In 1854, the title Die Wahlverwandtschaften was first translated into English by James Froude as Elective Affinities, which renders the meaning possibly more cryptic and interpretive than the original German.
The following are the Google-translation options for the German term "Wahl":
The following are the Google-translation options for the German term "verwandt":
The following are the Google-translation options for the German term "schaften":
A 2017 Google translation, of note, also renders Wahlverwandtschaften as "electoral relations".
The following gives forward and backward gist synopsis of title etymology:
Title | Rendition Source Note The selection (choice or election) by nature of allied (connatural, related, or interrelated) unions (ties, companions, companies, or communities) Hmolpedia edit (23 Dec 2015) Edit probed into action via difficulties on theory discussion of Henry Bray's 1910 "manifestation of choice" discussion of love and affinities at the atomic and human level; where, correctly, a one nature "mechanism of choice" in both scenarios is the requisite description. The Selection [wahl] of Connatural [verwandt] Unions [schaften] Jeff Tuhtan (2012) Thread discussion  The Choice of One's Elections or Attractions to Things or People Hmolpedia edit (23 May 2012) Bacon-style; see below Selective Affinities Afinidades (2010) translations The Choice of One’s Chemical Affinities Stanley Corngold (2003) ; see page discussion below Kindred by Choice Herbert Waidson (1960) Elective Affinities James Froude (1854) First English translation Die Wahlverwandtschaften Johann Goethe (1809) Von der Attraction Heinrich Tabor (1789) Disquisitio de Attractionibus Electivis Torbern Bergman (1775) Inter Differentes Substantias: Non Fingendum Aut Exogit Andum, Sed Videndum Quid Natura Ferat; Aut Faciat
[Affinities between Different Substances: Not Invented, or Thought Involved, but to be Seen What the Nature of the Issue Is, or Does]
Étienne Geoffroy (1718) Geoffroy's affinity table (subtitle + description) “Have not the small particles of bodies certain powers, virtues, or force, by which they act at a distance, not only upon the rays of light for reflecting, refracting, and inflecting them, but also upon one another for producing a great part of the phenomena of nature? ... We must learn from the phenomena of nature what bodies attract one another, and what are the laws and properties of attraction, before we enquire the cause which the attraction is performed.
“Is it not for want of an attractive virtue between the parts of water (∇) and oil, of quick-silver (☿)(Hg) and antimony (♁)(Sb), of lead (♄)(Pb) and iron (♂)(Fe), that these substances do not mix; and by a weak attraction, that quick-silver (☿)(Hg) and copper (♀)(Cu) mix difficultly; and from a strong one, that quicksilver (☿)(Hg) and tin ( ♃)(Sn), antimony (♁)(Sb) and iron (♂)(Fe), water (∇) and salts, mix readily?
Isaac Newton (1718) "Query 31" How chemicals 'elect' or 'choose' each other? Isaac Newton (1678) Election to Embrace and or Exclude Francis Bacon (1620) Attracting (philia)/repelling (neikos) forces Empedocles (450BC)
The original title of the novel, published on October 3rd, 1809, was under the German title Die Wahlverwandtschaften, which has a rather complex meaning not easily rendered into the English language or for that matter completely embodying exactly many of the underlying fine print embedded under the original pure chemistry Latin title Disquisitio de Attractionibus Electivis (Bergman, 1775), but which, for reasons not clearly stated, as noted on the Elective Affinities (translations) page, were all rendered in the first German-to-English translations (1854, 1872), done anonymously, supposedly owing to the “dangerousness” of the novella, simply as Elective Affinities—a namesake which in and of itself carries little direct immediate recognition to the learned English-speaking person, even the chemistry-trained English speaking person, even to the English-speaking chemist trained or well-schooled in the history of affinity chemistry (see: affinity chemistry).
