Notaries in Germany (France, Italy, Spain and so on) are trained lawyers who draw up documents and execute them. You might go to a notary in connection with buying a house or making a will. Notaries in the USA administer oaths and certify documents. To quote Gifis’ Law Dictionary, secretaries in law offices, bank officers, insurance and real estate agents, small town grocery clerks, drug store clerks, etc. are often licensed notaries.
Translators should be careful not to downgrade the German notary or upgrade the U.S. notary in their texts. It might suffice to write German notary or U.S.-amerikanischer Notar.
Notare in Deutschland, Frankreich, Italien, Spanien usw. sind Juristen, in den USA sind sie oft Anwaltssekretärinnen. Übersetzer sollten der Unterschiede bewußt sein.
The question was asked at the ATA conference: if, translating out of English into another language, I encounter a notary in Britain or Ireland, can I be certain it is like the U.S. notary rather than the civil law notary? The answer is not simple, but in brief, no. There are notaries in England and Wales who are Latin notaries and whose documents will be recognized by foreign courts as evidence. There are also commissioners for oaths, the equivalent of the U.S. notary, but these are also solicitors. A solicitor is automatically a commissioner for oaths. So although the function of witnessing the signature is not very elevated, it is done by lawyers. (I think but am not certain that these commissioners for oaths are called notaries in some parts of the country). More of this in a later entry