Translation has many challenges, one of which is the problem of translating proper nouns (PNs), a term used here
interchangeably with the term 'proper names,' adequately from one language to
another. The focus of this study lies within translation of personal names,
which are a subclass of proper nouns. Notwithstanding the fact that a challenge that translators often encounter in their work comes from personal
names, this paper presents some translation techniques proposed by
various researchers in this regard. It should be mentioned that this paper does
not intend to prescribe any special rules.
Key words: Personal names, Proper nouns, translation strategies
enerally speaking, nouns are divided into common and
proper names. Proper names refer to a specific referent, that is, these names
serve to distinguish a particular individual from others, for instance, Peter,
Mike, Alice. Common names, on the other hand, refer to a class of individuals such as man, woman, and boy. It is noteworthy that distinction between these types of nouns gets blurred in some cases. Since it is outside the scope of this paper to present a full account of this issue, the present study tackles only personal names, which fall into the proper noun category.
There is no doubt that translating personal names should not
be assumed to be an easy issue inasmuch as it can turn out to be very
troublesome in practice and needs very sensitive decision-making on the part of
the translator within the translation process. A growing body of research shows
that different translation procedures are applied in the process of
translating personal names.
Albert Peter Vermes (2003) asserts that:
"The translation of proper names has often been considered as a simple automatic process of transference from one language into another, due to the view that proper names are mere labels used to identify a person or a thing. Contrary to popular views, the translation of proper names is a non-trivial issue, closely related to the problem of the meaning of the proper name."
Personal names in some cases can reveal some information by themselves. The translator's knowledge of such information can sometimes be very effective in the translation process. In this regard, The Columbia Encyclopedia states that "English surnames developed in the late Middle Ages and, apart from patronymics (Adams, Jefferson), have a variety of origins; they come from places (Lincoln, Garfield) from trades (Tyler, Taylor), from personal traits (Stout, Black), and from the calendar (Noël, May)." In this respect, Mike Campbell (n.d.) states that most surnames fall into four categories: a) they are derived from given names such as Johnson, and Williams; b) they refer to the person's occupation like Clark, and Wright; c) they are derived from the location where the bearer lives; d) surnames can de derived from nicknames such as White, Young.
Translators do not always use the same strategy for translation of all personal names in all kinds of texts.
All languages have particular personal names, some of which
are deeply rooted in the culture of the speakers of the specific language;
consequently, they can pose unique difficulties in the comprehension of
culture-specific texts. It is interesting to note that some personal names have
specific connotations, and omitting this implied information results in
unacceptable translation. For example, in the Persian culture, Hatam Taaeithe name of a very generous man in Iranian storiesis a symbol of generosity; accordingly, if a translator, who unaware of this fact, encounters this sentence "My father is Hatam Taaei" in a conversation of two friends talking about their fathers' characteristics, the translator may erroneously assume that the speaker introduces his or her father's name, not his personality.
Bachman (1990) specifically points out that the knowledge of cultural references and of the figurative use of language should be considered as a focal element in the translation process. He holds that the readers and listeners need this type of knowledge to make sense of culture-specific names whenever such names occur.
In the case of personal names, there is another point relevant to a peculiarity of some languages; translators must consider the fact that the order of first name and surname is not the same in all languages. In the Korean, Japanese, and Hungarian languages, for example, surname comes before first name, whereas this order is reversed in English, French, and most other Western languages.
of this paper is arranged in three sections: first, the definition of proper
name, personal name, and various types of personal names; second, the
explanation about some procedures of personal name translation; third, the
2. Preliminary Considerations
2.1. Definition of Proper Noun
to Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, a proper noun is "a word that serves the
purpose of showing what thing it is that we are talking about, but not of
telling anything about it."
Merriam Webster's Dictionary defines the proper noun
as "a noun that designates a particular being or thing, does not take a
limiting modifier, and is usually capitalized in Englishcalled also proper
The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary says that a
proper noun (or proper name) is "a word that is the name of a person, a place,
an institution, etc. and is written with a capital letter" (p.1016).
