Rex Kramer wrote:I don't see how you explained why it was irrelevant, other than making the broad assertion, "Personal names behave completely differently from names of countries," which is basically saying "It's irrelevant because it's irrelevant." That's not a why; it's a that. Plus, it is unnuanced and thus leaves no room for discussion. Someone could argue, say, "We grant personal names a certain level of respect because it reflects a humane recognition of the identity of the individual named; if a group of individuals unite to choose a name for their own country, then to the extent that that choice reflects the identities of those individuals, we should grant the same kind of respect to the chosen name," but the assertion that personal names behave completely differently from names of countries assassinates that argument a priori. It may well be that that argument is weak and can be overcome by a persuasive counterargument, but that counterargument will never rise to the surface and do its persuading if it is smothered by a blanket "Personal names are just different".
I am afraid you are asking for more than is possible. I can't explain why
language behaves the way it does, and even top experts in linguistic usually say they only describe, but not explain, things like preservation or translation of names. A good description identifies common themes, which may appear to be principles or rules, but they generally have a lot of exceptions. There just aren't any firm rules, especially not in English, which is a language without a recognized authority. (Maybe there are more firm rules in French. There are some in Croatian, but they are broken nevertheless, often due to practical limitations, such as most people having no idea how some name is pronounced in its language of origin.)
More food for thought (not just for Gnash, whom I have harassed more than enough):
- Why did we call it the "USSR" but one of its arms "KGB"?
For the same reason the entire world translates "USA" into their native languages, but most (perhaps all) call the CIA "CIA". (Also, they typically pronounce "CIA" their own way, just like we pronounce "KGB" the English way.) Names of organizations, like names of companies (see below) are typically treated like names of people. (That doesn't have anything to do with Mr. Willard Romney, BTW.) The United Nations and some of its branches are a notable exception - they are usually translated. So is the WTO and (obviously) the Red Cross, but not, say, Amnesty International, so let's not jump to conclusions that there is a special rule for international organizations.
- If there is a Stephan Cherniquoff sipping Bordeaux under the Eiffel Towel and thinking, "Steve Jobs cannot tell moi what to think -- I say it's 'Pomme'!", is he right?
Company names are almost never translated. One "reason" is the linguistic tradition/phenomenology discussed above - names of organizations are usually treated like names of people - but in this case there may also be legal and business reasons - protection of trademarks, effort to promote name recognition, etc. I can't think of any company or brand names that are translated, although there are some that vary across markets. (Specific product names often vary across markets.)
- Does it matter that "Japan" is not actually a translation of "Nippon"? If we call "Cote d'Ivoire" "Ivory Coast", shouldn't we call "China" "Middle Kingdom"?
It doesn't matter at all, and your statement is only correct in a limited sense. Most country names are not "translated" at the semantic level of the etymology or underlying meaning of the words in the name, which is what you are discussing. But "Japan" is
indeed the translation of "Nippon" at the semantic level of name as the label of an object.
- If Venezuela decides that from now on, the term for "United States of America" is "Satanic Hegemaniac", and insists on using that term on all official correspondence, treaties, etc. with the U.S., is there a principled argument that they must stop? (I mean something other than "We'll make them stop" or "It will do them more harm than good", which are causal arguments.)
"Venezuela decides" implies a purely political, rather than linguistic, development, so the appropriate response is a purely political question.
For a linguistic analogy, consider that the word for "Germany" in most (all?) Slavic languages literally means "Land of Mutes". I don't see a diplomatic issue arising from it; for example, the German Embassy in Zagreb
has no problem displaying the name in the host country's language. (OK, they did try to destroy a few Slavic countries in the 20th century, but I don't think that was related to the name...)