How to Translate Culture in Birth Certificates

Short documents don’t mean simple translations, and birth certificates are no exception. Written in formal language, these most-basic legal declarations require knowledge of culture for effective translation. This knowledge about the culture and the tradition of a place can later be implemented during a Birth Certificate Translation or translation of any such formal or informal documents.

Here are some examples of cultural differences you might encounter when you translate a birth certificate, as well as ways to approach translating them.

Name order

The most basic item on a birth certificate also has a lot of variations. The order, number and significance of names vary from culture to culture, and this can make names tricky on birth certificates.

For instance, in Myanmar, there has traditionally been no patronymic or matronymic naming system. Children received one name, and there was no “family name” as found in the United States. More recently, this has started to change, but older birth certificates may lack a last name as a result.

How to translate: While strictly speaking, in the United States a person can legally have as many or as few names as they want, when dealing with official paperwork, it helps to have at least two: first and last. That doesn’t mean you should add or remove names in the translation: you should stay true to the source document. However, your client may need to consider how they want to present their name within the legal system.

Absence of a name

Not every culture gives a child a name immediately after birth. Some wait periods of days, months, or even years before giving the child their name, and as a result, the birth certificate may not include a name, instead listing “baby boy” or “baby girl.”

How to translate: If you encounter a birth certificate without any name, your client must provide extra documentation to demonstrate that they are the owner of the certificate.

Date of the certificate

In cultures where you can wait to name a child, the birth certificate may include two dates: the actual date of birth, and the date the certificate is drawn up. This also occurs in countries where parents may have to travel a distance to get to the nearest registrar.

How to translate: Make sure you make a distinction between multiple dates on the certificate, so it’s clear which is the actual date of birth.

Who declares the baby

In cultures with a strong patriarchal tradition, only male family members can declare the birth of a child and this shows up in the language of the birth certificate. For instance, in Nepal, only a senior male household member can register a birth, and in Peru the father must be present for the birth to be declared.

How to translate: As long as someone has witnessed the birth, different ways of reporting a baby don’t usually influence legal validity or translation requirements for a certificate.

If you encounter a cultural difference not on this list, make sure to consider it above all in a legal context. What does the client need the translation for — immigration, identification, or another purpose? Does the original meet the requirements of the target culture for that context? Will your translation communicate that?

Answering these questions should help you provide an adequate translation for the client and provide any necessary extra documentation.

Have you encountered any interesting cultural differences in certificates you’ve translated? Tell us about it in the comments.



Nisar, the dynamic force behind Translation Excellence, stands tall as its founder and CEO. This isn’t just any company—it’s a global heavyweight in boutique language services. Hailing from the vibrant city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nisar brought his passion and expertise to the U.S. shores in 2001. In the realm of languages, he’s a titan. With 19 years under his belt, he’s worn hats from a linguist and instructor to a cultural bridge-builder and curriculum craftsman.

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