A proper noun has these distinctive features in English:
1) It will be capitalized, no matter where it occurs in a sentence. 2) A proper
name is a mono-referential name, i.e., it refers to a particular person, thing,
or place. 3) It is not regularly preceded by a definite or indefinite article. 4) It is not used with limiting modifiers, like a lot of or any.
2.2. Personal Names
(2007) states that anthroponymy, the study of the names of human beings,
encompasses personal names and group names. She also considers that anthroponymy,
in literary works, involves names of personified animals and fictitious
creatures, as well.
Wikipedia categorizes personal names into
human personal names and non-human personal names.
Wikipedia defines human personal name in
the following way:
"A personal name is the proper name identifying individual
person, and usually comprises a given name bestowed at birth or at a young age.
It is nearly universal for a human to have a name; the rare exceptions occur in
the cases of mentally disturbed parents, or feral children growing up in
on Wikipedia, some humans give individual non-human animals and plants names,
usually of endearment. For instance, the names of pets and sporting animals are
often the same as human names. Nevertheless, this can be offensive and
disrespectful to the person of the same name in some cultures such as the
Chinese and the Iranian cultures.
Wikipedia mentions that an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences claims that humans are not the only living creatures that use
personal names. Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington,
studying bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, found that the dolphins
had personal names for one another. In this case, the interesting point is that
a dolphin chooses its name as an infant.
The World Book Encyclopedia talks about personal name in
"Practically everyone since the beginning of history has
had a name (...) Almost all names have meanings. Early people bestowed a name
with a definite consciousness of its meaning (...). But today, people give little
thought to the meanings. Most people have a given name and family name. Many
also have a middle name, and some have a nickname” (vol.14, p.5).
Mike Campbell (n.d.) states that a personal name is a name
that belongs to a person. He categorizes personal names in the following way:
2.3. Definitions of types of Personal Names
With this section, the author attempts to approach the
concept of different types of personal name in order to delimit the object of
the study. It is important to stress that not all types of personal names exist in
all languages. Moreover, the translator must take cognizance of these different
categories, since familiarity with them helps in the translation process.
In relation to the translation of personal names,
translators should take this point into consideration whether or not it is possible or
necessary to show that these classifications are different in
the source and target languages.
As mentioned previously, Campbell (n.d.) divides personal names into various categories. He
defines them as follows:
A given name is a name that is assumed by a person at
or after birth. As opposed to a family name, it is generally not
First name or Christian name
and North America, where the given name precedes
the family name, given names are called first names or forenames.
The praenomen (plural praenomina) was the ancient Roman given name. With a nomen and a cognomen it formed a
complete Roman name. In Roman
documents the praenomen was often abbreviated to one or two letters.
In the English-speaking world, the middle name is a
secondary given name. When the
full name is presented, it is placed between the first name and the surname. People can
have more than one middle name, though it is unusual to have none.
Many people include their middle name as an initial in their usual name, for
example George W. Bush. Others prefer their middle name and use it instead of
their first name.
Family name or last name
is a name passed from one generation to the next. In many cultures a woman
adopts her husband's family name when they are married.
The nomen (plural nomina) was the Roman gens's (that is
clan's) name. In the typical Roman name it was
preceded by the praenomen and
followed by the cognomen
The cognomen (plural cognomina) was one of the three
parts of the typical Roman name. It
followed the praenomen and nomen. Originally
cognomina were nicknames, but by
the time of the Roman
Empire they were
inherited from father to son. Thus the cognomen in combination with the nomen
functioned as a surname, breaking
families into smaller groups than just the nomen alone.
A nickname is a substitute for a person's real name. It may be used
because it is more familiar, more descriptive, or shorter than the real name.
For example, Sue is the nickname of Susan.
The agnomen (plural agnomina) formed an additional part
of some Roman names, usually
following the cognomen. Usually
they were nicknames acquired
at some point during the lifetime, but, rarely, some agnomnia were inherited.
