Saturday, February 9, 2013

Importance of Names

Throughout Tolkien's works, characters adopt or are given different names as part of their stories. Aragorn is not only named Strider, but also Estel and Elessar and Thorongil. What importance does onomastics, the study of names, play in Tolkien's works? Why does he give characters multiple names? Is there a difference or not in the way names are used or change depending on race in Tolkien, i.e. Elves and Men? And what about Hobbits? Are names of Hobbits by nature different than those of other races?

7 comments:

Megan said...

Right now I'm going through my fanfics to see if I can find where an author explained the different name usage. I cannot find it, but I do remember it being about (the author was discussing the Noldor) different levels of familiarity. So, for my main man Maedhros, he has all these names and nicknames:

Maitimo/"Russandol"/"Nelyo"

I think one might be a Sindarin name (at one point doesn't someone outlaw speaking Quenya? Or am I making that up?). The rest are family names and nicknames.

So "Maedhros" is the name we get passed down through the History of Middle-earth, but in fanfiction written by people who bother to look these things up, in a conversation between say Maedhros and Maglor, they never actually call each other by those unfamiliar names. So intimacy is one interesting way multiple names play out.

Ashley Cauley said...

Megan makes a good point. The use of one name over another can be used to show the level of familiarity or intimacy the characters have for one another. I also think Tolkien used name giving as a sort of "rite of passage". When characters complete some grand act or feat, someone is likely to give them a new name that pays homage to that act. Aragorn is a great example because he is much MUCH older than he looks and has a lot of different names. He uses different names in different places at different times. While we only have one name, we may have different titles that we use in different circumstances. While Martin Luther King Jr. was a Reverend, he also had a PhD. Depending on the situation he was known as either Reverend King or Doctor King. It would be ridiculous to use all of his titles at one time: Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Tolkien does the same thing in giving his characters many names. They use whatever name is appropriate at the time.

Julie Lautenschleger said...

Tolkien uses names and languages to separate different races in his books. Often, the sound of a name reflects the character's personality or status. Aragorn's several names are a reflection of his positions of leadership and importance throughout life. Like Ashley stated, the various names can serve as a sort of trophy for a great feat or accomplishment. Hobbits have much simpler sounding names, and not quite as many as elves or men. "Samwise Gamgee" just sounds like a simpler character, and that is often how Hobbits are perceived by readers. A great example of how deep Tolkien's love of languages really goes.

Anna Adams said...

I agree with Julie that Tolkien used so many names to separate different races in his books. I think the names reflect each race's relationship with that person. For example, I think it shows Gandalf's respectful relationship with the Elves and the people of Gondor because they call him Mithrandir. It means "grey wanderer," right? He wanders into their lives then he wanders away again, so it's accurate. It isn't an overly familiar name, like "Gandalf."

Michael Lott said...

I agree that each separate name may reflect the relationship that a person has with a people as many of their names, most notable with Gandalf, are from a specific kingdom or people. However, they are also representative of the person. Gandalf being known as the Grey Pilgrim or Mithrandir is showing a facet of himself as a wanderer who does not settle down, much more different of an impression than Olorin, his miar name.
This idea of the name being representative of a facet of the person or object is seen in many other places such as Orthanc, Dol Guldur (means bald hill), and Firefoot Eomer's horse. I believe that is a tool that Tolken used to make Middle Earth appear to be more real than a simple fairy tail.

Troy Wells said...

I agree with you guys on how the names represent different notable actions, the more names you have the more things (heroic or evil)you have done. Gandalf having many names is a good thing, but Melkor's name change to Morgoth is a bad thing. Names also show different relationships in the same way titles do in our world. If I call a professor "Dr" it shows that I have a different relationship with them from someone who calls them father, son, brother, friend, coworker, etc...To dive a little deeper into the relationship aspect of names, I believe Tolkien also uses them to show how much information someone knows about someone else. This could mean that if I called someone by one name (like father) I might know little of their flaws and more of their positive attributes, but if I called them something else (like brother) I might know more of their of their flaws. An example of this in Tolkien's work is the way "Strider" becomes "Aragorn" as the Hobbits learn more about him.
I wonder if Tolkien gleaned any of his fascination with names from religion. If I say God, I believe in certain characteristics and truths of the deity I worship, while if I saw Allah, Yahweh, Brahman or Zeus I believe my deity has other characteristics and truths. Another example of a situation that may have influenced Tolkien is how Simon the Apostle becomes Peter the Pope. His relationship with Christ and his peers changed as his name changed

S. M. said...

I agree that how one person addresses another reveals much about the relationship between those two people as well as the position/identity of the person who is being addressed. However, Túrin’s title of “Turambar” (“Master of Doom”) seems to be an exception to this rule, for he does not successfully steer his path to a better end. Does this happen, perhaps, because he takes on the name of “Turambar” without earning it?