How much would you - or should you? - translate of a place name?

If, for example, in your translation you come up with 阿寒湖畔ウォーターフロント広場, would you translate that as "Akankohan Waterfront Plaza", or "Banks of Lake Akan Waterfront Plaza"?

Assume next, then, that you, as a good translator, look it up online and find that most websites call it the latter.  Would you stick with it?

And lastly, if the customer rudely accuses you of  "just putting it into romaji," what would you do then?


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    I would definitely do a google search to see what it is usually called in English if there are previous translations, and if I consistently find some, I'd stick with those.
    If I can't find any, I'd assume there's no established English name for it and I'd go with the safer "Akanhokan Waterfront Plaza." (Assuming "Akanhokan" is the place name, I wouldn't translate the meaning, same as I do not translate the meaning of "Shibuya" or "Shinjuku", etc)
    And if the customer has any complaints, I would politely apologize and ask what his preference was if he already had one in mind.

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    If you find a good amount of precedent for the latter, I think you would be fine going with that.

    If we are getting into the philosophy of translation, I am generally speaking more in favor of translating as much as possible out of a name. For example, Mt. Fuji instead of Mt. Fujisan, Shintomi Bridge instead of Shintomibashi Bridge, and Kano River instead of Kanogawa River. This is all provided that the names refer to physical things (rivers, valleys, mountains, etc.) and are not just place names like the Shibuya example above (or will someone come out now and tell me there is an actual valley in Shibuya?)

    But I agree with Lara that "just putting it into romaji" is actually a pretty safe choice. I actually get more worried about receiving complaints when I don't do that. I think that in Japanese the nouns on the ends of place names (that is to say, the 町s and 山s and 川s) are conceptually a single unit with the names proper, and even though we treat them as completely separate words in English, native Japanese-speaking customers may feel some 違和感 if they see that final noun removed and replaced with English (rather than just pairing the romanized Japanese with the English word.)

    But it is tricky. 大山 should probably be translated as Mt. Daisen (party due to the uncommon reading), and even to a native English speaker such as myself Kyo Bridge doesn't sound as good as Kyobashi Bridge (maybe because it also often appears as a place name unconnected to a physical bridge?) There is no single set of rules that we can apply for all place names, I think.

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    When translating the names of places one of the best things to do, especially if you are uncertain, is to check Google Maps. Not only will there be official translations of the place names that the customer is more likely to be familiar with, but you may also be able to get more contextual information from actual signs and landmarks from the map itself and via streetview if it's available.

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    I think it depends a lot on text and target audience. If I am translating a guide book I try to strike a balance between making the name easy to understand for the reader - Rialto Bridge not Ponte di Rialto, Grand Canal not Canal Grande - and making it recognisable for any locals who might be asked for directions, especially if  lesser known place names are involved (most locals will understand "St Mark's Square" but fewer might realise that St John and Paul's Square meant Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo). If translating academic texts I tend to prefer to leave the original toponyms unchanged if possible. 

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