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I would like to translate that name as "Зерафина" but a Russian speaking friend tells me that you can only translate "Seraphina" as Серафина.

So are both transliterations for Seraphina correct, or only one and if so, why?

  • Зерафина
  • Серафина

My main language is German, and as the city of Salzburg is translated as Зальцбург and there is no distinction between c and з in German, I don't know which one to use, although I prefer the first one.

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    translated from what language exactly? why it surprises you that it's /s/? After all, if you are not referring to German then I'm not sure what exactly surprises you ))) – shabunc Mar 28 at 21:45
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    also - translation and transliteration are different things, so don't use them interchangeably ) – shabunc Mar 28 at 22:02
  • @shabunc updated the Q. – Féileacán Mar 30 at 23:50
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Strictly speaking, it's "Серафима", with "м". Obviously the concept of translation is pretty vague when it comes to names, after all, Peter is not Пётр. However everyone who is named Seraphina in Italian, Spanish or Latin usually (but not always! - see below) is called "Серафима" in Russian.

Why in some languages this name is with "n" and in some with "m" is outside of the scope of Russian SE, but here you can find more on the origin of the male version of the name and it will give you a hint how both versions originated.

As of why specifically in Russian it's "Серафима", not "Зерафина" or "Зерафима" - well, because it was borrowed through Greek where it was in this particular form.

But again, translating names and transliterating them are different things. I can imagine that in modern media one can try to transliterate the name rather than use Russian counterpart, even though very similar. In that case it would be Серафина, your friend is right.

For instance, Séraphine Louis, a French painter, is always referred as Серафина Луи in Russian sources, while, for instance, catholic saint Seraphina di Dio is Серафима in Russian.

UPD: Now that it's clear that the author is a native German speaker I want to add a couple of things about transliteration of initial German S followed by a vowel in general. @svavil added a very useful link about German transcription in general, it is still not fully complete.

It is claimed in that article that s followed by a vowel is passes as "з". For personal names it's actually more complicated than that. Rule of thumb would be that if name considered sort of pure German and has no obvious counterparts in non-Germanic languages, it would be with "з", so we got Зигфрид. If, on the other hand, this name is not associated purely with, so to speak, Germanic world, we still get "c". That's why, for instance, Simon which sounds way more closer to a Russian speaker to "Зимон" in its German shape, is still most likely would be passed as "Cимон" in Russian. The same, for instance, with Sebastian (Себастьян).

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    And if referring to a German woman called Serafina, presumably the z-initial version would not be all that unlikely either. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 29 at 12:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet yep, I've mentioned it in the comment as well ;) – shabunc Mar 29 at 12:53
  • If Féileacán specifically happens to be transliterating a name of a contemporary German person, I would refer them to the ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Немецко-русская_практическая_транскрипция table – svavil Mar 29 at 17:53
  • @svavil the link is very helpful, thank you for it, however I've updated the answer with additional section to explain why in some cases that rules stated in the article are incomplete. – shabunc Mar 29 at 18:16
  • @shabunc I agree with your assessment. Can you also move the link into your answer? – svavil Mar 29 at 18:49
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The main difference here is between translations and transliterations. A "translation" of a name is a fuzzy area to begin with and largely depends on context, date of translation, date of name acquisition into the language, and even personal preferences. I used to go by "Cyril" even though my Russian name is "Кирилл," because historically, these two are the forms of the same name (святой Кирилл is Saint Cyril etc).

However, transliterated, my name is Kirill. This is how it shows up in my international passport and in all official English- and Spanish-language documentation, and in fact, if I were to continue using "Cyril" for anything other than informal purposes, it would create unnecessary problems. A Russian person who may have taken their German spouse's last name, e.g., Stein, would de jure have to have either "Штайн" in their internal passport and "Shtain" in their international one, or "Стеин" internally and "Stein" internationally, unless they were to go through rounds of bureaucracy to prove reasonable intent.

Given all of that, a translation of Seraphina would most likely be "Серафима" as this is the historically loaned version. A transliteration from, specifically, German, would be "Зерафина," because indeed, Russians perceive this "S" as a "З."

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The previous one is a comprehensive answer. Just want to say, transliteration in Russian is mostly a question of tradition - not of some strict rules. There are a lot of different rules for transliterations from different languages, they co-exist between themselves.

To your question - traditional transliteration for Russian is Серафина. This name was transliterated from French. From French we mostly transliterate by spelling and not by pronunciation. If you'd like to transliterate by German spelling - Зерафина, it won't be a mistake, just an unusual transliteration for Russian ear. Anyway, you have a right for it.

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