was funny.

August 20, 2003

John Sanders tells me that “Fess Parker was born Fess E. Parker. The E. did not stand for anything. Also Fess Parker is a graduate of the University of Texas. I read that Fess Parker learned as a young boy that fess meant ‘Proud’ in England of old.”

Richard Munde adds: “I remember my seventh grade French teacher telling us that Fess Parker was a huge star in France because of the Disney Davy Crockett series. Fess, she said, was French slang for ass and so he was re-named there too. (Can’t remember what they called him, though.)”

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