19

From other answers on this site, it is clear that within the general story arc, the name Gollum derived from a sound Sméagol was often inadvertently making within his throat, described as a sort of "gurgling" that others heard and so named him by that sound. But it was a distinct and consistent gurgling sound, for often in Sméagol's speech he interjects the "gollum" sound.

The first link above specifically references from The Hobbit that Sméagol himself never referred to himself as Gollum, which would seem to show that the interjections of that sound in his speech are in fact not self-references and thus adding some weight to having no in-world meaning, even though they occur at times when one might think he is referring to himself (but see the * below).

My question is, given J. R. R. Tolkien's love for languages, does he ever make reference to any real meaning to the word/name gollum, either in-world or out-of-world meaning? That is, did he choose that word/name to reflect a further intention of meaning from ancient languages on Earth (one comment below had a link [now broken] that referred to what I believe is a copy of this speculative study on a connection to Old Norse; I tracked down a working link based off my quotation from the link that I put in my reply comment below) or on Arda (in which case perhaps the Ring intentionally caused that particular sound to emit from him as a hidden side meaning)? Or is the name purely Tolkien's utilization of onomatopoeia within the world of Middle-Earth history?


* Tolkien actually "contradicts" himself between The Hobbit and The Two Towers, for in the former Tolkien stated of Gollum (bold added):

And when he said gollum he made a horrible swallowing noise in his throat. That is how he got his name, though he always called himself 'my precious.' ("Riddles in the Dark")

In the later work, during his self-reflection on regaining the ring from Frodo, he states (Gollum persona speaking; bolding added):

'No, sweet one. See, my precious: if we has it, then we can escape, even from Him, eh? Perhaps we grows very strong, stronger than Wraiths. Lord Sméagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum! Eat fish every day, three times a day, fresh from the Sea. Most Precious Gollum! Must have it. We wants it, we wants it, we wants it!' ("The Passage of the Marshes")

It may not be a true contradiction, for in the fictional history, what is stated in the earlier story may have been true at that time, and then the reference in The Two Towers the first time Gollum did refer to himself using that name.

  • 6
    I wish I could come up with a good answer longer than "No, it doesn't." – Matt Gutting Oct 10 '16 at 18:42
  • 9
    Tangentially related, at least one of Russian translations of Hobbit and LOTR creatively reinterprets Gollum as Горлум (Gorlum), which is derived from горло (gorlo - throat). – void_ptr Oct 10 '16 at 20:15
  • 5
    Remember that the name "Gollum" was created in the Hobbit, where Tolkien wasn't focused on languages at all—he was just making a children's book. – Neithan Oct 10 '16 at 22:01
  • 2
    I don't how accurate this really is but it's interesting none the less: Gollum derived from Hebrew – Ocean Knight Oct 11 '16 at 4:24
  • 4
    @Po-ta-toe: Nice link. Too bad nothing more concrete from Tolkien can be found, as everything there is still speculation. I particularly liked the Norse gold connection, as that fits Tolkien's love of language, his story arc, and his wordplay so well (bold added): "The Old Norse word gull means 'gold.' In the oldest manuscripts it is spelled goll. One inflected form would be gollum, 'gold, treasure, something precious.' It can also mean 'ring,' as is found in the compound word fingr-gull, 'finger-ring.'" But proving that connection is another thing... – ScottS Oct 13 '16 at 15:29
9

Maybe

I have heard three hypotheses about the name of Gollum:

It is from Old Norse

In The Annotated Hobbit with annotations by Douglas Anderson, Anderson claims that Gollum is from the Old Norse gull meaning Gold, and an inflected form of this is gollum meaning; gold, treasure or something precious.

The compound word fingr-gull means finger ring, so gull in this usage means ring.

Inspired by the Jewish Golem

The Jewish Golem is mentioned in Psalm 139 (King James Translation)

Specifically verse 16, which is translated from the original Hebrew as:

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

Substance being translated from the Hebrew consonants GLM

Other than the names sounding very similar, Psalm 139 verse 15 also has the following similarity:

My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

When Smeagol became Gollum he descended into the lowest parts of the earth within the mountains.