To give some quick introduction, Google translates “Die Wahlverwandtschaften” as The Affinities; “Wahlverwandtschaften” as Elective Affinities; and “verwandtschaften” as affinities—all of which is not very intuitive. In German wahlverwandtschaft, in more detail, is a complex term having the two part meaning:
wahl [choice] verwandtschaft [affinity or election]
In the plural sense, wahlverwandtschaften, with the suffix -en, means “elective attractions” or elective affinities, in the following sense:
verwandtschaften [affinities or elections]
which gives the over-typical English rendering of Die Wahlverwandtschaften as The Elective Affinities.
To exemplify, American literary critic Hillis Miller, devotes several pages to title dissection, commenting that:
“The customary translation of the title, Elective Affinities, is the correct equivalent English idiom, but does not exactly match the play of metaphor in the German word. The German word says chosen (Wahl)—related (verwandt)—conditions (schaften): conditions of being related that are chosen. The English word ship is not far from the German schaft, as in ‘relationship’. The center of the word Verwandten is the ordinary German word for relations in the sense of those closely tied by blood or marriage.”
In conclusion, however, focusing on the grafting imagery that occur in various chapters, he describes the novella as “anastomosical”, consisting of constantly intersecting, intertwining, fusing and branching lines that cannot be reconciled—and specifically recasts the title of Goethe’s book as “chosen anastomoses.” 
Alternatively, as estimated by American-born German educated civil-ecological engineer Jeff Tuhtan, who suggests the German-to-English translations of verwandt → connatural and Wahl → selection, the title break up might render as follows: 
wahl [selection] verwandt [connatural] schaften [unions]
Merriam-Webster defines connatural as:
1. "connected by nature"
2. "of the same nature"
which might render the English version of the title as:
Die Wahlverwandtschaften | The Selection of Connatural Unions
This latter usage might possibly have some connective connotation to what Goethe might have meant, in the sense that human nature and chemical nature are of "of the same nature", as embodied in Goethe's pre-publication advertisement statement "there is, after all, only one nature" or such as embodied in Goethe’s human chemistry protégé Arthur Schopenhauer’s 1816 retrospect synopsis:
“As the title indicates [Die Wahlverwandtschaften], though Goethe was unaware of this, [it] has as its foundation the idea that the will, which constitutes the basis of our inner being, is the same will that manifests itself in the lowest, inorganic phenomena.”
The weight of Schopenhauer's opinion on this matter should be taken very seriously, as he seems to have been the only direct elective affinities theories student of Goethe, who consulted with him on this subject personally during the years 1816 to 1819, the effect of which is evidenced in the numerous usages of Goethe's one nature elective affinities theory in his two-volume The World as Will and Representation (1818, 1844).
1960 Waidson title
1990 Waidson re-title
|Left: Welsh Germanic-languages scholar Herbert Waidson's 1960 original John Calder English translation of Die Wahlverwandtschaften as Kindred by Choice.  Right: the 2009 One World Classics reprint edition of the Waidson-translation.|
The term “verwandt” Google-translates as “related”, but also gives the following alternatives:
The fourth of these, “kindred”, seems to be the sense in which Welsh Germanic-languages scholar Herbert Waidson entitled the 1960 English translation as Kindred by Choice in place of the German Die Wahlverwandtschaften.  The term "kindred", however, at least in American, is a very old-fashioned hillbilly type of term, not part of the modern vernacular—which likely explains why the Waidson's translation choice did not catch on, and, as shown adjacent, the publisher reverted to the more commonly-known English title Elective Affinities.
American Germanic literature scholar William Lillyman seems to think that the term “verwandt” stems from Friedrich Schleiermacher’s 1807 translation of Plato’s Symposium: 
“I would suggest that it was Schleiermacher’s translation of Plato, and especially the choice of the German word ‘verwandt’ for what the halves are seeking (see: Aristophanes), that provided the connection between the contemporary chemical theory of elective affinities and Aristophanes’ analogy, that this was, indeed, the catalyst for Goethe’s novel.”
