Translating names

If your name was James Power, and you took a trip to Mexico, you wouldn’t put “Iago Lopez” on your passport.  That is not your name.  Even in Mexico, your name is James Power.  James (English) and Tiago (Spanish) come from the same root name, and the name Lopez (Spanish) means power (English).  Does that mean that your name changes depending on what country you travel to?  The answer is no.  Your name is your name, no matter where you go in the world.

The stories about the Messiah, who many call Jesus, take place in a society where people speak Hebrew and Aramaic (a language very similar to Hebrew) – but we only have copies of those stories in Greek.  Because of the translation into greek, it appears that names change.

A great example of this is the Hebrew name Sha’ul (pronounced Shah-ool).  The greek people of that day did not use the sound “sh” in their alphabet (much like Americans don’t use the rolled “rr” of spanish).  Greek culture also added an “us” or “os” sound at the end of a name to indicate that the person was male.  So, Sha’ul changes when written in greek to Saulos (sh=s and add os).

Here is an important question – if you are translating the bible into English and know this about the name Saulos, do you (a) leave it alone (b) change it to an English name that kinda sounds the same or means the same thing (c) put the name into its cultural context?

(a) problem with leave it alone – Did his name change to Saulos?  If somebody named John goes to Guatemala and Guatemalans can’t make the “J” sound, does his name now change to “Yames?”  This does not work.  It is not appropriate to leave alone a name that has been changed when you know it has been changed.

(b) problem with change it to an English name that kinda sounds the same or means the same thing – Being someone named Cesar (seh-sawr), I can attest that my name is not Casear (see-zuhr), though many people try to call me this.  It is not my name.  For the second part, there are many names that have the same meaning, but are very different names (for example, CLANCYKANELOUISEWALTERSASHA & OWEN all mean Warrior).  While this might make sense from a cultural perspective, changing a name is not appropriate, like in the top example.  Your name doesn’t change just because you go to another country.  This does not work either.

(c) put the name into it’s cultural context – This is the best option.  If we KNOW that Saulos is Sha’ul rendered to a greek form, the responsible translator would render his name Sha’ul.  (By the way, nearly all modern translations do not do this, but opt for option “b,” changing the persons name for one that is easier for the English tongue to pronounce.)