French names: conventions and capitalisation
Thread poster: Wendy Cummings

Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:25
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
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Jan 20

I am after some advice on whether there is more than one way to interpret the following name, written in a French document. There is more context, which i shall give as required, but to begin I would like merely any possible interpretations of this name (i.e. which is the surname(s), first name(s), maiden name(s) (I have not reproduced the actual names, for confidentiality and to avoid bias as some are obviously first names and surnames, but I have reproduced the capitalisation):

Madame GGG née OOO Eee Eee

In particular:
1. Without any other information, is there any convention that says the capitalised names would be first names and not surnames?
2. Apart from the obvious reasons of consistency, could one of the capitalised names be a surname and one a first name? Likewise with the lower case names?
2. Does convention state which of the two Eee Eee names would be her first name and middle name? i.e. are they always written in the correct order?
2. Is there anything to suggest which of the two surnames is her nom d'usage?

Many thanks.


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Irene McClure
Local time: 03:25
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French to English
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French names Jan 20

Hi Wendy - I thought I'd reply quickly although I haven't had time to research this online ...

To take your example: Madame GGG née OOO Eee Eee, it is clear to me that this means in UK English "Ms Jane Mary Smith, née Jones" (where GGG = Smith, OOO = Jones and Eee Eee = Jane Mary).

In other words, she was born "Jane Mary Jones" and after marriage became "Jane Mary Smith".

By convention, French surnames are always capitalised to avoid confusion. Surnames usually appear before the first or middle names in official documents. The two first names (or first name and middle name), in this case Jane and Mary, appear in the 'correct' order, i.e. she would most likely be known as "Jane Jones", with "Mary" as the middle name.

It would be highly unusual and, I think, wrong in French to capitalise either first or middle names.

I don't think there is anything to indicate which of the two surnames Smith or Jones she actually uses, although it might be assumed that by changing her name on marriage she intends to use Smith.

As I said, I haven't had time to find references for you, but am fairly sure this is standard French (in France at least).

HTH
Irene


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
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Indeed Jan 20

Irene McClure wrote:

... but am fairly sure this is standard French (in France at least).



Yes, this is exactly what I think too.


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Sara Massons  Identity Verified
France
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English to French
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I know no official rule but... Jan 20

Hi Wendy,

I agree with Irene. In your example, GGG would be the "nom d'usage" which is often the name of the husband but this tend to evolve. "OOO" would be the "legal" surname (i.e. birth name, probably that of her father)? First name is rarely capitalized and always put first in the list.

I hope this helps
Sara


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
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aha! Jan 20

Sara Massons wrote:

First name is rarely capitalized...



A-ha! I am going to jump on this statement because it relates directly to the problem I am facing (will happily reveal all, but want to avoid any bias by explaining the situation in full). Why and when might the first name be capitalised, and is this "rare" exception nevertheless a sufficient exception for me to be able to exploit it?


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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More information Jan 20

My client is pushing me on this issue, so I will explain the situation:

I have been asked to translate and certify a statement which contains the client's name as I wrote it in my original question. However, the client says this name is written wrongly. The only evidence I have for this is her email signature and her word. I assume I could ask to see some form of ID document to confirm it.

Nevertheless, I do not think that, based on how the French is written, I can interpret the name in any other way. In doing so, i could be opening myself up to potential accusations of fraud (highly unlikely I know, but that is how these things do happen).

How the name is written:

Madame GGG née OOO Eee Eee = Mrs Eee Eee GGG nee OOO

How it "should" be, according to the client:

Madame EEE Ooo Eee épouse GGG = Mrs Ooo Eee EEE married name GGG

So you can see, not only is the nom d'usage different, but the name that is capitalised in the French is actually her first name, and one of the two lowercase names is her surname.

Can I make this change, especially since i am certifying the translation?


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Irene McClure
Local time: 03:25
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French to English
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I wouldn't recommend it ... Jan 20

As no-one has replied to your additional info, I'll jump in again!

I'm not a certified translator, but I wouldn't recommending changing anything from the original document, particularly if you are certifying it.

Surely only a lawyer or the issuing authority could legitimately alter the content of an official document? I think it would be going beyond your remit to make such a change in the translation process.

You could perhaps provide a note accompanying the translation to the effect that you have faithfully reproduced the information on the original and that the client has brought it to your attention that the original information is wrong?

Good luck with it - sounds like it could be a tricky one!

Irene


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Adrien Esparron
Local time: 03:25
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German to French
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Some indications Jan 20

Wendy Cummings wrote:

1. Without any other information, is there any convention that says the capitalised names would be first names and not surnames?



In all official docs, you will find the following :

Prénom(s) : ... NOM : ...

see : https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000647915&dateTexte=

So, indeed.



2. Apart from the obvious reasons of consistency, could one of the capitalised names be a surname and one a first name? Likewise with the lower case names?



If you have a look to a Carte Nationale d'Identité, all of them are capitalized.



2. Does convention state which of the two Eee Eee names would be her first name and middle name? i.e. are they always written in the correct order?



They are always wiritten as in the Acte de naissance (which is the correct order).



2. Is there anything to suggest which of the two surnames is her nom d'usage?



Nothing, but usually its always the first one. If not, there is a convention (in some documents) to underline the prénom usuel. But there is lot of people having a prénom d'usage which figures nowhere (not officially recognized).

Just remember also that a married woman keeps always officially her maiden name as real name.

Hope this helps!


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Adrien Esparron
Local time: 03:25
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German to French
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Not your job to correct the original Jan 20

Wendy Cummings wrote:

How the name is written:

Madame GGG née OOO Eee Eee = Mrs Eee Eee GGG nee OOO

How it "should" be, according to the client:

Madame EEE Ooo Eee épouse GGG = Mrs Ooo Eee EEE married name GGG

So you can see, not only is the nom d'usage different, but the name that is capitalised in the French is actually her first name, and one of the two lowercase names is her surname.

