In some cultures, people might call themselves by their name.

For example, if a woman's name is May, she might say in her native language

May has a very important thing to say.

When translated to English, should it be changed to

I have a very important thing to say.

in order to coincide with the common practices of spoken English? Or should it be left in the third person, to more accurately reflect the original utterance?

  • 1
    This question is too basic for the site; also, requests for help with translation are off topic. Please see the faq for help improving your question.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 9, 2012 at 4:54
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    but there is a translation tag. Sep 9, 2012 at 5:01
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    Hello Sarawut! Currently there is a widespread concern over purging the translation tag. See waiwai933's proposal meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/2664/… Sep 9, 2012 at 9:07
  • I'd use '[Hello; for those of you who don't know me, I'm May Hargreaves. I have] a very important thing to say.' Pragmatics is important, and the original doesn't sound quirky / tongue-in-cheek. Dec 11, 2019 at 14:51

3 Answers 3


This is known as:

illeism: The practice of referring to oneself in the third person.

And while this is not a common practice among native speakers, it is certainly not unheard of. Bob Dole, the republican candidate for president of the United States in 1996 was famous for it.

If something happened along the route and you had to leave your children with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, I think you would probably leave them with Bob Dole. -Bob Dole

Be aware though that when it is done it is usually done for comic effect because people will take notice and think it strange.

  • If the author's intent is illeism, translation would need to respect that. Even otherwise so. See my answer.
    – Kris
    Sep 9, 2012 at 6:52
  • Consider this text: "May has something important to say. May has lost May's shoes, and May's feet hurt. May doesn't like that." This would not be reasonable English. That is, the illeism does look comical and is perceived as strange -- do it only if that's something you want to convey.
    – Maverick
    Dec 11, 2019 at 20:45

If the author's intent is illeism, translation would need to respect that. If there is no other way of expressing oneself in the native language, then it becomes a matter of style: it would be reasonable to express natural native language in natural English.

Illeism is a rhetorical device in English. Jim's Bob Dole quote illustrates this: Dole was using the third person to refer to himself as though he were someone else comparing the two. Where that's not the intent in the native language, why make it so in English? You will drawing attention to it.

On the other hand, it's also reasonable to preserve the structure of the native language in the English translation, particularly if you are indicating the use of a foreign language or the product of the speaker's self-translation. Hercule Poirot's dialogue is a little odd to native English speakers, for example. Use your judgement you should.1

1: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002173.html

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    Absolutely. It simply becomes a question of the purpose of your translation: is it to convey what the speaker conveyed, or is it to stay faithful to the grammatical constructions and idioms of the speaker's native language? There are instances when the latter is useful, but almost always it's not the point. Almost always, you should do your best to understand the meaning and connotations of the original speech, and try to convey the same in the target language. (Whether or not you do things like footnote, or change difficult cultural references, etc. is up to your judgement!)
    – Billy
    Sep 18, 2012 at 11:19

Though apparently out of ELU's scope, let me say:

When translated to English, should it be changed? No.

Translation needs to preserve the intent and tone of the original. There never is a reason enough to consider rewriting the example sentence with an 'I' replacing the name.

For a better insight, you may try writersSE or other sites where translation is the main focus.


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