When should names be translated or transliterated? For example, why do translations say "En-Gedi" instead "Spring of the Young Goat". The same could be said for "Adam" whose name literally means "Man". When should city or people's names be translated (for meaning) versus just being transliterated?

In the world of the Old Testament, would people have thought of "I'm going down to En-Gedi" or would they have thought "I'm going down to Young Goat's Spring". Similarly would people have thought "There's Adam" (thinking the sound) versus "There's Man" or any other name. Did the Hebrews think of names as just sounds attached to a particular person or place, or would they have acknowledged the meaning? Why do some translations translate certain words and others transliterate them? Why are some places translated while others are transliterated?

  • When you see a place called "Newtown", do you think "that is a new town", or just "that is a place whose name is 'Newtown'"? – Colin Fine Mar 23 at 19:49
  • I know is the case now- but I wasn't sure if there was any info to indicate that it is different in Hebrew or the minds of the Hebrews – Superdadsuper Mar 23 at 19:51
  • I don't know of any firm evidence either way. But it always seems to me that the null hypothesis is that people are people, and it is the proposition that "[X people a long time ago] thought in a different way from us" that needs strong evidence. – Colin Fine Mar 23 at 20:01

Since all the names appear significant, I began a translation that translated the names (people, places) at [least at] their first mention, with the transliteration or name in brackets. That could be done by footnote too. I understand the first meaning of Hebrew 'man/adamah' is 'red clay,' so that would be my first-mention. In that case: then 'man,' then the capitalized name 'Adam' later

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Thanks for the question that lead to an interesting find.


What's in a name

Bible Translator, Jan. 1989 pp. 109-119

Roger L. Omanson

(snippet of p. 110)

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The excerpt below (p. 119) offers an answer as to when translation is preferred over only translit.

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