When Nijntje was “born” in 1955, Dick Bruna could not have known that the main character of his bedtime story for his son Sierk would grow up to be an icon of Dutch culture and a symbol of imagination around the world.
In the early 1950s, Bruna introduced the world to this endearing little rabbit. Its name, “Nijntje”, is a shortening of the Dutch diminutive “konijntje”: little rabbit. This choice of name reflects Bruna’s commitment to creating an accessible character for young readers, one that would resonate with Dutch children while embracing the simplicity that would make it universally appealing. Nijntje’s debut was met with immediate affection from Dutch audiences, the character becoming an integral part of the nation’s cultural landscape. Through her adventures, Nijntje became a cherished symbol of Dutch childhood and imagination.
Nijntje has become an ambassador for the Netherlands, rivalling Delft Blue and tulips as symbols associated with the country. Unfortunately, as many Dutch people have found over the years, the Dutch language wasn’t the best vehicle for reaching children in other parts of the world.
Exploring Nijntje’s Global Influence: A Visit to the Miffy Museum in Utrecht
Ludejo’s social media manager Noëlle Hamoen and media production manager Andrew Hickson visited the Miffy Museum in Utrecht to learn more about this Dutch icon.
Andrew was born and raised in Ireland and didn’t know about Nijntje until after arriving in the Netherlands. “I didn’t know Miffy when I grew up. It’s not something I was exposed to as a child. I don’t know if that was because Miffy didn’t make it to Ireland in the 1980s!?”
Nijntje might not have made it to Kerry in the 1980s, but she has made it all around the world in the decades since.
How ‘Nijntje’ Became ‘Miffy’ for Worldwide Accessibility
Bruna’s books have been translated into more than 50 different languages, and over 85 million copies have been sold globally. The decision to rename Nijntje “Miffy” for international audiences was motivated by the desire to make the character more accessible to non-Dutch speakers. “Nijntje” can be challenging to pronounce for those unfamiliar with the Dutch language, while “Miffy” is simpler and easier to say.
According to the official Miffy website, “The name doesn’t have any special meaning, but it is easy to pronounce in all languages. In the past, Miffy had a different name in every language. She was known as “le petit lapin” in French, for example, and as “kleintjie” in Afrikaans, but since 1996 she has been known as Miffy everywhere outside the Netherlands.”
Big in Japan – Miffy “inspires” Hello Kitty
The move away from a specifically Dutch name also facilitated cultural adaptation, as “Miffy” sounded more neutral and less tied to Dutch culture. Publishers and skilled translators played pivotal roles in this transformation, ensuring that the essence and charm of the character were preserved while adapting stories to resonate with diverse cultures. Countries like Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States embraced the new name, with Miffy becoming a beloved childhood icon and enjoying substantial success in these markets. This renaming allowed Nijntje’s universal appeal to shine through, transcending language barriers and captivating young hearts worldwide. Miffy is sometimes assumed to be a Japanese character, because Sanrio’s Hello Kitty, introduced in 1974, is drawn using a similar line style.
Bruna’s studio at the Centraal Museum
Directly across the street from the Miffy Museum in Utrecht is the “Centraal Museum”. On the top floor of this museum, a reconstruction of Bruna’s studio can be found, featuring a lot of its original furniture and personal items. There is even a couch he designed and constructed himself. For Andrew, the most striking aspect of the workspace was the organisation. “It was so meticulously clean. I can only dream of having that kind of workspace.”
A sign hanging above the drawing table in the workspace reads: “He liked to keep his studio neat and tidy. At the end of the day, he put his work away and cleared his workspace for the next day. He needed peace and quiet and solitude to create his stories and illustrations.”
Simplicity: a creative philosophy and a way of life
Dick Bruna’s commitment to keeping Miffy’s design and storytelling clean and simple was both a creative philosophy and a way of life. Bruna believed in the power of minimalism as a means to convey meaningful stories for children. This philosophy was not limited to his work alone; it was also reflected in his workspace. Bruna maintained a meticulously clean and organised workspace, mirroring Miffy’s uncluttered aesthetic. Every stroke in his illustrations, every word in his stories and every item in his workspace had a purpose and clarity that resonated with young readers. This simplicity allows children from very different cultural backgrounds to connect deeply with Miffy’s world, fostering imagination and leaving a lasting legacy of wholesome storytelling and design principles.
A Dutch Master and his masterpiece
Miffy is the quintessential example of minimalist Dutch design, and Dick Bruna was a modern Dutch Master. The little rabbit is a shining light, helping to spark the imagination of children regardless of their nationality or language.
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