How do you translate a name into another language?

The translation of given names, whether of public figures, characters in books and even of our own names when we travel, is a sensitive matter.

While on the one hand we want to maintain the identity and recognition of the meaning of names and their origin, on the other some names are unpronounceable which leads us to ask how to translate the name into our language?


The challenge facing the name translator

Because there is no fixed rule about how to translate names, the translator must assess every time they are confronted with a given or surname in a text on its merits.

There are any number of situations where it impossible to avoid translating names. For example: it is difficult not to change names in the Russian or Korean languages, for the simple reason they are written in different alphabets – Cyrillic and Hangul, respectively.

What do translators do in these cases?

In these cases, translators must make a decision. There are a number of options, one of which is transliteration, which means to change from one language to another in such a way as the new word or name translation uses letters that have a similar sound to the original.

For examples: the name Vladimír is the Portuguese translation of Влади́мир. 

Another way is for name translators to engage in cultural transplantation. That is to say, adapting the name to another with an equivalent or very similar meaning.

For example: the name “Daisy” means “Margarida”, despite there being no phonetic or visual correspondence between the two. However, both are derived from the name of a small white flower with a yellow centre. Since they mean the same thing in both languages, this is a valid translation option.

Other options include slightly adapting the spelling to local custom. The Portuguese name “André” can be an acceptable translation of the Ukrainian “Andril”, Italian “Andrea” or Lithuanian “Andrius”.

Finally, in cases where there is no fixed rule, the name translator can substitute one name for another, without there needing to be any relationship between the two. When translating a book, giving the characters names that may or may not be variations of their original names is always an option. 

The Traductanet team would like to know what you think translators should do. Which is the best option?

Contact the Traductanet team for more information about translations.

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