A pet name of a given name is a
short and/or affectionate form. Often they are only used by friends and
is the same as a pet name. They can be formed through various methods in
different languages. Two of most typical ways in English are presented here:
a) are those that are short forms of the
original name, very often from the first syllable or sound of the name. For
example, Alex is from Alexander; b) they can also obtained by
adding a suffix, to the original name or short form of a name. In English,
the -y/-ie suffix make diminutives such as, Debbie, Charlie, Johnny, and Abby.
A byname is a secondary name used to further
identify a person. They were often nicknames (for example
Erik the Red) or patronyms (for
example John, son of William). Bynames can be considered surnames when they
are inherited from one generation to the next.
The generation name is used by some Chinese and Korean families. It
is a name given to all
newborns of the same generation of an extended family.
A patronym (or patronymic) is a name derived from
the name of the father or another paternal ancestor. Some surnames are
patronymic in origin, like Peterson = "Peter's son". Some cultures,
such as Iceland, use uninherited patronyms
instead of surnames.
A matronym (also matronymic) is
a name derived from
the name of the mother or another maternal ancestor.
||A filiation attached to a name describes the
bearer's paternal descent. The complete Roman name sometimes
had a filiation.
1. Types of Personal Name (adopted from http://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/name)
3. How to Translate Personal Names?
Personal names often constitute a major problem in
translation. For translating proper nouns, different models are suggested. In
this respect, seven models presented by Hervey and Higgins (1986), Newmark
(1988), Theo Hermans (1988), Farzane Farahzad (1995), Anthony Pym (2004),
Lincoln Fernandes (2006), and Heikki Särkkä (2007) will be defined here.
- Hervey and Higgins (1986) present these strategies for translating PNs :
- Exotism: The name should remain
unchanged from the SL to the TL. In this method no cultural transposition is
- Transliteration: The name is
shifted to conform to the phonic or graphic rules of the TL (p.29).
Cultural transplantation: The
SL name is replaced by the TL name that has the same cultural connotation as
the original one (p.29).
- Peter Newmark
(1988b) holds that people's names should, as a rule, not be translated when
their names have no connotation in the text (p.214). He adds some exceptions
such as names of known saints, monarchs, and popes, which are known in the translated form in the TL
Newmark (1988a) also recommends that, in communicative
translation, a personal name, along with its connotation, should be translated
where proper names are treated connotatively (p.151). In spite of that, the PNs
must be transferred in semantic translation (p.151).
In addition, with regard to names that have connotations
in the imaginative literature such as in comedies, allegories, fairy tales, and
some children's stories, Newmark recommends that they be translated. He
adds that the previous rule should be followed unless, like in folk tales,
nationality is a significant aspect.
In cases where both nationality and connotation are
significant aspects, the most appropriate method, in Newmark's opinion, is first to
translate the name to the TL, then to naturalize the translated word into a new
proper name provided that the personal name is not yet current among the
educated readers of the TL (p.215).
- Theo Hermans
(1988) believes that there are at least four strategies for translation of
names. He phrases them,
"They can be copied, i.e. reproduced in the target text
exactly as they were in the source text. They can be transcribed, i.e.
transliterated or adapted on the level of spelling, phonology, etc. A formally
unrelated name can be substituted in the target text for any given name in the
source text. And insofar as a name in a source text is enmeshed in the lexicon
of that language and acquires 'meaning,' it can be translated" (p.13).
Hermans contends that some other alternatives are also
possible, namely various combinations of the above methods, omitting the source
text (ST) proper name in the target text (TT), substitution of a common name in
the TT for the PN in the ST, the insertion of the PN in the TT while no PN
exists in the ST (p.14).
- Farzanne Farahzad
(1995) states that transliteration and transcription are used for translation
of personal proper names. The latter is the replacement of one letter of the
alphabet in the source language (SL) by another letter in the target language
(TL). The former occurs when the letter of the target language shows the
pronunciation of the PN in the source language (p.43).
She expounds that transcription suffers from the following
- There are no established rules for
- The transcription of personal names varies on the
basis of various accents such as American and British.
- The transcription may be influenced by the translator's pronunciation, which may lead to an incorrect transcription.
