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All about corporate stock terminology


I've been editing a lot of other translators' corporate and legal work recently and one area that gets the best of otherwise skilled translators is terminology around corporate equities.

To start with, the names of different kinds of shares cause trouble. "Bearer shares" refer to a share that is owned by whoever holds the stock certificate, and this term generally gets translated properly. They contrast with "registered shares", where the owners are registered with the issuing company. The problem, however, lies in how this latter concept is referred to in some languages.

French exemplifies the issue. A literal translation from English would give actions registrées but this is not the correct term in French. In its place we find actions nominatives, literally "nominative shares", the idea being that the owner's name is registered (because "nominative" comes from Latin nominativus "related to naming").

The same issue is common across the Romance languages, so we find Spanish acciones nominativas and Portuguese ações nominativas. Arabic patterns with the Romance languages as it often does (as previously discussed on this blog) and uses الأسهم الاسمية (lit. "nominative shares", i.e. registered shares).

The English translator, then, when faced with Romance or Arabic constructions like actions nominatives or الأسهم الاسمية, needs to be strong and avoid the false friend and instead bring the concept back in idiomatic English. If you search the Internet for "nominative shares", you may even get led astray by results and even well-produced graphics trying to give this term a go in English. Where the pages are from shows that this is translationese, however; all of the results on the first page are from non-English-speaking countries: Panama, Lebanon, Belarus, and online translation sites. On the other hand, you will find a full 15 times more pages using the idiomatic English "registered shares".

So we know that some corporate stock can be registered under the owner's name somewhere, but what is the name of that document? The most common term in English is "share register", but you also find "shareholder register", "share ledger", and more. *** The one term to avoid in this context is "share registry" which denotes something completely different. The share registry is the company that removes the name of the old owner of a share and adds the new owner's name to the share register/ledger.

Term Hits
share register 369,000
share registry ***
share ledger 31,900
shareholder register 67,300
shareholder registry 81,300
shareholder ledger 1,460

As with any field of translation, the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to produce successful legal and business translations are only acquired through years of practice and study, and this post covered just a few of the terms that a translator should be expected to navigate.

Timothy FrieseComment