Translating Spanish Names

Translating English or Spanish names (or deciding when to do it) can be a tricky situation for translators.

Names can pop up in a number of different places within a document and translators have to decide what to do with them as they are translating. Proper nouns can be business names, names of sports teams, personal names, or names of products. The decision a translator has to make is whether or not he/she should translate the names.

One thing translators must keep in mind is that all languages are different and languages vary in how they treat proper nouns. Here, however, we are interested mainly in English and Spanish names.There are a couple of things translators can remember to do when confronted with a name in their work.

1. Ask the client what he/she wants done.
This seems like a pretty straightforward solution but you'd be surprised at how many translators practically cut off relations with the client once they get the job and then don't contact them at all until they're finished and ready to hand the project in.

2. Use common sense.
Your own intelligence and intuitions are worth a lot more than you might sometimes think. You'll have to especially rely on this when you ask clients what they want and they don't know. They might tell you to do whatever is best in the target language, and you, as a professional translator, should know what the norm is for the specific genre or field of the translation.

3. Check out what others have done in similar situations.
The Internet can be a valuable resource when deciding how to translate English or Spanish names. You can go to one of the many translation chat resources on the net, as well as visit some of the websites of related companies to look for similar terms to the one you have questions about and see what they have done.

Translating English or Spanish names often is a straightforward translation task. Sometimes it can be tricky, though, to know what to do and there might not be any rhyme or reason for different reasons to translate or not translate terms.

About six months ago I was working on an English-Spanish dictionary of sports terms and for part of my research, I looked at in Spanish and English. One of the most interesting things I uncovered was that the names of sports teams for Major League Baseball were translated into Spanish while the names for NBA teams weren't translated into Spanish (they were rendered in English) on ESPN's Spanish site (

I don't really have a clue as to why this is the case but it is an important difference to note, especially if you are a sports translator. Even if you work in another translation field, there could quite possibly be similar situations to the one above.

The important thing to keep in mind is to not take anything for granted, especially when working with a client for the first time. It's better to ask and spend some time researching and get the translation done right, than do it in a rush and get it wrong. As the saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

If you're interested in some general links about Spanish names, click on one of the links below:

Babies Names in Spanish: A list of some Spanish names perfect for naming your new baby!

Spanish Surnames: A list of common Spanish surnames from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Spanish Dog Names: Need a name for that special companion? Look no further!

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