What evidence is there for Gálmód to be the name of the father of Gríma the Wormtongue? Gandalf once addresses Gríma as "Gríma son of Gálmód", in a sentence otherwise consisting mostly of insults. Is it conceivable that Gálmód could alternatively be a reference to Gríma's mother, or even a figurative reference to Gríma's birth in of a despicable moment of lechery, intended by Gandalf as just another insult?

I believe that the actual conversation took place in Rohirric where it might be unambiguous whether the name was masculine or feminine; but I imagine that the ending could have been lost in translation to Westron. Or perhaps Gandalf actually spoke in Westron and only he knew what he meant.

I'm particularly interested about any other references to Gálmód, or about Gríma's origin in general.

  • 1
    AFAIK, nothing is known of Gálmód other than that single line in Two Towers.
    – Valorum
    Sep 20, 2020 at 18:59
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    I can't think of any case in Tolkien where ____ son of _____ named the mother as the parent. I would be rather surprised if that was the intention. Sep 20, 2020 at 19:29
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    @suchiuomizu "Then Fréaláf, son of Hild, Helm's sister..." But I'm having a much harder time thinking of any cases where the mother isn't royalty.
    – Nolimon
    Sep 20, 2020 at 20:11
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    I don't know enough to answer this, but JRRT was an expert on Anglo-Saxon and Rohan was modeled in many respects after Anglo-Saxon England. So I'd expect Rohan to follow A-S custom in this. Would an A-S call someone "Son of X" where X is the mother? (The example of Fréaláf may suggest that, unadorned, X is always the father, since the speaker in Fréaláf's case also said that Hild was Helm's sister.)
    – Mark Olson
    Sep 20, 2020 at 21:07
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    Hall's Anglo-Saxon dictionary gives "wanton" and "licentious" as equivalents for "gálmód" and a reference to the Poem of Judith. In that poem the word is used to characterize a male soldier; the meaning of the single occurrence in that poem doesn't appear to have primarily sexual connotations; and I am not familiar with any other uses of the word in Anglo Saxon. Still, could Gandalf possibly be calling Wormtongue "sonuvabitch" (gender not implied if Gandalf spoke in Westron there) in a way that only Gandalf, Wormtongue himself (and JRRT) could decode with ease? Sep 20, 2020 at 21:24

2 Answers 2


The first question is easiest to answer: Tolkien tells us that Galmod is Grima's father! But we need to look a little deeper to see how.

The Rohirrim generally reckon descent from the father. For example, when Gandalf addresses Theoden, he says:

Hail, Theoden, son of Thengel!

and also

Now Theoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?

We know Thengel was king before Theoden because he is so listed in the kinglist of Rohan and his wife was Morwen of Lossarnach.

Dwarves apparently reckon from the father as well, as Gimli is also spoken of in this way, as Gimli speaks of himself:

Then Eomer son of Eomund, Third Marshall of Riddermark, let Gimli the Dwarf Gloin's son warn you against foolish words.

But descent can also be reckoned from the mother --- when the mother is a kinswoman of, for example, the king. In Appendix A we read about the House of Eorl. There are no queens regnant in Rohan; and we know that when Helm Hammerhand and his sons perished, the kingship went to his sister's son, Frealaf Hildeson. Hild is mentioned there:

Soon after, the winter broke. Then Frealaf, son of Hild, Helm's sister, came down out of Dunharrow, to which many had fled; and with a small company of desperate men he surprised Wulf in Meduseld and slew him, and regained Edoras.

Note that it is important to name not so much the mother, in this culture, but her relationship to a prominent male relative. In this case, the king. In the kinglist, he is referred to simply as Frealaf Hildeson.

So, when Gandalf addresses Grima, he says only:

The wise speak only of what they know, Grima son of Galmod. A witless worm have you become.

So, what does all this mean? Given the above textual evidence, I believe it is safe to assume that Galmod is Grima's father, for two reasons:

  1. the lack of any "supporting" relationship to a male relative is indicative that "son of" refers to the father, and
  2. whenever someone is referred to as the son of his mother, the mother's relationship to a known male is never far away.

There are also secondary sources that assert Galmod's maleness:

In Complete Guide to Middle Earth, (R. Foster) we read:

Galmod (fl. TA 30th cent.) Man of Rohan, the father of Grima.

In Tolkien Companion (I. Tyler) we read:

Galmod The father of Grima Wormtongue, counsellor to King Theoden of Rohan. In the tongue of Rohan, his name means "sour-natured", a tendency clearly passed on to his son.

He is not mentioned in the History of Middle Earth or in Tolkien's published letters.

The evidence for Gamlod being Grima's father is simply stronger than for the opposite argument.

At best, I think it might be a fringe theory that Galmod was actually a woman. I am certain, as Gandalf had just had a lengthy and courteous discourse with both Theoden & Grima upon entering the King's house, he would not, even in a fit of temper, neglect to address Grima as "son of Maglod, So-and-so's sister" if that were the case.

