Is it okay to keep foreign names of companies, organisations, etc even if they have official English translations?

Example 1:

A now defunct limited company in Sweden "Norrbottens Järnverk AB" has an official translation (North-Bothnian Steelworks, Ltd) but it doesn't feel like an ideal solution. Is it better to write something like: "The northern Swedish steelworks company Norrbottens Järnverk AB" the first time it's being mentioned and then just use the Swedish name in the rest of the text?

Also, should I include the official English translation in a footnote?

Example 2:

"SSAB" is the name of another steelworks company (also an acronym for the Swedish name "Svenskt Stål AB"), but there is also an official English name "Swedish Steel AB". Again, this English just doesn't feel right. I'm thinking I should add a short description to make it clear that it's about a steel works company. So: "The Swedish steel works company Swedish Steel AB". But this sounds a bit redundant and clunky, so then I'm thinking why not just use the original name with the description: "The Swedish steel works company SSAB", and refer to it as SSAB in the rest of the text?

What practice do you recommend for examples like these?

Also, is it more important that I'm consistent and stick to either original or English, or should I choose language from case to case?

I tried to find a style guide for this but none of them seem to bring this situation up.

After considering this some more, and reading your helpful answers below, I am currently leaning towards keeping the original foreign name but with a short description the first time the name is mentioned. And also, the first time the foreign name is mentioned, to include a footnote with the official English translation, if there is one, or something like "Translates as bla bla" if there isn't an official translation.

  • 2
    What's the context? What are you translating the names for, and who is the audience? Feb 11, 2014 at 15:43
  • It's in an academic thesis, so I write for an international scholarly audience.
    – Freja
    Feb 12, 2014 at 6:03
  • Once with the association and perhaps and index/reference list of it and other similar instances at the end would be my recommendation. If this is for an English speaking audience (or a global audience) use the English version throughout, if for a Swedish audience, I don't think any association is necessary.
    – James
    Feb 12, 2014 at 20:57

4 Answers 4


I'd go by the following guidelines:

One, if the company has an "English version" of its name that could at all be called "well known", I would use it. If you call a car company the "Modern Era Company", that might be a perfectly good and valid translation of the name. But everybody else in the English-speaking world calls it Hyundai, and it will just be confusing.

Two, if a translation of the name is coincidental to what the company is about, for example, if it includes a personal name or place name, I'd follow rule #1 as used for the original name. For example, the name of the French city of Dunkirk comes from words meaning "dune church". But if I was translating the name of a company called Meubles de Dunkerque, I'd say Dunkirk Furniture, not Dune Church Furniture. That translation would imply to English speakers that the company makes furniture for use in churches, rather than that they make furniture and they are based in a city named Dunkirk.

Three, otherwise, I would generally translate the name. I would definitely prefer "Swedish Steel AB" over "Svenskt Stål AB". It's more meaningful and easier to read.

The fact that you capitalize the words and put the "AB" on the end should make clear that this is the name of a specific company and not a generic description. If that's not clear, you can add a few words to clarify, like "the company named Swedish Steel" or "Swedish Steel, a Scandinavian company ..." Yes, it sounds redundant to stay, "Swedish Steel, a Swedish steel-making company ...", so I'd find an alternative wording. In any case, lots of companies in the US and UK have such generic-sounding names. British Rail, Bank of America, and U.S. Steel immediately come to mind. (Tangent: U.S. Steel changed its name to USX Corporation years ago, explaining that they now made many products other than steel. And thus they threw away what was at the time one of the most widely-recognized company names in America, generally ranking up there with McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Seemed pretty stupid to me, that would be like AT&T changing its name because they no longer operate telegraph systems. But whatever, different subject.)


It depends on the context - audience and what information you are relaying. If you are informing an English audience who will do business in Sweden, then it's probably best to include the Swedish name and also the English translation.

Ask yourself - Who is my audience? - What information am I relaying? - How do I anticipate the audience will use this information?

it doesn't feel like an ideal solution.

Why do you think it doesn't feel like an ideal solution? If a company provides an official translation, then (as a reader) I would feel more acquainted with the translated name as an English speaker.

Also, is it more important that I'm consistent and stick to either original or English, or should I choose language from case to case?

I feel consistency is important, unless there's an explicit contextual reason for changing the name. Otherwise, I would get confused by referring to the same company in two different ways (unless you're always referring to them as both).

