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Following the destruction of the ring, when the hobbits are preparing to return home we learn that Merry is known as "Holdwine" to the Rohirrim:

Éomer and Éowyn came to Merry and they said "Farewell now, Meriadoc of the Shire and Holdwine of the Mark! Ride to good fortune, and ride back soon to our welcome!"

Later in the Tale of Years, we see that in 1484

a message came from Rohan to Buckland that king Éomer wished to see Master Holdwine once again

I had assumed that "Holdwine" was just a term of affection for Merry, based on the hobbits' legendary ability to drink and eat. The Tolkien Gateway though, gives the etymological derivation

The word is Old English but its meaning is never given explicitly; and there are several possible interpretations, of which one is 'faithful friend' (from hold, 'faithful, loyal' and wine, 'friend').

Did Tolkien ever make a statement over what "Holdwine" was intended to signify? Am I being too simplistic in thinking it means someone who "can hold their wine", or is the Tolkien Gateway overcomplicating it?


From some responses, it seems there is a third possibility I had not considered, namely that Merry literally "held wine" as a cup-bearer to the king of Rohan. All the possibilities seem plausible, so is there any explicit statement from Tolkien as to what he intended the name to mean?

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    Maybe it's someone who you trust not to drink your booze on you? :)
    – DavidW
    Sep 16 at 22:28
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    @DavidW So in other words, not a hobbit :) Sep 16 at 22:42
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    Hold my beer has already been taken. Sep 17 at 8:21
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    English is my second language, but when I read LotR, I thought that meant something like "Friend of the Hold" (hold here being the archaic definition of "fortress"). I'm hesitant to post this as an answer, as my knowledge of english isn't as sharp as it would if it was my first language. Sep 17 at 15:48
  • I've just had a look through Tolkien's own "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings" in A Tolkien Compass (available for loan from the Internet Archive). I can't find any mention of Holdwine, nor even of Meriadoc nor Merry. Which is disappointing (and a confusing omission in the latter case... I wonder if I missed something?) Sep 22 at 3:43
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Rohirric is represented in the Legendarium by Old English, which is most obvious in the names of people. Éomer (roughly "horse famous") later had a son named Elfwine ("elf friend"). It seems likely that Holdwine having a meaning in modern English is coincidental in universe, although Tolkien probably was amused by it, as he enjoyed wordplay.

That said, I don't see that it is discussed in the letters or the History of Middle-earth (happy to be corrected here!)

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    There are other characters mentioned in HoME (notably in The Lost Road, and in the Notion Club Papers) whose names are explicitly derived from -wine compounds, and the story points out the translation as "[blank]-friend" Sep 17 at 6:54
  • I don't know much about languages, but old german and old english are rather close, being in the same family of languages. And in German "hold" would be an rather archaic form of the english dear or beloved. This would fit for the name as then meaning something like "good friend".
    – trikPu
    Oct 1 at 12:16
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Holdwine is a perfectly recognizable Old English compound name, and -wine is a rather frequently seen second element, meaning "friend". Most of the names that are associated with Rohan are Old English, also there are more *wines in the books: Déorwine, Folkwine, Elfwine, Fréawine, Gléowine, Gúthwine.

In universe, Old English is the language that the English translator chose to translate Rohirric into, so to represent a language that's akin to the original narrators'(Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, etc.), but archaic in style. So it's only natural to assume Holdwine is another Old English name, even though there's the possibility that Tolkien had Modern English "hold wine" in mind.

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    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hold#Old_English Hold in Old English means gracious, loyal or kind, so Holdwine would be something like "loyal friend"
    – eques
    Sep 17 at 12:37
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    it is unclear to me, but I think the final e is pronounced (win-E or win-Eh) in Old English, rather than Modern English why-n. In many cases for Elvish, Tolkein used a marker above the final e, but did not do that with the Rohirric. I am not certain about this however and wouldn't mind clarification.
    – Yorik
    Sep 17 at 17:55
  • @Yorik: Wiktionary seems to agree with you, listing the pronunciation as /ˈwi.ne/. (Apparently in Middle English it shortened to a monosyllabic /ˈwin(ə)/.) Sep 18 at 1:01
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Merry was a kind of butler to the king. For the Saxon and Frankish kings, on whom the Rohirrim were inspired, it was customary to give such titles: steward, stablemaster, butler. Butler means "bottle-bearer", words very similar to holdwine.

Of course, in a royal court of a medieval king such a position implied much more than being a mere servant: they were positions that denoted being friends of the king and men of trust. Butler and steward came to mean ministerial positions.

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    I thought Merry was explicitly named the King's cup-bearer.
    – terdon
    Sep 17 at 8:33
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    I, too, saw it as something along the lines of a stirrup cup bearer, a tradition which is referenced as far back as Chaucer.
    – Alan
    Sep 17 at 9:20
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    Tolkien could have been playing with words here, but in universe, Holdwine is definitely an Old English name just like other Rohirric names, and is pronounced hold-wee-neh. Actually it's no more surprising than Teleporno, Bladorthin, etc. Tolkien wasn't quite keen on avoiding these.
    – Eugene
    Sep 17 at 9:33
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    @Eugene: "and is pronounced hold-wee-neh" — I'd say "probably" more than "definitely"; for LOTR words ending in -wine we do also have the Brandywine River, which the hobbits presumably pronounced to rhyme with "vine" (being a corruption or whatnot of the Elvish Baranduin). And like "Brandywine," it's possible that Tolkien had several different influences in mind at the same time. "Holdwine" could mean both "one who holds his wine" and "Huldwine, loyal friend" (or "corpse-friend" or "well-nourished friend") all at the same time. Sep 17 at 16:28
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    @Quuxplusone Yeah, better go with "probably" or "almost definitely" since Tolkien never explicitly said so. I believe Éomer intended to name him Loyal-friend of the Mark instead of Wine-holder of the Mark, but I'm becoming growingly convinced that it's a deliberate pun.
    – Eugene
    Sep 18 at 3:54

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