As for the conversation taking place in Rohirric, that's entirely possible. And while it's possible for endings and other bits of grammar to become lost in translation, I think the cultural sense is pretty clear, and is not lost in translation at all.

As for the argument that Gandalf was simply making a funny, I do believe the consummate philologist and etymologist would have made hay somewhere, if this were actually the case.

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    The secondary sources seemed (to my mind) to add no special insight. They are, at best, making the same guess as you
    – Valorum
    Sep 21, 2020 at 6:21
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    @Valorum -- The difference between me saying something and Foster saying the same thing is that a) I am not a professor of English at Rutgers, b) I am not a Tolkien scholar, and c) Christopher Tolkien actually used Foster's work and praised it as an "admirable work of reference". Absent JRRT offering a definitive answer, I'd say Foster's "guess" is as good an answer as we're ever going to get to this question.
    – elemtilas
    Sep 21, 2020 at 6:59
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    That's a fallacy. Their guess may be better informed, but it's still just a guess. History (and this site) is littered with examples of informed experts being wrong.
    – Valorum
    Sep 21, 2020 at 7:03
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    @Valorum -- It's not a "fallacy" at all. Note that I clearly quoted from primary sources in order to draw my conclusion and note that I mark the others as "secondary sources". I'm not appealing to them, only demonstrating that others have come to the same conclusion. By the way, if you read that quoted article, you'll see that "appeal to authority" is far from being a settled issue: it is denigrated as fallacious by some and upheld as valid by others. Therefore, your argument that my appeal is fallacious is itself untenable.
    – elemtilas
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:43
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    The problem is that you don't know how they reached their conclusions. More likely than not, it was based on the same argument as you, a guess based on old Anglo-Saxon naming customs, or even just plain sexism.
    – Adamant
    Sep 21, 2020 at 21:16

In my opinion the evidence given by elimtilas that Galmod is almost certainly male seems convincing.

However, I point out that in societies where were men are normally described as sons of their father there are rare examples of men being described as sons of their mother.

One example is the Irish king and high king Muirchertach who allegedly flourished from AD 482 to 534, and is sometimes called Muirchertach mac Muiredaig after his father and sometimes called Muirchertach mac Ercae.

According to the genealogies, Muirchertach belonged to the Uí Néill and was the son of Muiredach, son of Eógan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages; hence Muirchertach mac Muiredaig. His mother, "clearly legendary" according to Thomas Charles-Edwards, was said to be Erc, daughter of "Lodarn, king of Alba". From the matronym comes his alternative name, Muirechertach Macc Ercae. However, Mac Ercae was a common enough male first name.1 The annalistic entries for Muirchertach span 50 years, from 482 to his death in 534, using various names, including Mac Ercae, so that it is more than likely that two or more people have been confused in the annals.


So this is a rather uncertain example.

An example closer to Anglo-Saxon culture is King Sweyn II of Denmark (c. 1019-1076), who was the grandson of King Sweyn I Forkbeard of Denmark and England, the nephew of King Canute the Great of Denmark and England, the first cousin of King Harold I Harefoot of England, and the first cousin of King Harthacnut of Denmark and England.

As the relative of four kings of England, Sweyn II had a claim to the English throne and was one of three foreign rulers who tried to invade England in 1066 to claim the throne. Sweyn II was unable to invade in 1066 but I think he tried again later.

Sweyn II was the son of a noble named Ulf Thorgilsson, but chose to be known as Sweyn Estridsson after his mother Estrid Svendsdatter, daughter of Sweyn I Forkbeard.


An example of someone whose patronymic might be a insult is Barabbas from the Gospels.

Barabbas' name appears as bar-Abbas in the Greek texts of the gospels. It is derived ultimately from the Aramaic בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, "son of the father". However, Abba has been found as a personal name in a 1st-century burial at Giv'at ha-Mivtar, and it appears fairly often as a personal name in the Gemara section of the Talmud, dating from AD 200–400.[14]


The writers of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail suggested that the father of "Bar Abbas" was "God the Father", and thus that he was a biological son of Jesus Christ.

And a more logical interpretation would be that the prisoner was called "Son of His Father" as an insult, meaning son of some nobody that no one ever heard of, or maybe son of some unknown father whom his mother never named and whom nobody could ever guess because of the numerous men she had been with.

It is possible that "Bar Abbas" was intended more or less as the equivalent of "Son of a Bitch".

So that is a possible, repeat possible, example of a patronymic used as an insult.

  • Indeed! That's why I brought up Frealaf Hildeson. Question: how do you make Barabbas fit in?
    – elemtilas
    Sep 22, 2020 at 0:38
  • Actually, I think that the Barabbas example is a great fit to this question, because I asked it trying to understand whether Gandalf referred to a real person (man of Rohan, perhaps), or whether he could have used a mock patronymic as an insult. Sep 22, 2020 at 7:46

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