Most translations of the Quran translate it as read. Different translations of the word Iqra in major translations:
Sahih International: Recite in the name of your Lord who created -
Pickthall: Read: In the name of thy Lord Who createth,
Yusuf Ali: Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher,
Shakir: Read in the name of your Lord Who created.
Mohsin Khan: Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that
-- Quran 96.1
Notice that only one major translation of the Quran translated it as recite. Yusuf Ali translated it as "proclaim!". These different translations seems to create a lot of confusion.
So, what exactly does it mean?
The meaning of the word Iqra can be understood by learning the context of the first revelation. Ibn Khatir wrote in his tafsir of the said revelation:
Imam Ahmad recorded that A'ishah said: The first thing that began
happening with the Messenger of Allah from the revelation was dreams
that he would see in his sleep that would come true. He would not see
any dream except that it would come true just like the (clearness of)
the daybreak in the morning.
Then seclusion became beloved to him. So, he used to go to the cave of
Hira' and devote himself to worship there for a number of nights, and
he would bring provisions for that. Then he would return to Khadijah
and replenish his provisions for a similar number of nights.
This continued until the revelation suddenly came to him while he was
in the cave of Hira'. The angel came to him while he was in the cave
and said, "Read!'' The Messenger of Allah said, (I replied: "I am not
one who reads.) Then he said, "So he (the angel) seized me and pressed
me until I could no longer bear it. Then he released me and said:
`Read!' So I replied: I am not one who reads.' So, he pressed me a
second time until I could no longer bear it. Then he released me and
(Read in the Name of your Lord who has created.) until he reached the
Ayah, (That which he knew not.)
So he returned with them (those Ayat) and with his heart trembling
until he came (home) to Khadijah, and he said, (Wrap me up, wrap me
up!) So they wrapped him up until his fear went away. After that he
told Khadijah everything that had happened and said, I fear that
something may happen to me.
Khadijah replied, "Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You
keep good relations with your relatives, you speak the truth, you help
the poor and the destitute, you serve your guests generously, and you
help the deserving, calamity afflicted people.' ...
The context indicates that the word Iqra in verse 96.1 is a command to the prophet (saw) to recite or read or proclaim. Its meaning may be to read and understand the meaning and then proclaiming/reciting it aloud to others. The following verse has a different form of the same word used to command the Muslims (of that time) to listen to the Quran attentively (which indicates that it is asking the Muslims to pay attention and understand the meaning since Muslims of that time were Arabic speakers):
When the Qur-aan is recited (quri-a) aloud, listen to it attentively
and keep quiet so that you are shown mercy
-- Quran 7:204
The word Iqra in the said revelation seems to have a broad meaning which is (a command to the prophet) to read and then proclaim it to the people of Mecca (who were pagans) by reciting it aloud.