Can I make this change, especially since i am certifying the translation?



NO and NO!

What the client suggests is how it had to be "normally" written (see my other post), but as a translator (and also because you have to ceretify it) you have not to change anything, client or not!!!


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
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@Adrien Jan 20

Thank you for that very useful information and Legifrance link.

My instinct has always been as you say: no, i cannot make the changes. But the client has been absolutely insistent that i find a way around it, and so i wanted to exhaust all sources before getting back to her again (hence my reason for not initially explaining the situation; i wanted to focus on the linguistic issue rather than the ethical one).

I have now confirmed that, as i originally said, i simply cannot make the changes she is asking. She reluctantly understood.


...And I stand reminded of why I prefer working for agencies and not private clients...


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:25
French to English
Capital letters Jan 21

Madame GGG née OOO Eee Eee : Mrs SMITH, née JONES Nikki Mary

In particular:
1. Without any other information, is there any convention that says the capitalised names would be first names and not surnames?
Yes, there is. When you see full capitals, this indicates the surname. However, do note that in some situations, both surname and fist names may all be in capitals.
Examples:
On my French banker's card, for example, all words of my name are in capitals, with my surname first and my first names following. On my French national identity card, all names are capitalised, with "NOM" being followed by my maiden name and "NOM D'USAGE" being the one I chose to enter, and thus my (ex) married name. My "PRENOMS" are entered, in capitals.


2. Apart from the obvious reasons of consistency, could one of the capitalised names be a surname and one a first name? Likewise with the lower case names?
Yes, in example you provide, the capitals clearly indicate a surname and those with just the first letter capitalised are first names., as in the example I have given with my own name(s).

3. Does convention state which of the two Eee Eee names would be her first name and middle name? i.e. are they always written in the correct order?
Yes.

4. Is there anything to suggest which of the two surnames is her nom d'usage?
No. There is absolutely no way of knowing without this information being formally stated on an official document. (If the only text you have is as you have presented here, then you are absolutely right to insist about that fact with your client, be it a private client or an agency). You can use either your maiden or your married name, or a combination of either. An official "nom d'usage" can be indicated when applying for a passport or an identity card, for example, but it is legally possible to use either. I often find that when purchasing tickets and so on that if I use my maiden name, a person checking my ticket will not be happy as I have not used my "NOM D'USAGE" but that when I do, I will inevitably land on someone who complains that I did not use my maiden name, which is why I opted to use both in most situations!

N.B. Probably just typos (I'm a specialist!), but do note that you should always use a capital letter for the pronoun "I".

[Edited at 2017-01-21 02:31 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-01-21 02:32 GMT]


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Texte Style
Local time: 03:25
French to English
ethics Jan 21

Don't let this woman bully you.
You have to provide a faithful translation. If she can't provide documentary proof of what she's claiming, you simply translate what you understand to be true. If she can provide proof, you can include a translator's note to the effect that there is a mistake. Her documentary proof would probably also need translating too as backup.

Reminds me of when a client walked in to the agency I used to work at. She asked us to translate a "letter from her lawyer about her inheritance". Turned out to be a scrap of paper with some scribbles on it. We found a translator willing to translate it (no easy task with scribbles), but then the client claimed there was a zero missing in the amount she was to inherit. The translator stuck by her version so we refused to change it (we didn't speak the source language so we had no way of knowing who was right, but preferred to believe our trusty translator). I don't think we ever got paid for that.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 19:25
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
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Keep the original notation Jan 21

I agree with what others have said: keep the original notation, Madame GGG née OOO Eee Eee (no commas). This is the notation i see in Belgian documents as well and I always leave it that way.

A certified document must be translated exactly as is, errors and all. When you certify the document, that means you swear that it is a correct, faithful translation of the original document. If you have changed anything, you are essentially committing perjury. Explain that to the client and if she insists, tell her to find another translator. Stick to your guns and only if she can provide documentation of the correct name (but only then), you could put in a footnote to that effect and refer to the document that has the correct name.


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:25
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Spanish to English
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The original question Jan 21

I have no intention of certifying a doctored translation. However in order to ensure I covered all bases, the purpose of this question is made clear, and I am after information about the linguistic issue of how names are written. The ethical matter of certification /corrections etc is not the point, and is precisely why I did not reveal the whole issue at the outset!

That is for another time and place. If anyone has any comments to add about how naming and capitalisation, I would be interested to know.


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Irene Johnson  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:25
Member (2014)
French to English
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Stick with the normal conventions of the target language. Mar 16

Would you write the days of the week or months in lowercase just because that's what you see in the source language? Of course not! When translating, you translate not only the meaning of the text, but you import the text into the target language and apply the rules of that language.
The French tend to write certain proper nouns in all caps, where in English we don't tend to do that, other than in document headings.
For an English-speaking reader, words in all caps are just distracting and make the text difficult to read. A document with scattered words in all caps in it feels to us like someone shouting out random words in the middle of a sentence.
The French are all over the place as regards proper names. They might write Jean DUPONT, Jean Dupont, DUPONT Jean, J. DUPONT, J. Dupont, DUPONT J. .... and all of this in the same document! The all-caps surnames are to avoid confusion as to which is the first name and which is the surname. There are also a lot of names that can be either, such as Bernard, Jean, Martin..., and that, combined with no really clear rule on the order of names, is another reason the French write surnames in all caps.
The convention in English in this regard is to put the first name first, then the middle name, then the last or surname. That's why we call them "first", "middle" and "last" names. There is no confusion in English, so there is no need to write surnames in all caps.

[Edited at 2017-03-16 10:55 GMT]


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French names: conventions and capitalisation

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