We should stop translating languages’ and countries’ names

I think that we should stop translating proper names of some things that identify cultures or places like languages and countries’ names for the sake of simplicity and respect.

Historically, languages have always translated some famous names to make it easy to write them in the local language—now it is less common due to globalization but still happens. For example, some historic figures names are translated: In Spanish is common to encounter Karl Marx’s name written as “Carlos Marx”, that’s not the name of the guy, the name of the guy is the one that he used in his life or, if none is found, the one that historians choose for them. It happens with places names too: For example, Japan’s name is not that one, it is the one found in Japanese “日本” which can be written with the Latin writing system as “Nihon”1. The Japanese language even offers romanization of their names.

By translating names we are just making it harder on us. We have these entities, places, people, languages being designated with a name that’s not the one they choose or were born with, but with an approximation; which also complicates the classification of information. For simplicity, we should stop translating names and just refer to things by the name they have in their original language.

For the sake of respect: Anyone alive would feel at least uneasy if someone else calls them by an approximation of their name instead of their actual name. This happens way too often with historical figures but also with places like Ellada (Ελλάδα, Greece) which seems like no one uses their actual name2.

Not every language and culture in the world uses the same writing system, we have many of them, Latin, Cyrillic, Kanji… fortunately a lot of languages share writing systems. When talking about things with names in a different writing system from the one currently in use, one could write the name as pronounced and between parentheses the original writing, like we already do when introducing acronyms. Now, this a change, a drastic change because for some people it will appear that we are suddenly changing the names of stuff that have been around for so many years. To ease the transition we could include the old naming. I already showed an example with Ellada (Ελλάδα, Greece); Nihon’s name would be written as Nihon (日本, Japan); names that use the same writing system would use the original writing and show the old one in parentheses: Nederlands (Dutch), Español (Spanish), Deutsch (German). Of course, the pronunciation of these words would be the same as in their original language, so a bit of learning is necessary.

  1. Many countries accept multiple names, Nihon for example also uses Nihon-koku (日本国). That’s fine, just choose one when writing about it. 

  2. Name of Greece https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_Greece