How do you translate “registro” (as in Registro Civil)?

What is a registro?

A registro, as in the Registro Civil, is an official place or list for recording information or events. The one registro can even be both a list and a place.

For instance, the Registro Mercantil and the Registro de la Propiedad can each be three things:

  • a list (i.e. a set of books)
  • a place (i.e. a government office)
  • a legal institution

(Source: this page)

English translations for registro?

Setting “legal institution” aside for a moment, do we have an equivalent term to registro in English that means both a list and a place?

Unfortunately not.

As a list, the most common English translation for registro is “register”.

For registro as a place, you have a few options:

  • “registry” as used conversationally in English and officially in Australia (Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages)
  • “register office” as used officially in the UK (local register offices, e.g. Westminster Register Office, and the General Register Office)
  • “records/registration office” (e.g. vital records offices in the US)

What about registro as a legal institution?

I’ve never come across this more abstract meaning of the term in a translation. But I imagine you could get away with using whatever you use to translate registro as a list or perhaps something like “property registration (system)”, depending on the registro in question.

Place or list?

So when translating registro, you need to know whether you are dealing with a place or a list. How do you work that out?

First, find out if it could be both.

As a rule, if it’s a place (e.g. Registro Civil), it will also be a list. If a registro is looked after by a government department and doesn’t have an office with the same name, it’s probably only a list (e.g. Registro de Condiciones Generales or Registro de Asociaciones).

Second, for a registro that can be both, look at the context. It should be obvious whether a list or a place is being referred to.

What if you can’t tell by the context (or for the lack of it)?

When you’re unsure, treat registro as a list. This is usually the most useful translation as the list is what matters. For instance, the vital information in legal documents is usually that something has to be registered on an official list; not that you have to go to a particular place to do it.

Also, most obscure registros (i.e. excluding the main ones) are only lists.

So when in doubt, use “register”.

In a coming post: description of the main registros in Spain along with likely equivalents in English-speaking countries and possible translations

Written by Rob

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

4 comments to “How do you translate “registro” (as in Registro Civil)?”
    • Thanks, Jim. I am going to go through the main registros in another post. But yes, the UK Land Registry is a good example of a straightforward equivalent, using “registry” for the organisation and “register” for the list (“Land Register”).

      It’s similar in Australia, with “registry” used generically (albeit with each state having its own name) and “register” for the list:

      I think “Companies Registry/Register” would almost always be better as a translation than “Companies House”, which might be confusing when referring to Spain.

      For me the trick with these types of terms is to use something recognisable to English speakers that is also neutral (or transparent) in that doesn’t stray too far from the original term if possible (as well as being correct, of course). Like your first example.

    • Yes, Jean. Those are both useful options. Although as a translation for registros that are only lists, “records” might fall short sometimes (e.g. Registro de Asociaciones: “Associations Register” works better as a title than options using “records”). But thanks, I might add it to the post as a useful option not to forget at least when talking about registros.

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