Translating notary terms 3: How to translate the names of Spanish public-form notarial acts into English

This post looks at how to translate the names of the two* main types of public-form Spanish notarial acts, escrituras públicas and actas notariales. It also identifies handy language to use in translations of them.

Escritura pública

An escritura pública records an act executed before a notary. How you translate the name of an escritura pública depends on whether you can find an equivalent English document.

When you can find an equivalent

Escrituras públicas often have English equivalents (e.g., power of attorney, will and mortgage agreement). A difference you will find between any equivalents is that in Spain these documents must be executed before a notary (in public form). In common-law jurisdictions, England and Wales at least, a notary isn’t required. As mentioned in this post, you seem to need a notary for anything important in Spain.

When you can find an English equivalent, use it as the translation. You probably won’t have to signpost that the Spanish instrument must be executed before a notary because this is normally obvious or unimportant. When it isn’t, you can add something like “notarised” or “executed before a notary (public)” to the name of the document or the first reference to it.

When you can’t find an equivalent

When you can’t find an English equivalent, transparent translation (i.e., when you can see the source term through the target term) works well. But make sure the translation is understandable in the context.

For instance, you can use “notarial instrument of incorporation” to translate escritura de constitución, which is the document you need to sign before a notary to set up a company in Spain. Another transparent translation for this term is “deed of incorporation” (more about using “deed” in translation in a coming post).

Some translators use the English term “memorandum of association” to translate this term. However, I think the memorandum of association is too different a document from the escritura de constitución to be used as a translation. It might be helpful in some contexts, but I wouldn’t make it my go-to translation.

In general

In Spanish documents, the term escritura pública can get thrown around a lot without referring to a particular document. In these cases, you can use “notarial instrument” as the translation.

Useful language

Given the nature of escrituras públicas, verbs like “executes”, “makes” and “grants” are useful when translating these documents, depending on the type of instrument.

Acta notarial

An acta notarial records or certifies facts a notary witnesses or can vouch for. Unlike with escrituras públicas, you are unlikely to find English equivalents for actas notariales as they are mostly arbitrary certificates tied to Spanish regulations.

Descriptive translation is usually the best approach. For example:

  • acta notarial de deslinde con citación de colindantes > “notarial certification of property boundaries made in the presence of abutting property owners” (Jowers)

So phrases like “notarial certification”, “recorded as a notarial certificate before a notary public” and “certified by a notary (public)” are useful when translating these documents.

In general

“Notarial certificate” is a good translation for acta notarial when used as a general term (i.e., when not referring to a particular acta).

Useful language

As actas notariales record or certify facts, terms like “certifies” and “records” come in handy when referring to and translating these documents.  


See this page.

* There are actually three types of public-form notarial acts in Spain (see this post).

Written by Rob

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

2 comments to “Translating notary terms 3: How to translate the names of Spanish public-form notarial acts into English”
  1. Hi, Rob.
    Interesting post indeed. I use “Memorandum of Association” whenever my Target client is from the UK. I understand that this kind of document has a different content from the Escritura de constitución. I have seen some Memoranda of Association at the Companies House website to analyse its structure and I agree the content is entirely different. However, they serve a similar purpose in the sense that they are both a Statement or Certified Document which proves that the entity has been legally incorporated in that specific jurisdiction. I agree that it should not be used for other English target audiences, as it may be misleading. However, as I am from the domestic translation approach, I prefer to use a term that is familiar to the Target customer, using “*similar to a Memorandum of Association”, either as a footnote or a separate note. I understand that other translators have a different view on this issue, but I think it is preferable they have some kind of reference to understand the whole idea. However, if you are about to translate a “Escritura de constitución”, and you prefer to remain neutral, “Notarial instrument of incorporation” seems a good, clear choice.

    • Hi Pablo,

      Yes, from a purpose point of view, MoA can be seen as a functional equivalent. And adding a note like “similar to a memorandum of association” will be helpful where appropriate.

      In technical legal translations (i.e., legal documents), even when translating for the UK, I still prefer a more transparent translation. If the term alone doesn’t tell the reader what the purpose is (i.e., registering a company) — and it should — the context will. A transparent translation also ensures the reader knows they will have to do something different to execute an escritura de constitución. Although this is probably redundant and me overthinking it because most people will assume that something you call a memorandum of association in Spain will probably be different to in the UK or elsewhere.

      But yes, it comes down to approach, and there is more than one way of doing it.

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