Everyone gets a nombre but me?
March 26, 2018 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I’m trying to understand some Google Translate weirdness. For English->Spanish entering "my name is ____" translates to "mi nombre es ____" for every name I can think of. Except Tim. "my name is Tim" translates to "me llamo Tim". As much as I like to feel special this is weirding me out a bit. Can anyone suggest an explanation?
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Google suggests: Timoteo
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:29 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Google Translate doesn't learn rules, per se. It's some sort of recurrent neural net trained on parallel corpora (sentence in English paired with same sentence in Spanish, a millionfold). Also (I think) word embeddings trained on even larger corpora.

You might draw the conclusion that people named Tim have, over the course of a bunch of examples in the corpora, introduced themselves disproportionately with "me llamo Tim". This may or may not be true, but something about "Tim" biases the decoder towards "me llamo" over "mi nombre es". RNNs are weird ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by supercres at 8:30 AM on March 26 [12 favorites]


I was hoping this would be some seekrit Monty Python joke perpetrated by google so I went to play around with it.

Switch it to English to French.

Type "my name is Ann"
then add an e so it's "my name is Anne"

Mon nom est Ann, but je m'appelle Anne.

I'd say gif it and post it to r/softwaregore and pick up some low hanging karma.
posted by phunniemee at 8:31 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


"Sam" is a "me llamo". Life with AI is going to be so wacky.
posted by sammyo at 8:36 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


There are also user contributed translations, and as long as they're not later deprecated by other users, they tend to take precedence over existing machine-generated translations, so it may be that someone named Tim really prefers you llamo him rather than nombre him.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:37 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


In Spanish, you would introduce yourself by saying "Me llamo Tim", i.e., I'm called Tim. "Mi nombre es Tim" would really only be used in colloquial conversation to distinguish your name from what you call yourself, for example, to distinguish your legal name from what you call yourself. So "Me llamo Tim, pero mi nombre es Timothy." My guess if you play around with it is that maybe Google is giving "Mi nombre es..." for more formal names and "Me llamo..." for nicknames.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:38 AM on March 26 [24 favorites]


They're different things, both are correct depending on context.

Mi nombre es is roughly equivalent to "my first name is" (formal/not-so-conversational).
Me llamo is "my name is" (conversational).

Same for second and third persons.

On preview, also what hydropsyche said.
posted by fraula at 8:40 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I had the same thought as phunniemee , that it's in reference to the Monty Python joke about being called "Tim." But I think it might be the distinction between your name being "formal name" and being called "nickname."
posted by lindseyg at 8:48 AM on March 26


There could also be differences between dialects of Spanish in their preference for "me llamo" and "mi nombre es" (similar to British/US pref for "called"/"named") and Tim just happens to have more training pairs with dialects that lean toward the former. Spanish is no more a monolith than English.
posted by kindall at 8:54 AM on March 26


It's only Tim. I've tried a ton of English and Spanish nicknames and they're all "mi nombre", only Tim goes to "me llamo". I'm leaning toward the Python joke reference as well.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:58 AM on March 26


No, "My name is Alex" also goes to "Me llamo Alex".

It's either that human users have bothered to change it, or just AI weirdness. Maybe both translations are similarly plausible to the system and so it ends up vacillating between them depending more-or-less randomly on the name.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:27 AM on March 26


Machine translation from English to Spanish seems to have LOTS of trouble with the way Spanish uses reflexive constructions. You don't usually say "My name is Tim," you usually say "I call myself Tim." You wouldn't say "I broke my leg" unless it was an intentional act on your part; you'd say "The leg broke itself at me."

The translations back go pretty smoothly. AIs are weird.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:40 AM on March 26 [10 favorites]



In Spanish, you would introduce yourself by saying "Me llamo Tim", i.e., I'm called Tim. "Mi nombre es Tim" would really only be used in colloquial conversation to distinguish your name from what you call yourself, for example, to distinguish your legal name from what you call yourself. So "Me llamo Tim, pero mi nombre es Timothy." My guess if you play around with it is that maybe Google is giving "Mi nombre es..." for more formal names and "Me llamo..." for nicknames.


This is what I thought initially as well, but it doesn't seem to actually hold true from the few names I plugged in. "Mike" and "Jim" and "Becky" are 'nombre'; "Sam" and "Sarah" and "Lisa" are all 'llamo's. I tried a ton of common Spanish-language names as well and every single one was "nombre," so that's interesting.
posted by geegollygosh at 10:19 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Alex is also "Me llamo" which may is also checked/verified by the Translate Community, same as Sam.
posted by jessamyn at 10:25 AM on March 26


I tried a ton of common Spanish-language names as well and every single one was "nombre," so that's interesting.

Pedro gets "me llamo."

Juan, Jorge, Diego, and Miguel (and a lot more) do not.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:37 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


My guess if you play around with it is that maybe Google is giving "Mi nombre es..." for more formal names and "Me llamo..." for nicknames.

I've played around with English-language names that are nick-namable, and there doesn't seem to be a hard-and-fast rule with nick-namable names.

"My name is Alex" >>> "Me llamo Alex", and "My name is Alexander" >>> "Mi nombre es Alexander".
"My name is Ricky" >>> "Mi nombre es Ricky", and "My name is Richard" >>> "Mi nombre es Richard"
"My name is Sue" >>> "Mi nombre es Sue", and "My name is Susan" >>> "Mi nombre es Susan"
"My name is Vicky" >>> "Mi nombre is Vicky", and "My name is Victoria" >>>"Mi nombre es Victoria"
posted by 23skidoo at 11:49 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Oh, this is super interesting! There could be an overlap of a few different things going on here. I don't know enough about Spanish to say for sure, but as a linguist, here are some possibilities to consider (in addition to nickname vs not, dialects and other things mentioned upthread):

- 'Taboo avoidance' — sometimes people avoid using words or certain sounds together because they have negative connotations. For example, people might avoid saying "Hi, Gene!" as that also sounds like "Hygeine!"
- Some groups of names might be perceived in Spanish as being older, more foreign or otherwise more formal, and therefore get the 'I call myself' treatment more often than not.
- Known/popular names get "my name is", everything else gets the formal form

My vote is for the popularity of the name. I went to Google Translate and entered 'My name is [Aim, Bim, Cim, Dim … Kim … Tim …Zim]' and 'My name is [Aam, Bam, Cam …Pam … Sam … Zam].' The ONLY 'llamo' forms were for Tim and Sam, which I suspect are much more common/known than Kim or Sam, and certainly moreso than the rest of the nonsense.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:08 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


My name is Rob. ==> Mi nombre es Rob.
My name is Robert. ==> Me llamo Roberto.
My name is Roberto. ==> Mi nombre es Roberto.
posted by robcorr at 5:02 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I don't know how much this would influence results, but Mango Languages Latin American Spanish uses "me llamo Tim" as their example name in learning to say my name is/I call myself.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:06 AM on March 28


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