While browsing Proz.com, a prominent platform for language professionals, we came across this question about translating a name from English to Latin. They asked for advice on how to translate a name into different languages.
So today, we will discuss the challenges and considerations if you decide to translate names into different languages. Sometimes, clients request not to translate their names to the target language. But if they ever request you to do so, we will explore everything you need to do when you translate names into other languages.
The challenge of translating names primarily arises from the differences in writing systems and alphabets used worldwide. Modern writing systems vary significantly, ranging from the Latin alphabet, with its widespread use in the Western world, to the intricate Chinese characters, the unique scripts of Arabic and Cyrillic, and the Japanese syllabaries, among others. Each system embodies distinct phonetic and structural features, which often don’t have direct equivalents in other languages.
Now, some names have an exact equivalent in other languages commonly called “cognates.” In the context of names, these are typically found in names with a common etymological origin and adapted to different languages’ phonetic and orthographic systems. This phenomenon is often seen in names with biblical, historical, or classical roots, which have spread across various cultures and languages. For example, the name “John” in English has cognates like “Juan” in Spanish, “Jean” in French, “Giovanni” in Italian, and “Johann” in German.
However, for names that come from different language families and are not connected to biblical, historical, or classical roots, this diversity in writing systems leads to complexities in name translation. For instance, a name in English may lack an exact phonetic counterpart in Chinese, necessitating a phonetic approximation or even a completely different name that captures the essence of the original.
For this reason, merely using machine translation tools is not enough. The rationale behind translating names extends beyond mere linguistic exercise. It’s about preserving an individual’s identity and cultural significance in a different linguistic context.
For instance, consider the translation of the name “Dr. Adolf Jesus E. Ramos III.” In Japanese, this might be rendered in Katakana (used for foreign words) as “アドルフ・ジーザス・E・ラモス三世” (Adorufu Jīzasu E Ramosu Sansei), reflecting the original pronunciation as closely as possible. In Russian, using the Cyrillic script, it could be transliterated as “Доктор Адольф Хесус Е. Рамос III” (Doktor Adol’f Hesus E. Ramos III). In Amharic, with its unique script, it might appear as “ዶክተር አዶልፍ ኢየሱስ ኤ ራሞስ ሦስት” (Doktar Adolf Iyesus E. Ramos Sost). These examples illustrate the complexities and the need for precision in translating names.
Professional translators employ various strategies to tackle the challenge of name translation. We have listed here for you to examine, as follows:
Translators often rely on phonetic transliteration, converting the name into the closest phonetic equivalent in the target alphabet. The challenge is maintaining the original pronunciation, even though the spelling might change significantly
In some cultures, names have significant meanings or historical connotations that might influence the translation method. Translators must consider the cultural context and the specific meanings of names.
In cases where names are globally recognized, such as famous personalities or brands, maintaining the original form in the Latin script can be more appropriate, especially if the target audience is familiar with the Latin alphabet.
The translator must understand the target audience’s familiarity with the original language and adapt the translation accordingly. This might mean a more phonetic approach for a general audience or a more nuanced approach for a specialized one.
Translators should remain flexible and open to collaboration, especially in cases where the correct translation of a name is ambiguous or subjective. Consulting with native speakers or experts in the target language is crucial.
Even though technology has advanced to the point that there are names in different language generators, the role of a translator remains essential as they are the linguistic converter and cultural intermediary. They must understand the target audience's familiarity with the original language and the cultural significance of names, ensuring that translations are both accurate and culturally appropriate. Below are some key takeaways you should know:
Phonetic Accuracy and Cultural Sensitivity: Achieving phonetic accuracy while being sensitive to cultural nuances is key in translating names.
Adaptability to Writing Systems: Understanding and adapting to different writing systems and their limitations is essential.
Collaboration and Contextual Awareness: Collaborating with clients and maintaining awareness of the context in which the name will be used are crucial for accurate translation.
We invite you to engage with us and share your insights on translating names across different languages and writing systems. Your experiences and knowledge can significantly contribute to this fascinating aspect of language translation.
Clarriza Mae Heruela graduated from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, majoring in Creative Writing. Her experience from growing up in a multilingually diverse household has influenced her career and writing style. She is still exploring her writing path and is always on the lookout for interesting topics that pique her interest.