What to Do with a French Name in an English Text?

Syllabus Translation MontrealThe long and the short of it is that there are no hard and fast rules. How you handle French organization names in English-language texts will often depend on the intended audience.

Once you’ve determined who and what the text is for, use the tips below to come up with a plan.

• If there’s an official English version, you can either use it with the French name or in place of it: Office national du film du Canada/National Film Board of Canada.

• If there’s no official English version and your target audience is in within Quebec, then you can probably leave the name in French. After all, Quebecers are used to seeing names of businesses and institutions in French: Cégep du Vieux-Montréal.

• If your audience is in the United States, for instance, forget about using French—you might as well use Chinese. Now you’ve got another choice to make.

• If it’s important to keep the original name, simply provide a courtesy translation in parentheses, e.g., France Université Numérique (France digital university). It’s worth noting that Editing Canadian English advises to “not treat an unofficial translation as an official English name” and therefore, not capitalize it.

• In less formal contexts, you can also use common translations, in other words, names used by the public but which aren’t official. For example, Montréal-Nord is commonly called Montreal North by the Montreal anglophone community.

Things get tougher if your text is littered with French organizations. On the one hand, too many courtesy translations can weigh down your text and make it tough to read. On the other hand, leaving too much French makes it look like you haven’t done your job as a translator. Consider your audience, talk to your client, and come up with a solution that suits your situation.

How do you handle French names in your English translations?

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