Last updated:  
Jul 8, 2019 @ 9:25 PM

Should you translate company and product names?

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.

At Globalme, our localization team has seen plenty of scenarios where product names or features need to be renamed or translated to better suit another language.

If you are in that situation, here are some tips you might find useful.

Research it first

translate company and product names example macs lays

It’s the most basic of the basics, but check the internet first.

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.

Option 1 – The Original Name

While the safest bet is to stick with the original name, some names would not make sense, or perhaps could be misunderstood when translated.

By default, assume you should keep the original name, but get in touch with the organization if you believe the name should be changed.

Option 2 – Original Name (Translation)

Keeping the original name can avoid misunderstanding, but the readers might not understand the language.

Our recommendation is to provide a translation of the original name in parenthesis, like this:

Original Name (Translation)

This format preserves the original name but provides an example so that the customers or readers understand it.

Optional 3 – Translation (Original Name)

Your third option is to 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.

Option 4 – Transliteration

You can also 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.

Option 5 – New Name

If there’s no easy translation or transliteration, you may want to consider an entirely different product name.

Of course, this will take new market research and should absolutely be discussed with the organization.

Don’t have time to confirm with your client? Here’s the safest option:

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 Option 2 – 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.

Related Translation & Localization Resources

Looking for more help when it comes to translating and localizing your products? Try these helpful guides:

7 Localization Best Practices Whitepaper – Learn how to make your products and marketing assets ready for the world.

Best Practices for Web Localization – Follow these best practices to develop a plan for the multilayered process of website localization.

Localization Testing Checklist – Finished localizing your content? Follow this checklist for full localization testing and QA.

Reach out below to learn how you can localize your products for an international audience

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Nice question 🙂
    I think it can depend also by different elements, as the specific industry, the type of product, the existence of a glossary and so on.
    Usually I don’t translate the company names but in some cases I translate the products names, leaving the original ones and adding their translations between brackets.
    Or at least, adding a note in the delivery message with some suggestions about the names translation.
    But there are so many cases that it’s very hard giving just one answer 😉
    For example, in Italy, we can accept some English names and terms, in particular about new and tech products, because they sound more cool and winning than the translated ones, but at the same time, in some specific cases it’s better using a translated name. For example, in games translation.
    If you are working on a children interactive book, it’s better using simple and Italian terms, also for characters’ names and products, while in a more hardcore game, you can leave the original names and some English terms too. At least the most commonly used!

    • I also think the target language has a big impact on this decision, Lorenzo. For Turkish too, English names and terms are cooler in most cases so keeping them that way makes a lot of sense. I don’t think the Japanese would agree with that though 🙂

      • I completely agree that it all depends on many different factors, including the target language.
        In Japanese, foreign proper nouns are typically transliterated, or if those names have any meanings, it would be translated. There are 3 different types of writing scripts in Japanese language and one of them is commonly used to transliterate foreign words.

  2. Well, maybe this varies a lot from country to country and from culture to culture, but I personally think it’s a bit absurd to translate company/product names if the company itself does not have a translation for the terms. I mean, is it really necessary to provide a translation for “British Airways” and “Big Mac”?

    As for more general terms, this definitely varies from culture to culture. For example, Brazil and Portugal. Even though in theory both countries speak the same language, in Brazil we are much more open to foreign words (especially technology terms such as mouse, download, etc.), whereas in Portugal they are more obsessed about translating every single term.

    • Thank you for your comment, Andreas. Seems like it’s very common to use English words in Brazil, it does vary a lot from country to country. For example “British Airways” is transliterated (ブリティッシュエアウェイズ) in Japanese and translated in Chinese (英国航空公司).

  3. Unless I receive specific instructions from a client or PM, I check to see if the company has an existing translation. If it has, I use that. If not, I retain the original and insert a translation as a comment/suggestion or just leave the original. I can then provide a translation if the company in question requests one.

  4. As regards whether to translate or not translate, there can also be other extraneous factors that supersede both the instincts of the translator and the desires of the client. The Mac’s/ Couche Tard example you cite in your post, Marie, is one example. It’s important to take into account the legal and/ or cultural ramifications of which language you use. In Quebec, for example, there was a time when “Mac’s” signs risked vandalism and the company risked negative economic consequences for using the English possessive marker. And then there was a time when the company risked fines and closure for not having signage exclusively in English. Even when such restrictions are repealed, it becomes a question of what is ‘normal’ and what the implications of going against that climate would be.

  5. Nice question 🙂 I think it totally depends upon the particular industry, the type of product. Finding a name for your business should not be a laborious process, and in addition to being easy, it should also be fun.

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