How to Translate Personal Names
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.
Personal names, Proper nouns, translation strategies
Generally 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."
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.
The rest 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 conclusion.2. Preliminary Considerations
2.1. Definition of Proper Noun
According 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 name."
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
Anna Fornalczyk (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 isolation."
Based 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.
Moreover, 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 this way:
"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:
Table 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 Sarkka (2007) will be defined here.
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.References
Bachman, L. F. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing, Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Campel, M. (n.d.). Personal name. Accessed 1 March, 2009 from http://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/name.
Columbia editors (e.d) (2008). Entry word "Name" in Columbia Encyclopedia [on-line]. Available at www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-name.html.
Farahzad, F. (1995). Tarjome pishrafteh (1) [Translating advanced English text (1)]. Tehran: University of Payame Nour.
Fernandes, L. (2006). Translation of names in children s fantasy literature: Bringing young reader into play. [On-line]. Available at http://www.iatis.org/newvoices/issues/2006/fernandes-paper-2006.pdf.
Fornalczyk, A. (2007). Anthroponym translation in children's literature - early 20th and 21st centuries. Kalbotyra, 57, 93-101.
Hermans, T. (1988). On translating proper names, with reference to De Witte and Max Havelaar. In M. J. Wintle (ed.) Modern Dutch Studies. Essays in Honour of Professor Peter King on the Occasion of his Retirement. London/Atlantic Highlands: The Athlone Press.
Hervey, S. and Higgins, I. (1992). Thinking Translation. London and New York: Routledge.
Hornby, A. S. (2004). Proper noun. Oxford advanced learner's dictionary of current English (6th ed., p.1016). China: Oxford University Press.
Inc World Book editors, (1996). Name. The World Book Encyclopedia: In Eighteen Volumes (vol.14, p.5). The U.S.: World Book.
Newmark, P. (1988a). Approaches to translation. London: Prentice Hall.
Newmark, P. (1988b). A textbook of translation. London: Prentice Hall.
Newmark, P. (1993). Paragraphs on translation. Adelaide/ Clevedon/Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Nord, C. (2003). Proper names in translations for children: Alice in wonderland as a case in point. Meta: Translators' Journal, 48, 182-196.
Personal name. The world book encyclopedia (vol. 14, p.5). The United States: Field enterprises educational cooperation.
Proper name. [on-line]. Available at: http://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/ Proper name.
Proper noun [on-line]. Available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/proper+noun.
Pym, A. (2004). The moving text: localization, translation, and distribution. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Sarkka, H. (2007). Translation of proper names in non-fiction texts [on-line]. Available at http://translationjournal.net/journal/39proper.htm.
Vermes, A. P. (2003). Proper names in translation: an explanatory attempt. Across Languages and Cultures, 4 (1), 89-108.
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Behnaz Sanaty Pour is a freelance translator and an English teacher
in various English schools. She received her B.M. in Translation Studies
from Payame Nour University, Mobarake Branch, Iran. Currently, she is
an M.A. student in Translation Studies in Islamic Azad University, Shahreza
Branch. Her areas of interest are translation studies, interpretation,
translation theories, pragmatics, and discourse analysis.More important,
she is really interested in cultural translation. She can be available
at bsanatypour at yahoo com.
Published - January 2010
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