While there does seem to be possibly be aspects of Aristophanes' speech in Edward/Ottilie paring, the notion that the title of the novel derives from Schleiermacher’s translation seems a bit more tenuous of an assertion, being that the historians have already establish that the title stems from the 1785 German translation of Torbern Bergman's A Dissertation on Elective Attractions.
The translation of latter term "schaften" as unions, as used above, is based, estimated, or rather modeled on the Dictionary.com redirect of “Schaften” to “Burschenschaft”, a term referring to a student body organization formed in Jena, Germany, in 1815, inspired by liberal and patriotic ideas, whose purpose was to break down societal lines and to destroy rivalry in the student body; seeded from students who had taken part in the previous German wars of liberation against the Napoleonic occupation of Germany—hence, Webster dictionary translated Burschenschaft as the “the organization formed by the affiliation of local bodies” or “any of various associations of university students formed”.  The term Burschenschaft thus Google-translates as “Fraternity”, but the hyphened term “Burschen-schaften”, of significance, Google-translates as “Fellow unions”.
|Top: oil aggregating into bubbles of like kind amid a system of surrounding water. Bottom: a poster for how people of polar opposite types, such as vegans and ranchers, tree huggers and loggers, and consumers and environmentalists, don’t mix like oil and water. |
Empedocles' attracting and repelling forces
The originator of the seed model behind the model of what would become elective affinities or affinity chemistry, that so dominated 18th century chemistry, was Greek philosopher Empedocles, who in circa 450BC originating the first standard model of physics, according to which the universe was hypothesized to be comprised of four elements: fire (), earth (), air (), water (), meaning, subsequently, that humans are entities made of four elements, whose interactions were governed by two forces: philia (●→|←●), i.e. attraction (or love) and neikos (←●|●→), i.e. repulsion (or hate). Two of Empedocles' noted chemical aphorisms on this standard model applied to humans are:
“People who love each other mix like water and wine; people who hate each other segregate like water and oil.”
“Relatives mix like water and wine; enemies avoid each other like water and oil.”
This model was carried forward in the works of Greek philosopher Plato who specifically credits Empedocles as having created this list of elements, and went on to formulate his own versions of the laws of affinity. Goethe, in turn, indirectly, or rather directly, depending on one's point of view, specifically cites Empedocles's affinity models in part one: chapter four, in Edward's mention of oil and water, as follows:
“I think,” interrupted Edward, “we can make the thing more clear to her, and to ourselves, with examples; conceive water, or oil, or quicksilver; among these you will see a certain oneness, a certain connection of their parts; and this oneness is never lost, except through force or some other determining cause. Let the cause cease to operate, and at once the parts unite again” [...] “And that,” interrupted Edward, “will be different according to the natural differences of the things themselves. Sometimes they will meet like friends and old acquaintances; they will come rapidly together, and unite without either having to alter itself at all—as wine mixes with water. Others, again, will remain as strangers side by side, and no amount of mechanical mixing or forcing will succeed in combining them. Oil and water may be shaken up together, and the next moment they are separate again, each by itself.”
Goethe, no doubt, was well aware of the Empedocles-model precedence.
Baconian elective affinities
In 1620, English physicist and natural philosopher Francis Bacon began to pioneer some of the first post-Empedocles, pre-Newtonian ideas on elective affinity to explain the inherent nature of motion and its causes. Bacon reasoned that: 
"Dispute and friendship are the spurs to motion in nature, and the keys to her works."
The following definition by Bacon is one of the first 17th-century definitions of elective affinity: 
“It is certain that all bodies whatsoever, though they have no sense, yet they have perception; for when one body is applied to another, there is a kind of election to embrace that which is agreeable, and to exclude or expel that which is ingrate; and whether the body be alterant or altered, evermore perception precedeth operation; for else all bodies would be like one to another.”