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    It doesn't feel like an ideal solution because the official translation may not necessarily make sense to the international audience. "Swedish Steel AB" could suggest it's an ironworks company, but it could also suggest a lot of other kind of companies if you think about it. (Perhaps this was a bad choice of example.) Instead, if I were to rephrase it as: "The Swedish steel company SSAB" or perhaps even better "The Swedish iron works company SSAB", it would become more clear.
    – Freja
    Feb 12, 2014 at 6:12
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    oh and when I asked whether to be consistent, I didn't mean in referring to the same company. Then I should obviously be consistent. I rather meant, whether I can use different methods depending on different companies, e.g. using the official translation when it's known also internationally, while keeping the original when it's not as known.
    – Freja
    Feb 12, 2014 at 6:23
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    Also, another aspect is that the official translation is extremely rare. In fact, google "North-Bothnian Steelworks" and you get four hits (two being the dictionary where it's listed). So perhaps even in an English-speaking context, the Swedish version is more recognized.
    – Freja
    Feb 12, 2014 at 7:04

Every morning I read the largest national newspaper in Germany. I just retrieved it from the waste paper collection and opened the business and economics section. There is an article about mismanagement in European banks. What they do is:

  • give the original name of the company and its official acronym in parenthesis when the company is mentioned for the first time, e.g. "Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)"
  • add some explanation about how this company is relevant to the context of the article, e.g. "the third lagest financial institution in Europe"
  • later refer to the bank by its acronym, e.g. "RBS"

The second part of this will differ depending on the topic of your text. If, say, it were about human resources, you might add the number of employees. If you write about companies from different fields you might add what each produces. In the above mentioned article, "third lagest in Europe" explains the importance the RBS has for the stability of the European financial market (and thus explains why the article mentions this bank and not one of the thousand of other banks).

I chose an example from a national newspaper, because that medium is published for an educated but not expert audience. So you would expect the text to explain more than it would if it were aimed at an expert audience of, say, bankers. For them the mere name without any explanation would suffice.

So identify your audience. Do they know the companies you mention? Then you don't need to explain them. Do they not know them? Then give a short explanation of a handful of words about how this company is relevant in your context. Don't translate the names in either case.

Translate the name only if you write about the company history or specifically explain the name or if the meaning of the name is in any way relevant to your topic. For example:

"The Guilda degli Insegnanti, the 'Guild of Teachers', Italy's first labor union for teachers, was founded in 1988. The 'Guild' chose its name as a reference to medieval confederations that were formed to protect the quality of their profession against feudal influence. With this choice of name the Guilda degli Insignanti want to signify their fight for an appreciation and protection of the professorato, the Italian teaching degree."

  • You have some good points. But one example is the tv channel CNN - not many people talk about it as Cable News Network. Another example is IBM - International Business Machines. Does anyone ever spell that out? This is the same with SSAB in my question above, although SSAB is internationally relatively unknown and would definitely require an introduction. So in these cases, it doesn't make much sense spelling them out, even the first time. It would seem a bit too pedantic. I would just write: "the American news broadcaster CNN" and then refer to it as "CNN", and in a similar way with SSAB.
    – Freja
    Mar 12, 2014 at 7:25
  • Everyone reading a national newspaper knows IBM and CNN. You don't have to explain them like you don't have to explain what a pope is. If many of your readers have never heard of the company before (e.g. SSAB) and the name is meaningful (Svenskt Stål tells me what is produced where even though I know no Swedish), spell it out once. That you know what CNN and IBM stand for are good examples for the need to explain business name acronyms ;-)
    – user5645
    Mar 12, 2014 at 8:27
  • yes that makes sense.
    – Freja
    Mar 12, 2014 at 13:10

Your example text is bad. Not because the companies are poor examples of your problem but because right after identifying the official translation you don't use it. Instead you make the error of translating the sentence with the name in it instead of translating the name then the sentence. The official English name is "Swedish Steel AB" not "The Swedish steel company". There is nothing wrong with using the original language name which appears to be what you want to do, and consistency is certainly valuable, but using weak examples to try to validate your gut makes you look indecisive, instead of merely undecided.

Names and their meanings are important particularly those that are self chosen. I think your core desire to do due diligence in this regard is admirable. So the first questions are what are your core goals? Accuracy? Readability? Preservation of Style? I suspect that you are torn between the desires to preserve the original accuracy, preserve the subtlety, and preserve the style. unfortunately subtly is incredibly difficult to preserve in translation, particularly with names. Often the best way to preserve that which is hinted is to state it which interferes with style. I suspect your gut is right in that in this case you want to use the Swedish name, but I would supplement with a foot note of the form "means meaning. official translation Name"or similar.

  • @hildred: what I meant in that particular case was to rephrase and describe the company rather than use its official English name. "Swedish Steel AB" may not make sense, while a rephrasing "Swedish steel company" would make more sense.
    – Freja
    Feb 12, 2014 at 6:07
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    @hildred - Ideally I want to achieve accuracy, readability, and preservation of style at the same time. An international reader shouldn't have to be confused when he/she stumbles across a foreign company name. Then, it is bad form of writing, I think. Either the company name should be clear, or the context or explanation of the company name. At the same time, I want to achieve a consistent style. That's my point in a nutshell.
    – Freja
    Feb 12, 2014 at 6:16

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