To translate, or not to translate company and product names? Lots of translators face this question. In fact, there are 1,560 threads on Proz.com about translating proper nouns.
If you, as a linguist or a translation project manager, are working on a relatively large project, most likely the answer is already in your translation style guidelines. However, not all projects have the answer ready when you start working on them. If you are in that situation, here are some tips you might find useful.
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Research it first
It’s the most basic of the basics, but check on the internet. Look for the official translation on the client’s website. If they have their company/product names translated into your target language and it’s published on their website, you should use the existing translation.
When an official translation is not provided
While International organizations usually have official translations of their names, that may not be the case for domestic and local companies.
Should the names be translated when there is no official translation? Well, there is no right or wrong answer to that, because it all depends on what the client wants. So check with your client how they want the names to be treated in translation. You can just simply ask them, or even better, you can suggest some options and let them choose what they like.
Here are 4 formats you can use.
a) Original – just leave the original name.
Some names would not make sense or perhaps could be misunderstood when translated. In such cases it’s safer to keep the original name as it is.
b) Original (Translation) – provide a translation in parentheses after the original name.
Keeping the original name can avoid misunderstanding, but the readers might not understand the language. If you use this format, you can give an explanation by translating the name.
c) Translation (Original) – translate the name and provide the original in parentheses.
If you think it would be better to translate the name, but still want to keep the original name to avoid misunderstanding, you can use this format. As your product establishes its space in the market, you can slowly phase the parentheses out.
d) Transliterate – provide a phonetic translation of the original name.
This is recommended when your source and target languages use different alphabets. For example if you’re translating from English to Korean or Arabic, it will be easier for your audience if the name is transliterated to their language.
No time to confirm if you should translate company and product names?
I know you’re busy, and so is the client. You might not have enough time to check with your client due to a tight deadline. The client may be a little slow in responding to your emails, and you still have to deliver the translation.
To be on the safe side, I would recommend using b) Original (Translation) in such a case. If you have the translation in parentheses, it makes it easy for the client to spot and delete them if they want to.