A short conversation came up on Twitter about whether Japanese names should be translated. I found some of the point that were made interesting, and it got me thinking. When you hear someone’s name, do you think about it’s meaning? Pick up a baby book of names, and you’ll see that every name, even our English names have another meaning. But because it’s a name, we don’t consider the meaning important. Why should translators do the same to Japanese names?
Yes, many of the Japanese names have mundane meanings, such as Sakura, meaning Cherry Blossom, or Yuki, meaning snow. But are you going to call someone named Mirai, Future? Just because that is the literal translation, that doesn’t make it the best interpretation. My name, Lori, means “laurel tree symbolic of honor and victory”. That doesn’t mean I want to be called “Laurel tree”. If you were introduced to someone named Sakura, you wouldn’t go around calling them Cherry Blossom, would you? That’s not their given name. When a word becomes a name, it transcends it’s original meaning, and becomes something more than that.
Translators that change a person’s name to it’s literal meaning are really missing the point. When something is being translated, there needs to be more than a literal translation. The translator has to do some interpretation to convey the meaning as well. And just because someone’s name also means elephant doesn’t mean that’s how the people in that culture will see it. So we really shouldn’t either. It’s another case of just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.