Translating Names

Translating Names March 31, 2014

Charles Häberl has blogged about an issue that translators regularly face, and which we must deal with as we work towards the final version of our translation of the Mandaean Book of John (or as it might perhaps better be called, The Doctrine of John or The Teaching of John).

How are names best translated?

When the Mandaean text is clearly referring to Jesus, presumably using any rendering other than “Jesus” in English would cause confusion. But doing that will miss the distinctive form of the name in Mandaic. And what about Miriai? Is that close enough to “Mary” to deserve to be rendered that way?

You will recall me blogging about some other, related translation issues previously.

When it comes to names and titles that have no existing English equivalent, what is best done then? Should one try to get the reader to pronounce the name in English as closely to the Mandaic pronunciation as possible?

Along those lines, I suggested somewhat facetiously that Hibil be rendered by the Welsh name Hywel, which is not far off in how it is supposed to be pronounced. But those who don’t know that Welsh name might still mispronounce it “High-well.” And the fact that this is the Mandaic form of the name “Abel” won’t come through in any of those renderings.

How do you like to see names rendered? What do you prefer to be in the text, and what if anything do you look for in footnotes? What different approaches have you encountered in the rendering of other texts? If you have ever read a Biblical translation that rendered familiar names in unfamiliar ways, how did that affect your reading experience?

Click through to read Charles’ post, and then please do comment, whether here, there, or in both places!


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