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I am engaged in several translation projects on the side which often involve translating names that do not have a Roman equivalent.

Certain names obviously come from or have obvious equivalents in Latin (often through Greek):

  1. Julius: Iulius
  2. Amelia: Aemilia
  3. etc.

Others have fairly standard representations, mostly because "Christian names" often come from Biblical figures or saints who have names in Latin:

  1. Michael: Michaelus
  2. Mary: Maria
  3. John: Iohannes (or Ioannes)

I was recently reading through a medieval History of Norway, and I decided to write down how names were written in Latin versus how they are normally rendered in English. Here are some examples, with my comments in italics:

  1. Sunniva: Sunniva - unchanged
  2. Gunnhild: Gunnilda - h dropped
  3. Haakon: Hacon, -nis (also: Haquinus) - 3rd declension and consonant change
  4. Halstan: Halstanus - us appended
  5. Knut: Canutus - vowel added between double consonant
  6. Sigurd: Sigwardus (also: Siwardus and Sigvarus) - vowel (sometimes consonant) changed
  7. Halfdan: Halfdan - indeclinable

This is a small sampling of person names (place names are an entirely different mess) for one geographic location which, because of Christian influence, probably has had time to assimilate some conventions from Latin-speaking Christian monks.


My question: Are there any accepted general principles for translating non-Latin names into Latin? Am I doomed, in Latin circles, to an interminable cycle of being referred to as Brianus, Brennus, and (indeclinable) Brian based on irreconcilable opinions?

Examples (and especially patterns) of translation from classical and medieval sources would be helpful.

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    See a discussion in chat, starting from here. – HDE 226868 Mar 9 '16 at 23:17
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    Aemilia seems to be the equivalent of "Emily," not "Amelia." en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_(given_name) – sumelic Mar 10 '16 at 0:54
  • I happen to know an Amelia--but yes, I think you're right. "Maria" or "Marie" or also common English renderings of the Latin name "Maria" – brianpck Mar 10 '16 at 13:57
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    @HDE226868: Very helpful! It would be great if C.M. Weimer or Ben Kovitz could distill the major points in an answer with citations – brianpck Mar 10 '16 at 14:00
  • Working on something. – C. M. Weimer Mar 11 '16 at 0:53
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There are several tips for translating non-Latin names into Latin:

  • Transform non-Latin sounds into Latin ones (Ex. Haakon > Hacon)
  • Add the traditional -us, -a, or -is (Ex. Halstan > Halstanus)
  • Use the meaning of the name and translate that instead (Ex. Darryl > Gratus)
  • Use an attribute of yourself and try translating that (Ex. Barack > Praefecus)
  • Change nothing and make it indeclinable or third declension (Ex. Halfdan > Halfdan/Halfdan, -is)

So, for your case Brian, if we were trying to preserve the sounds of your name, we could use Bræanus. Now, yous could use the examples you gave, but they aren't quite right and would sound a bit odd compared to "Brian." "Brian" comes from Old Celtic and means "high" or "noble," so you could say your name was Altus or Nobilis. You could also try your personal qualities so you could choose names like Fessus, Caducus, or Tenax. You could even combine multiple names because often the Romans had up to four or five different names, so you could potentially be Bræanus Altus Tenax or something else along those lines!

(For another example, the name Ryan could be translated as Ræon, Ræan, or Rex, if you wanted to preserve the pronunciation or translate its meaning.)


If you wanted to follow a series of steps for translating a name while preserving its sound, here is how one might do it:
1. Transform non-Latin sounds into Latin ones.
2. Add the -us, -a, or -is if the word ends in a consonant or make it third declension or indeclinable.

It is important to note that since the name does not officially exist in Latin, you can use whatever method you want to translate it. It is usually best to consult the literature first to check if there is an already accepted translation, though.

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There is another pattern for feminine names: besides adding -a, they can also be derived by adding -is. Examples include Bilhidis, Richgundis, and Hildegardis (from their Old German counterparts Bilhid, Richgund, and Hildegard).

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    Wouldn't that be similar to my fifth point? Suggestions like these should be comments, not answers, because they don't answer the whole question but rather add on to another answer. – Sam K Jun 13 '16 at 15:57
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    @SamK: This is an answer to brianpck's question where only Hacon, Haconis—a masculine name—is mentioned as an example for the third declension. It is not a comment to your answer. – jknappen Jun 13 '16 at 16:20
  • But it still does not answer the entire question of how to Latinize non-Latin names... – Sam K Jun 13 '16 at 16:22
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    @SamK This isn't a complete answer, but it does address the question. Supplemental answers like this usually won't get as many votes as more complete answers, but they're still worth having here. – Nathaniel Jun 14 '16 at 16:32

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