To translate or not to translate 'proper' (?) nouns...
Thread poster: Cuiviewen

Cuiviewen  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
Mar 1, 2011

I'm writing because I am constantly faced with the same confusing situation... I am a firm believer in not translating proper nouns, for reasons ranging from clarity of reference to respect for my own mother tongue (as I am a speaker of Spanish and usually translate into English). But at times when I come across names of institutions or entities, I am torn between the following thoughts:

If I do not translate them and leave them in Spanish:
* If readers of the translation google up the expression in Spanish (let's say, to contact the institution mentioned or to find out more information), they'll find the official webpages more easily.
* At the same time I imagine a reader who speaks the target language coming across something like: 'The law was passed by the XXXXXXX XXXXX XXXX XX' (as the names of institutions are not always transparent!).

If I do translate them:
* I imagine it would be impossible to retranslate them into Spanish (and be lucky enough for the translation to coincide with the original!) and find them in Google, for instance.
* They're proper nouns!

Intermediate solutions such as 'The law was passed by the Municipalidad de Carlos Tejedor (Carlos Tejedor Town Council)' or '... the municipal bylaw Ordenanza Municipal 8888/88' sound horrible at times!

What would you do in this case?
"La misma se encuentra depositada en la Facultad de Ciencias Médicas de la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba y está formada por [...], cedidos por el Cementerio Municipal de Córdoba (Ordenanza Municipal 9471/02)."

Thank you very much!


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
Horrible Mar 1, 2011

Horrible or not (usually not), the best solution is to put in the original and follow up with the translation in ( ). That solves the whole problem. I often do it myself.


B D Finch  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:26
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
It depends Mar 1, 2011

In general, I think that proper names should be left in the source language with a translation or explanation of the name in square brackets after it. A web search will, usually, quickly show whether the body in question has a prefered translation of its name. However, bear in mind that, in some cases, the translation on their website may have been done by a bad translator, in which case you will need to judge whether to use it or provide your own. An approved translation could be in ordinary brackets.

The other alternative, especially if the above method is too wordy, is to use the untranslated proper name with a footnote giving an explanation or translation. In either case, if your translation is an unofficial one, you should be careful to indicate that.


[Edited at 2011-03-01 17:03 GMT]


Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:26
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Depends on the context Mar 1, 2011

I almost always translate the names of schools within a university. Terms like "School of Law" or "School of Medical Science" are transparent enough that if someone needs to track down the actual school within the university, it's easy to do.

As for the University's name: UNC's English-language web pages call it the National University of Cordoba on first reference and UNC thereafter. I would probably put the English name followed by the full Spanish name in parentheses on first reference, and then use the English name or abbreviation thereafter.

I usually translate terms such as "Ordenanza Municipal" to their nearest English cognate (Municipal Ordinance in this case).

The name of the cemetery would depend on context. For example, if the documents are connected with a law suit against this cemetery, then its official name is important and needs to be documented. If the cemetery is just mentioned in passing and has little relevance to the subject of the documents, then I would just put "Cordoba Municipal Cemetery" or "Municipal Cemetery of Cordoba."

[Edited at 2011-03-02 09:22 GMT]


Cuiviewen  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
'Horrible' it is! Mar 3, 2011

Thanks Steven, Barbara and Henry for replying! I think I'll use the source language version and then a translation in square brackets/parentheses, and hope I don't overdo it with the number of words in the abstract... I think I'll find it less horrible in time since I now know I'm backed up in my decision by fellow translators! THANKS!


United States
Local time: 05:26
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, but don't overdo it Mar 4, 2011

Coincidentally, I'm working on a document set from the National University of Cordoba as well. As our colleagues point out, a simple internet search shows this English translation of the university name not only to be common, but accepted by the university itself. Therefore, I see no need to include the Spanish equivalent in brackets. Also, I would never include the Spanish equivalent of a name of a department, division, school, etc. This applies to companies and government agencies as well, unless evidence can be found that that company or agency has an endorsed English version of that department.

By the way, I'm sure it goes without saying that you never translate the name of a company unless it simply cannot be rendered in English, e.g., due to it being in an Asian or Middle Eastern language. Still, inconsistency abounds in that area. I've seen some Russian company names translated and others transliterated.

There is much inconsistency in our trade. Language itself is an inexact science, and is transforming on a daily basis. We'll just have to adapt and keep doing the best we can.


George Hopkins
Local time: 12:26
Swedish to English
In brackets. Once only. Mar 5, 2011

My choice: Yes, a translation in brackets (once only) and then the original language for repeats.

More bothering is abbreviations...
If they are home-made I leave them unaltered, and perhaps point this out to the client.


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