Some legends of the Jewish Golem, namely the one written by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel about the Golem that protected the Jewish Quarter of Prague, also have the creature being able to turn invisible with the aid of a necklace.

This obviously has direct parallels with Tolkien's Gollum who turns invisible with the aid of the One Ring.

It is the sound Gollum makes in his throat

Again from The Annotated Hobbit Douglas Anderson states:

In the first edition of The Hobbit Tolkien wrote that he got the name "Gollum" (1937) from this "gurgling sound." In Tolkien's words, "Gollum" describes "the horrible swallowing noise in his throat", that Gollum makes when he speaks.

Indeed, "That is how he [Gollum] got his name, though he always called himself 'my precious'."

Though I have had no luck, yet, finding this in anything from Tolkien himself.


All three are plausible, and without anything from Tolkien himself I guess it is down to us to choose which one we like the most.

  • Thanks for summarizing some of the main theories that were mentioned in the comment string under the question. That at least puts out there some of the possibilities, even if we do not have a clear answer. – ScottS Feb 7 '17 at 17:25
  • 1
    He got the name Gollum before going under the mountain. – user46509 Feb 7 '17 at 19:29
  • @Po-ta-toe thanks fixed – Cearon O'Flynn Feb 7 '17 at 19:32
  • 1
    Are there any translations of Gollum in-universe? Such as in Sindarin, Quenya, etc? Thanks – Oubliette Feb 7 '17 at 19:40
  • @Withywindle not that I am aware of, hence the various theories regarding the name that are around. I've never seen mention in the letters, appendixes or HoME that I have read – Cearon O'Flynn Feb 7 '17 at 19:42
0

To be honest I don't have a very in depth answer but I hope this helps somewhat. When Gollum was first mentioned in The Hobbit, he wasn't really focused on creating languages for the Arda universe, he was just penning a children's book. He doesn't delve into it that much until he starts The Lord of The Rings trilogy, which he does a beautiful job with creating Elvish language and writing system.

So for Gollum, no I do not believe there was a hidden meaning in his name, just the noise he makes in his throat. He starts calling himself that after he hears others call him that, so he adopts the name which is why you don't hear him call himself that until later on in the book series.

Also, side note: he splits into two personalities that they make quite apparent in the movies, especially the two towers. Gollum is the dark deceiving part of him and smeagol is the remnants of who he was before the ring corrupted him, fighting to resurface and take back control of his life (At least that is my opinion).

0

I don't know if this is applicable, but considering Tolkien's love of languages it seems plausible. The West Germanic word Ga-Laubon translates to "to hold dear". It seems possible that Ga-laubon could have been easily changed to Gollum (they're pronounced similiarly) in order to show gollum's attachment to the ring.

  • 1
    Can you provide a source for your claim? – Edlothiad Mar 29 '18 at 4:59
0

I was searching the WWW for theories to this question, becasue I recently learned that there is a turkish word "Iki Gönlüm" which means "two souls" so I was wondering if that where Gollum Comes from, since he does seen to have two souls.. So here is to add another theory :)

  • 1
    Do we have any kind of evidence Tolkien might have based the name on that, though? Admittedly Tolkien knew his way around languages, but what about Turkish especially? If you have anything to back that up, editing it in would make for a better answer. – Jenayah Feb 22 at 15:52
  • 1
    I agree with @Jenayah that, while the possible connection is intriguing, some documented proof (1) that such is what the term means in Turkish and (2) that Tolkien specifically had familiarity with Turkish would at least make this answer plausible and worth an up vote. – ScottS Feb 22 at 16:37
  • @Amarth I disagree. In the chapter "Riddles in the Dark," Gollum refers constantly to himself in the first person plural (we, us, our), and after realizing Bilbo likely has the ring and has escaped him, it notes "After a while Gollum stopped weeping and began to talk. He seemed to be having an argument with himself." And goes on to give a back and forth dialog related to that argument. So the schizophrenia is there in The Hobbit. Here's a copy of the chapter online: genius.com/… – ScottS Feb 22 at 17:57
  • @ScottS Ah fair enough. I didn't remember those details. – Amarth Feb 22 at 20:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.