Company & Product Names: Should You Translate Them?

Last Updated January 30, 2014

To translate, or not to translate company and product names?

Lots of translators face this question.

In fact, there are 1,560 threads on 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 Summa Linguae Technologies, 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

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.

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