HOC Blog

Translating Names and Acronyms: A Common Issue in Arabic Translation

Summary: Acronyms and names of companies, projects, and entities should NEVER be translated. They should be researched.


The issue of translating names and acronyms may not be as challenging in Latin and Indo-European languages as it is in Arabic translation. There are many reasons for this differentiation, including (but not limited to):

  1. Sharing the same alphabet between most languages in these two large families of languages (Latin and Indo-European) makes names and acronyms easier to adapt.
  2. Historically, Arabic is not a language that uses acronyms. It is a descriptive language that uses long phrases to describe subjects.
  3. Not all sounds in Latin and Indo-European languages are available in Arabic, and vice versa, which sometimes creates endless possibilities when transliterating.
  4. Arabic does not have upper case and lower case letters, in other words, Arabic letters can be written stand-alone, which makes abbreviations challenging in this language.

Unfortunately, the Arabic localization industry is still premature in many aspects, including the issue in hand. Many linguists specialized in Arabic translation do not receive adequate training on modern localization skills, not to mention the absence of a regulatory body or an NGO that governs localization practices and the use of new terminology.

The challenge

Translating acronyms and names of companies, projects, and entities is one of the most common errors found in texts translated to Arabic. Many linguists decide to translate these elements, which is a fatal error. In the translation training workshops we do, we tell attendees that it is not up to them to name the client's company. It is actually the client's choice. Such a simple notion should be a part of every translation training program. As an example of this, we usually ask attendees to translate DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority). Typically, we get at least 5 different adaptations in Arabic.

How do we adapt names into Arabic?

We recommend taking the following steps in order. In other words, if step one does not yield satisfactory results, move to the next one, and so on.

  1. Look up the name on the client's own website: If you are lucky, the client will have the proper name on their website, whether in an Arabic version of the website, or in a logo/slogan or any type of graphics.
  2. If the client does not have any reference to the name on their website, try researching the name on trusted online portals. The term "trusted" refers to a portal or website read by professionals in the same field. If you were researching a name for a company in the Middle East for example, AMEinfo would be a good resource. State-owned newspapers and magazines specialized in business should also be a good reference.
  3. Ask the client: if the above steps fail, you can simply ask your client if they have a name in Arabic. Don't be disappointed if they don't, as this would be your chance to suggest the name you see fit.
  4. Ask the community: If you try the above steps and fail, you can always ask your colleagues. Pose the question on one of the top translation communities online, such as AL CommunityProz, or Translators Café. Remember: Answers you get from your colleagues are helpful, but not always accurate. You have to practice skepticism and make a sound judgment after you get several answers.

What about acronyms?

The steps above also apply to researching and adapting acronyms, but instead of the third step, you will need to ask a specialist, as the client may not be aware of the acronym adaptation to Arabic. A specialist means someone in the field with good knowledge of both the source and target languages.


This post also applies to people names, especially those with more than one spelling. In all these practices, the rule of thumb remains the same: Never translate proper names or acronyms. These are for research, not translation.



Author is Dr. Ali Mohamad, House of Content Founder and managing Director

House of Content is registered at Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC).

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