The exact transcription of personal names is not
always possible; that is, all languages do not have the same
consonants or vowels.
- The pronunciation of personal names' transcription is more
difficult than that of their translation (pp.43-44).
In view of the foregoing reasons, she concludes that
transliteration is a better strategy to be used by translators (p.44).
- Anthony Pym
(2004) proposes that proper names not be translated (p.92).
He also defines the result of transliteration operations
as 'absolute equivalence' in that it results in the exact quantitative equality
between input and output (p.90). In his view, the most problematic aspect of
'absolute equivalence' is that it is often unacceptable equivalence, unless
much language learning is involved. In this regard, Pym contends that
alternatives are imperative (p.92).
- Lincoln Fernandes (2006) lists a set of ten
procedures in the translation of personal names as follows:
When the in the ST is enmeshed in the TL, the meaning is rendered in the TL.
For example, translating the word 'Lady' as 'Mulher,' which means 'woman' in
Brazilian Portuguese, reveals that the translator has used a 'superordinate'
(woman) instead of a hyponym of woman, a specific word such as 'senhora' or 'dama'
- Copy: As a
matter of fact, in this case, the name of the ST is exactly replicated in the
TTwithout any orthographic adjustment. As an illustration, Alice King is
reproduced in the Arabic textwhich has a different alphabet from English
one-with no change.
This a method in which a name is transcribed in the equivalent characters of
the TL. In order to keep the readability of the TT, some other changes such as
addition or shift in the position of the letters may occur e.g. Ahoshta Tarkaan
is changed to Achosta Tarcaã.
- Re-creation: A
newly-created name in the ST is recreated in the TT so that it reproduces the
similar effects in the TL such as Mr. Ollivander that is translated to Sr.
A TL name replaces the SL name, although they are formally and/or semantically
- Deletion: In
this type of strategy, the name in the ST is, partially or totally, omitted in
Extra information is added to the SL name so that it can be more understandable
and desirable to the target readers. As a matter of fact, this method may also
be used to remove ambiguities in the TT.
This is a change of one part of speech for another one without any shift in the
meaning. In fact, this a way for translating titles that have transparent role
in literature for identifying particular literary works. Because of this
reason, this procedure is taken into consideration here.
Replacement: In this procedure, the phonological features of the original name
are imitated in the TL. In other words, a TL name, which has a similar sound to
the SL name, replaces the original name.
This strategy is defined as the acceptance of a typical translation of a name
in the SL. In view of this case, it is interesting to know that conventionality
is often used with historical or literary individuals as well as geographical
Heikki Särkkä (2007) reports that there are four
strategies for translating PNs;
- They can be
transported completely from the TL to the SL (allowance being made for possible
transliteration or transcription, depending on the SL).
- They can be
partly transported from the SL and partly translated.
They can be
replaced with more or less different names in the TL.
- They can be
dispensed with altogether.
Generally, personal names represent a real challenge for both professional and novice translators; therefore, they merit attention from researchers and scholars in the field of translation studies. Newmark (1993) reports that proper names, which include personal names, represent a translation difficulty in different text types (p.15).
Being familiar with the culture, translators sometimes can
infer some implied information such as gender, nationality, race, class, or religion
from personal names. It is clear that translators must be familiar with culture
of both the source and target languages, since awareness of these culture-bound
names can lead to the most appropriate translation. Based on the foregoing information,
it is significant to stress that the influence of culture on translation of
personal names is undeniable.
Different translation procedures for translating personal
names have been presented. In general, it should be noted that translators do not
always use the same strategy for translation of all personal names in all kinds
of texts. For example, Farahzad (1995) believes that translators should use
transcription and transliteration techniques when translating personal names;
however, translators of religious texts must use the most common existing
equivalent of a personal name in the TL even if these equivalents do not follow
the foregoing translation strategies.
Having briefly discussed some of the translation
procedures in this respect, the author strongly recommends that whatever
strategies translators use, especially in scientific texts, they should mention
the original name with the SL alphabets in the footnotes or endnotes in order
to facilitate further research for readers in the target language.
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