In this sense, the full original German title, as Goethe would have conceptualized it, in the original 1620 Baconian chemical affinity sense of the term "election" of chemical bodies to embrace, might well be correctly rendered in English as:
Die Wahlverwandtschaften | The Choice [of one's] Electives [or] Attractions [to things or people]
Newtonian elective affinities
The way in which the Baconian chemical model of "election to embrace or expel" was passed along, in a rather vicarious manner, to Goethe, was though the works English physicist Isaac Newton. In particular, as affinity chemistry historians, such as Mi Kim, among others, categorize things, the modern theory of affinity chemistry, i.e. the transition from alchemy to chemistry, arose in the works and theories of English physicist Isaac Newton. This is evidenced in his 1678/79 letter to Irish chemist Robert Boyle, which was preoccupied with the phenomenon of elective affinity among chemicals; he states, for example: 
“There is a certain secret principle in nature by which liquors are sociable to some things and unsociable to others. Thus water will not mix with oil but readily with spirit of wine or with salts.”
American science historian William Newman, in his 2003 summarized rewrite of Newton's letter, elaborates on this further: 
“Just as water ‘elects’ to mix with ethyl alcohol or with salts, so it ‘chooses’ not to mix with oil, Similarly, water will sink into wood while quicksilver will not, but quicksilver will penetrate and amalgamate with metals, which water will not. Likewise aqua fortis (nitric acid) will dissolve silver and not gold, while aqua regis (mixed nitric and hydrochloric acid) will dissolve gold and not silver. Nonetheless these rules are not written in stone: ‘but a liquor which is of itself unsociable to a body may by a mixture of a convenient mediator be made sociable. So molten lead which alone will not mix with copper or with Regulus of Mars, by the addition of tin is made to mix with either.”
Newton goes on, in his writing of this period, to speak about how “particles of spirits floating in the water, will strike on metal, and will by their sociableness enter into its pores, and gather around the outside of its particles.” The finalized version of Netwon's search, research, and experiments for this "secret principle", however, was presented some three decades later, following his successes in gravitational theory and optics and light, specifically in his famous appended Query 31 of the 1718 edition of his Opticks. That year, French chemist Étienne Geoffroy, while doing a translation into French of Newton's Opticks, famously took the "verbal descriptions" of affinity reaction preferences and powers of combination and decombination, as found in Query 31, and made the world's first "affinity table" (see: Geoffroy's affinity table), a tabulated listing of reaction bonding powers, so to speak, the first of many to follow over the next century. The biggest affinity table was Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman 1775 table (Bergman's affinity table) which took up a large eight-page fold out map-like sheet showing the results of some 160 different reactions. It was from this table that Goethe, in his own words, envisioned the idea for his new novella.
This quick etymological synopsis, of course, embodies the age-old "choice or free will"; "will" vs "determinism"; "fate or destiny" debate, which is a very complex issue to say the least—especially in the "human molecular formula", i.e. humans viewed as animated molecules attached to a surface, point of view era—which, no doubt, is what drew both Newton and Goethe to the subject: the search for the "secret principle" of human existence. In any event, to corroborate, American Goethean scholar and German languages translator Stanley Corngold, in his 2003 “Compulsive Affinities: Goethe, Kafka, Benjamin”, translates “Wahlverwandtschaften” as “elective [chemical] affinities”, his brackets, which in turn gives the title a rendering of: 
Die Wahlverwandtschaften | The Choice of One’s Chemical Affinities
which, in the proper modern language sense of the matter, seems very cogent and likely what Goethe had in mind by his title choice, being that:
(a) "chemical affinity" is the modern term used to defined the subject of discussion, as it is actually practiced (e.g. drug-receptor thermodynamics), whereas "elective affinity" is a rather outdated term (see: affinity, synonyms section);
(b) the question of how one's choices are made, e.g. the choice of who to marry, or rather, in a different sense, whether or not two people will bind, in the words  of American-born Canadian biophysical chemist Julie Forman-Kay, “is [completely] determined by the free energy change (ΔG) of the interaction, composed of both enthalpic and entropic terms”, which in Goethe's time would have rendered, in his mind, as: “whether two people [human chemicals] will bind [form a relationship] is [completely] determined by the elective affinities of the reactive system [estate].”
