From a quick search this German aphorism appears to be from (at least in) Goethe's Faust.

The Latin parallel that comes to mind is Nomen est Omen. With that in mind, I often find myself reaching for a Latin rendition of the former, as well. Is there an unambiguous or at least sufficiently common translation?

Rational: It's not easy to translate the phrase in both dimensions of felicity and fidelity--more so if going through English, which I am trying to avoid here. The best hope would be that Goethe hadn't made it up completely, so that a reasonable reconstruction could be attempted, if the etymological falacy would not be too painful.

It's difficult to sum up the significance of Schall here. That would better be left for German.SE. The meaning of the phrase in whole in current speech might be a matter of debate, and literature criticism, too, that's out of the question. FWIW I'd say both Rauch and Schall imply a sense of the temporary, but painting with a however broad stroke I'm inclined to remind you that almost anything is temporary. Consequently, many different connotations can be found.

Feel free to use your own brush and be as colorful as you like. Don't loose time; first to answer receives the award.

1 Answer 1


Picking up the brush for a first sketch.

Sunt nomina verba vana volatiliaque.

An immediate association I had when reading the question was with the first words spoken by Jorge of Burgos in Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose": Verba vana aut risui apta non loqui. They come from the Regula Benedicti, capitula IV - Quae sunt instrumenta bonorum operum, number 53.

This site has the following:

"Man betont mit dem Zitat (Name ist Schall und Rauch), dass ein Name allein noch nichts über eine Person oder Sache aussagt, dass Namen vergänglich sind." (The phrase is used to stress that a mere name does not say anything about a person or an object, that names are transitory [translation mine]).

A logical follow-up association is the one between Rauch (smoke) and volatility. Sunt is not mandatory: if you leave it out, you can abbreviate to NVVV.

And about Nomen est omen (which I believe does not carry the aspect of temporariness):

According to this page in Wiktionary, "[t]he origin of this saying is attributed to the Roman playwright Plautus. In his play “Persa” the slave Toxilus lures his owner, Dordalus, to buy an expensive slave-girl named Lucris (“profits”), saying, “Nōmen atque ōmen quantīvīs iam est pretī” (“The name and the omen are worth any price”)."

Retouches, anyone?

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