In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien named a couple of Hobbit families (Hornblower and Bracegirdle) with names that also appear in the Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester.

Horatio Hornblower is the main protagonist of this series, he was a British Royal Navy officer during the Napoleonic Wars. Lieutenant Bracegirdle was a Royal Navy officer as well. There was also a Lieutenant Buckland, whose name is identical to the Easternmost part of the Shire, mostly inhabited by the Brandybuck family.

I've been a Tolkien reader since childhood, and I've read also other writings from him such as the Letters and other essays, and maybe my memory tricks me, but I don't recall any explicit statement about this.

The Hornblower series was very popular, influential and praised since its inception; I don't know if Tolkien was a reader of these books too, but being him a scholar and a Professor of Literature, I find it hard to believe that he was not at least aware of these works.

On the other hand, I was not able to find any explicit reference to this; from what I gather, these names are real and once common British surnames, so it is entirely possible that all of this is just a coincidence, with him wanting to give to the Shire and the Hobbits a British countryside flavor.

Is there some proof that these names were an explicit homage to C.S. Forester's novels, or it is just a coincidence?

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    Neither Hornblower nor Bracegirdle is a common British surname. I don't believe I've ever encountered anyone with either of those names, in 54 years of living in the UK.
    – Mike Scott
    Oct 6, 2017 at 12:31
  • @MikeScott what were common in the 1800s may have died out, it's more than likely. Back in the day not many "commoners" would've had surnames, hence why there's so many named "Smith", "Cooper" or "Taylor", they're name after their professions (Hornblower seems like it could be similar but I'm not sure)
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 6, 2017 at 12:41
  • Thank you, updated.
    – Sekhemty
    Oct 6, 2017 at 12:51
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    @Edlothiad - "back in the day" that might have applied to the 1300s, sure, but not the 1800s. Surnames were well established in the 1800s and surnames that were common then will likely still exist now.
    – Simba
    Oct 6, 2017 at 12:59

2 Answers 2


An unconfirmed claim by Tolkien gateway suggests that they are inspirations from real-world surnames, likely the same for C.S. Forester, but here's both sides of the coin.


C.S. Forester's Hornblower's first appearance was in February of 1937. The same year Tolkien began work on his sequel to the Hobbit, which would come to be known as The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, however, started 7-9 months later, some time in September-November 1937

21 September 1937: The Hobbit is published. Because of its success, Stanley Unwin subsequently urges Tolkien to write a sequel, which he begins. This is the germ of The Lord of the Rings.
15 Nov-19 Dec 1937: Tolkien resumes work on the Quenta Silmarillion, but abandons this to work on ‘The new Hobbit’.
The Tolkien Society's timeline for J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien had reached the introduction of the Black Riders by March of that next year, suggesting he had the first chapters down quite quickly. Considering he was in the process of publishing the Hobbit and getting his other works together (Such as the Quenta and Beowulf: The Monsters and The Critics) it's possible this novel by C.S. Forester had simply gone unnoticed and Tolkien took the names from common family names that suited his Hobbits.

According to the Lord of the Rings - A Reader's Companion, Tolkien states the following in his "Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings"

Bracegirdle. A genuine English surname. Used in the text, of course, with reference to the hobbit tendency to be fat and so to strain their belts. A desirable translation would recognize this by some equivalent meaning: Tight-belt, or Belt-tightener/strainer/stretcher. (The name is a genuine Eng­lish one; a compound of the Romance type with verbal element first, as Drinkwater — Boileau; but it is not necessary that the representation should be a known surname in the language of translation.)
Buckland is also meant to contain the same animal name (Ger. Bock), though Buckland, an English place-name, is frequently in fact derived from 'book-land', land originally held by a written charter.
Hornblower. Hornblow, -er are E[nglish] surnames, in the Shire evidently occupational surnames. Translate by sense.
The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion - Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Yes, these are reasonably common surnames in Britain and its Empire. Hornblower has 9 entries on Wikipedia, Bracegirdle (which has the fewest but has the Bracegirdle affair) has 6 entries and Buckland has 23 entries. On ancestry.com the surname with the least mentions was the Hornblowers with a whopping ~4000 entries, followed by the Bracegirdles which had ~8000 entries and finally the Bucklands with ~115000 entries. The histories of each of the "houses" can also be found on houseofnames.com. (Hornblower, Bracegirdle and Buckland)


TolkienGateway lists C.S. Forester as the inspiration for the name Bracegirdle as well as Hornblower.

The name Bracegirdle of a character in the Horatio Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester
See #Hornblower (links to nowhere)
TolkienGateway: Tolkien's inspirations, Bracegirdle

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    I was aware of the claim from TolkienGateway about the supposed inspiration, but without any sources from them, I tend to consider that statement pretty pointless.
    – Sekhemty
    Oct 6, 2017 at 13:20
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    As I said, I would confirm it when I had the source available, for now just read everything else :) that was just to remind me that it exists
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 6, 2017 at 13:21
  • Of course, it was not a criticism.
    – Sekhemty
    Oct 6, 2017 at 13:22
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    If I had TheFellowshipOfTheSearch.com I'd confirm it, but that's currently a mere thought in the back of my head (the name is still being worked out)
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 6, 2017 at 13:24

I don't know if anyone is still interested in this thread but I thought I'd add my take. My great grandfather's surname was Hornblower and lived in Birmingham, he was quite close to Tolkien's age and also from a middle class family as Tolkien was. I think it would've been highly likely that if he had not known him personally to have at least heard the surname in passing. They were both in the army at the same time too so it might've been there he had heard of the name Hornblower of course I'd never know for sure but I like to think so. I hope this helps in some way.

(An extra fun fact C.S Forester used part of my distant family tree and added Horatio to it)

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    You are aware that in 1945 Birmingham was a city of a million people? The odds of Tolkien bumping into your ancestor are pretty low, even if they were in the army at the same time (along with 140,000 of its inhabitants).
    – Valorum
    May 6, 2018 at 19:11
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    Class stratification would increase the odds slightly... May 7, 2018 at 23:12
  • My ancestors family owned a few big businesses, a button factory and a tavern so that might have increased the odds of him knowing of the name. Also I think if he had heard of the name it would've been at least 40 years earlier than 1945 so there may have been a lower population but I haven't researched that to know if it's a fact. May 9, 2018 at 3:22

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