or as Goethe says in his 1796 Third Lecture on Anatomy: “there are, by nature, stronger or weaker bonds between these components, and when they evidence themselves, they resemble attractions between human beings. This is why chemists speak of elective affinities, even though the forces that move mineral components [or humans] one way or another and create mineral structures are often purely external in origin, which by no means implies that we deny them the delicate portion of nature’s vital inspiration that is their due.”
|The "ABC model" of free will: (A) retinal molecule in ground state (normal state); (B) light (or one or more photons) with a frequency of 400 to 700 nm absorbs into the the carbon atom (note: atom shown is actually beryllium) at the 11 position, thus causing (exchange force) an electron to jump up in orbital position (excited state); (C) the retinal molecule reacts to this by "moving" to the straightened position, a short-lived heightened energy configuration.|
Choices determined by external forces
The modern interpretation of "external" forces mediating choices in molecules is shown adjacent, exemplifying the way in which the 3-element molecule retinal "chooses" or "elects" to move.
This photon inducing, exchange force, retinal-bending mechanism, to note, was is an expansion of the 1913 Bohr model of the atom applied to the phenomenon of molecular movement and mechanism with light interaction as discovered in 1958 by the American biochemist George Wald and his co-workers; work for which Wald won a share of the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Haldan Keffer Hartline and Ragnar Granit.
In short, the "choice" of one "chemical affinities" or "elections to embrace" or "expel that which is ingrate" is determined by "forces" "external in origin", as Goethe correctly says, and the modern way we measure these forces or thermodynamic forces (or force functions) as they are called is by via enthalpy and entropy determinants, variables that can be measured and quantified. [N1]
About 40-45 percent of people (similar to the "Are you a giant molecule?" poll, James Eadon, 2001), to note, will object to this model of "choice", because it in effect "undermines the entire structure of religion", as Heinrich Heine put it (c.1810), being that one's choices, according to the big three religions, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, all of which are Anunian theologies in origin, choices which are thought to come from one's mind and no where else, are what determine the weight of one's soul or karma, and hence determine whether one is allowed proper reincarnation or resurrection, depending on religion. This entire logic, now, however, is defunct theory. As of 2002, according to the Sterner-Elser molecular formula, a human is now defined as an abstract molecule, whose average molecular formula, for a typical 70-kg (154-lb) human, is shown below:
This atomic geometry, simply put, is an expanded, bigger, more dynamic, animated, complex (Thims), evolved (Darwin), or metamorphosized (Goethe) version of smaller animate molecules, such as, for example, the retinal molecule:
a simple 15-carbon chain light sensitive molecule, that "straightens" when in the presence of light of a certain wavelength.
The central objection, many will have, even in modern times (e.g. about 43 percent of people object that they are a giant molecule, James Eadon, 2001), is that human nature is different from chemical nature in that humans are capable of free actions and choices. German Elective Affinities analyzer Herman Grimm, who was one of German's leading late 18th century promoters of Goethe, and who seems to have been advocate or admirer of Elective Affinities, held this view. As summarized by Astrida Tantillo (2001): 
"Grimm differentiates human beings from the rest of nature: in addition to being subject to natural laws, they are also capable of free actions and choices."
This type of "having's own's cake and eating it to" mindset, i.e. the view that humans are subject to laws, but also free, is also exemplified in English physicist C.G. Darwin's 1952 famous "Introduction" section, to his The Next Million Years, wherein he states, similar to Grimm, that humans are molecules, "human molecules" as Darwin called us, that are governed by the laws of thermodynamics, just as are the lowly gas molecules, but also, because of their "unpredictability", as Darwin states, they also have free will. The two views, however, are not compatible: when a water molecule and sodium atom are placed in contact, the oxygen atom, of the water molecule, will "always"—no exceptions—bond with the sodium atom, to the displacement of the hydrogen atoms—the oxygen atom will never "choose" in an alternative manner and "decide" to stay bonded to the hydrogen atoms—it is an absolute predetermined decision. This is what Goethe was getting at in his novella and in his title choice. Actions are predetermined, and the quicker we, as intellectuals, become aware of this, the better off we will be in the long run.
