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The Universal Translator in Star Trek translates languages to allow species to communicate with each other.

In the DS9 episode Little Green Men we see Quark, Rom, and Nog crash in the year 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico.

Due this episode the humans of 1947 hear the Ferengi speak in the own language as the Ferengi's universal translators are broken. We must then be able to assume that with every instance of the Ferengi we have seen on screen they are speaking in their native language which is being translated for us.

Does the Universal Translator, translate alien names, or are the names we know aliens by a human word that is an approximation of the aliens name?

Does Rom call Quark, Quark or does he call him something else, that the humans hear as Quark?

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    Not that it addresses your question, but I've always felt that the Universal Translator did whatever the plot needed at the moment, and its concept fell apart when subjected to any scrutiny at all.
    – user888379
    Mar 3, 2023 at 16:19
  • @user888379, that's true of pretty much every Star Trek gadget.
    – Pete
    Mar 3, 2023 at 17:51
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    @Pete Fair point. I know "Darmok" is generally highly regarded, but I always felt that it really (though unintentionally) demonstrated the arbitrariness/incoherence of the UT concept.
    – user888379
    Mar 3, 2023 at 20:14
  • Whenever we see aliens speak untranslated, we can clearly hear the names spoken in that language (albeit sometimes pronounced slightly differently ) - e.g. when they speak Vulcan or Klingon on screen. I would assume the ferengi language is no different
    – Philipp
    Mar 3, 2023 at 21:09
  • I'm sure the Ugly Giant Bags of Mostly Water want to think so.
    – Spencer
    Apr 2, 2023 at 19:20

1 Answer 1

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As a rule, in the real world, we use standardised names for people or places, rather than translating them into whatever our own language happens to be. Oftentimes, we probably don't know what a foreign-language name means in our own language, but even in cases where we do, we still use standardised names for people or places because it makes things more straightforward and helps keep miscommunications to a minimum.

Star Trek isn't the real world, but there's evidence to suggest that the same thing applies. For example, in a TNG episode, Picard stated in a captain's log entry that he'd learned the name Lal means "beloved" in Hindi. The fact that he apparently learned what the name meant after speaking it a number of times earlier in the episode suggests that it wasn't automatically translated by the Universal Translator (UT), otherwise "Beloved" is presumably what he'd have heard to begin with.

PICARD: Captain's log, supplemental. We are holding position pending the arrival of Admiral Haftel from Starfleet Research. Commander Data is completing his final neural transfers to the android he has named Lal, which I have learned, in the language Hindi means beloved.

In a DS9 episode, Odo and Laas explained to one another what their names means in the native languages of those names, which doesn't make sense as a conversation if you assume names are automatically translated by the UT.

ODO: You haven't told me your name.

LAAS: The Varalans called me Laas. In their language it means changeable. Not very imaginative, is it?

ODO: At least it's appropriate. My name means unknown sample. The scientist who found me didn't know what I was.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - S07E14 - "Chimera"

And in a Voyager episode, Ensign Samantha Wildman, Kes and the Doctor discussed various names and their meanings in other languages, which, again, doesn't make sense as a conversation if you assume names are automatically translated by the UT.

(Ensign Wildman is having a pre-natal check-up.)

WILDMAN: I've been considering naming him after my husband. It's been a tradition in his family for over five generations.

KES: I'm sure he'd be very pleased.

WILDMAN: My husband's name is Greskrendtregk. He's Ktarian.

EMH: Choosing a name is no easy matter. I speak from experience.

WILDMAN: Have you had any progress, Doctor?

EMH: I've reviewed historical, literary and anthropological databases from over five hundred worlds and have yet to find a suitable name. However, I may want to give some thought to Greskrendtregk.

WILDMAN: To be honest, I've been thinking of something simpler. What do you think of Cameron?

KES: I like it.

EMH: Cameron, from the ancient Celtic term for one whose nose is bent.

WILDMAN: What about Frederick?

EMH: **Frederick. Very distinguished. However, it bears a close resemblance to a rather impolite term on the Bolian homeworld.

WILDMAN: It doesn't have to be a human name. I like Sural. It's Vulcan.

EMH: Yes, unfortunately it was also the name of a dictator on Sakura Prime, famed for beheading his rivals, and his parents.

KES: You won't have any objection to Benaren.

EMH: You're right. I've never heard that name before.

WILDMAN: I think it's lovely. Is it Ocampan?

KES: Benaren was my father's name. He was the greatest inspiration of my life.

Star Trek: Voyager - S02E17 - "Dreadnought"

It's also worth noting that the UT apparently wasn't used on Archer's or Kirk's ships as standard, and that Starfleet officers apparently spoke in English by default, as established in this answer. As such, we can probably take it as read that when alien names such as "T'Pol" or "Spock" were spoken by human officers, they were likely being said as-is, rather than being translated.

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  • You may also like to include the failure of the UT to change Uhura's name to "Freedom". On the other hand, I always thought that Mr Atoz (A to Z) had a name that punned in the alien alphabet, and the UT translated it into an equivalent pun.
    – Pete
    Mar 3, 2023 at 17:56
  • @Pete - On the other hand, in the Pocket Books ST novel Uhura's Song, it appears that when the Enterprise landing party was talking to the Sivaoans, it did translate, as the Sivaoan with childhood-name "Jinx" (as rendered in the book) took the adult name "Another StarFreedom", after befriending Uhura, indicating that when Uhura gave her name early on, it was rendered in Sivaoan (and back-translated to English) as "StarFreedom" (which is, IIRC, the correct translation of kiSwahili 'nyota uhura' into English), and thus also implying that names are translated. Mar 3, 2023 at 18:12
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    @Pete - ... thus giving credence to the idea that the UT - and lots of other things in ST - are not "technology" but "plot devices", and as such, work however the storyteller needs them to work. Mar 3, 2023 at 18:13
  • @Jeff Zeitlin - ST novels tend to fall into the apocryphal category in terms of canonicity, though. Also, without seeing the full text, it isn't clear whether the UT itself translated Uhura's name, or whether she herself may have explained the meaning at some point, just as the meanings of other names were explained in the quotes I provided. Mar 3, 2023 at 19:11
  • @LogicDictates - I don't have the book handy right now, but I think I recall a scene early in the meeting between the Enterprise LP and the Sivaoans where Jinx, after the introductions, asks a question that also implies that the names were translated. I won't confirm that until I can dig the book out of storage and reread it, however. Mar 3, 2023 at 19:16

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