Translating Names from Portuguese to English and Vice Versa

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First Published: 11th of July, 2021 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: July 11, 2021 at 22:02 pm

Many names in the Portuguese Language have an “English version” and vice versa. This is especially true in the Bible. Almost all the biblical names change from one language to the other to reflect the accent and alphabet of that language. For example, Adam is called “Adao” in the Portuguese language, John is called “Joao,” etc.

And even in cases where the spelling remains the same, the pronunciation changes from one language to another. For example, in Portuguese “Jesus” is pronounced “Zhe-zoos,” and “Israel” is pronounced “ees-ha-el.”

But when translating a text from one language to another, is it necessary to translate the names? The answer is “yes and no.” There are some cases in which translating names would be recommended, some in which it would be required, some in which it be optional, and some in which it would be wrong.

As we can see, all the biblical names have already changed from one language to another – perhaps due to different people’s natural inclination to pronounce words in certain ways and other factors. When translating stories, it is OK to translate the names of characters. For example, if I translate a story called “John and Mary,” and I don’t change that into “Joao e Maria,” the names may sound weird and difficult to pronounce for the Portuguese natives. Therefore, the names of all fictional characters should be translated wherever possible. Of course, not all English names have a Portuguese equivalent, and not all Portuguese names have an English equivalent.

So when not to translate names from one language to another? When translating legal documents that contain the name of a real person, it would be wrong to translate the name, since that would render the document erroneous – unless of course, the person is about to change their names to the version of the other language.

When writing nonfictional articles, reports, stories, etc, do not translate names of real people as that would create a false impression. For example, If I were to translate the text, “IDF spokesperson John David said that the Israeli military was considering a ground offensive into Gaza,” and I change “John David” to the Portuguese “Joao Davi,” then I would in effect be talking about a fictional person since that name does not appear on the IDF spokesperson’s birth certificate.

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