Those, in modern 2010s times, who would like to object that there is a difference between the two natures, human and chemical, will argue, for example, that there are "emergent" or "holistic", etc., properties in the former, not found in the latter—this, however, is what is called the "ontic opening" argument, and is an example of what not to do, as it only leads down the path of incoherentness.
Those who believe that "choice" is different in the essential nature of the two atomic structures are in possession of either what Nicholas of Cusa calls "learned ignorance"—and would no doubt further go on to deny the existence of the bereitschaftspotential or “readiness potential” and likely the existence of the electromagnetic force—similar to those, in olden days, who disbelieved that the earth could move, because they had "learned" it that way, or are possibly in possessionof the mental condition of not being able to "seeing the ships" in the harbor, a phenomenon common to many new to the subject of human chemistry, as Goethe had envisioned it.
N1. (a) On an aside, in 1990, American Goethean scholar Alfred Steer, in his Goethe's Elective Affinities: the Robe of Nessus, gave his opinion, based on the H.M. Waidson translation (Kindred by Choice, 1960) that “Wahlverwandtschaft” might translate as “choice relationship”. This, however, is lacking and nonsensical in description; the above bolded in black translation "the choice of one's chemical affinities" is the preferred and most-cogent of translations.
(b) Likewise, American Germanic-languages scholar Calvin Thomas, in his 1913 “Introduction” section to Goethe’s 1809 Elective Affinities, commented on the title: “The strange title, too, has served to divert attention from the real center of gravity. Had the tale been called, say, "Ottilie's Expiation," there would have been less room for misunderstanding and irrelevant criticism; there would have been less concern over the moral, and more over the artistic, aspect of the story.”
1. Newman, William R. (2003). Gehennical Fire: the Lives of George Starkey, and American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution (Elective affinity, pgs. 231-34). University of Chicago Press.
2. Corngold, Stanley. (2003). “Compulsive Affinities: Goethe, Kafka, Benjamin”, Keynote Address, Conference: “Distortion”, University of Western Ontario, Apr 6.
3. Forman-Kay, Julie D. (1999). “The ‘Dynamics’ in the Thermodynamics of Binding.” Nature Structure Biology, 6: 1086-87.
4. Tuhtan, Jeff. (2012). “Alternative translations of Wahlverwandtschaften”, Hmolpedia thread, May 23.
5. (a) Schaften (Burschenschaft) – Dictionary.com.
(b) Burschenschaft – Wikipedia.
6. Goethe, Johann. (1960). Kindred by Choice (Introduction and translation by Herbert Waidson). London: John Calder.
7. Bacon, Francis. (1838). Works, vol. 2. 1, p. 559. London: Ball.
8. Levere, Trevor. (1993). Affinity and Matter: Elements of Chemical Philosophy, 1800-1865. New York: Taylor & Francis.
9. Tantillo, Astrida, O. (2001). Goethe’s Elective Affinities and the Critics (pg. 72). New York: Camden House.
10. People as Oil and Water – FrankeJames.com.
11. (a) Miller, J. Hillis. (1992). Ariadne’s Thread (pg. 172; “elective affinities”, pgs. 164-222). Yale University Press.
(b) J. Hillis Miller – Wikipedia.
(c) Engelstein, Stefani. (2008). Anxious Anatomy: the Conception of the Human Form in Literary and Naturalist Discourse (pg. 25-26). SUNY Press.
12. Lillyman, William J. (1982). “Analogies for Love: Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften and Plato’s Symposium” (pg. 134). Goethe’s Narrative Fiction: the Irvine Goethe Symposium. Walter de Gruyter.