12

If I recall correctly, it was Gollum's arrival in Mordor and spilling of various beans that allowed Sauron to know Bilbo had taken the Ring. But I can't see how he could have been told that it had been passed to Frodo, although he seemed to know throughout (at least according to the answers to this question) that a hobbit had it.

When the Nazgul came to the Shire looking for "Baggins", did they know to look for Frodo Baggins or were they just going by the surname they'd got from Gollum? If Frodo had had a different surname, would they have passed him by completely (provided he wasn't wearing the Ring)? Did they ever stop hunting for "Baggins" and start hunting for any and all hobbits, knowing that Bilbo was no longer the Ringbearer? And why only hobbits - couldn't Bilbo have handed on the Ring to a dwarf or a man for all they knew? Did they ever know the difference between Bilbo and Frodo?

OK, this sounds like lots of different questions, but really it's just this: how and how much did Sauron know about the post-Gollum Ringbearers' identities?

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    He found out a lot from Facebook. – Oldcat Mar 16 '15 at 22:03
19

Sauron got the majority of his information from Gollum, as is told in The Hunt for the Ring in Unfinished Tales:

Now Sauron had never paid heed to the "Halflings," even if he had heard of them, and he did not yet know where their land lay. From Gollum, even under pain, he could not get any clear account, both because Gollum indeed had no certain knowledge himself, and because what he knew he falsified ... Thus it was that he dared to pretend that he believed that the land the Halflings was near to the places where he had once dwelt beside the banks of the Gladden.

As for how the Nazgul knew to search for "Baggins", Bilbo himself told Gollum his name (Riddles in the Dark):

I am Mr. Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don't know where I am.

Whether or not Bilbo had passed the Ring on seems irrelevant; even if he had (which he did) (and irrespective of who he may have passed it to), "Baggins" is still obviously the first person to search for; he could tell them where it had gone from there. Besides, Sauron himself would have known how difficult it was to pass on the Ring anyway.

Regarding a different surname, that indeed was the point of Gandalf's advice to Frodo in Shadow of the Past:

...you will have to go, and leave the name of Baggins behind you. That name will not be safe to have, outside the Shire or in the Wild. I will give you a travelling name now. When you go, go as Mr. Underhill.

So, all the evidence is that the only thing that Sauron and the Nazgul knew was that the Ring had been taken by a Halfling named Bilbo Baggins. The Hunt for the Ring makes it clear that they didn't even know where the Shire was (it subsequently becomes clear that nor did they know its name), and outlines their search in the Vales of Anduin and along the Gladden, until they are eventually sent to Saruman (at this stage Sauron had heard of the prophecy in Gondor - "Seek for the sword that was broken..."):

From these things he concluded indeed that neither Saruman nor any other of the Wise had possession yet of the Ring, but that Saruman at least knew where it might be hidden.

Following that the Nazgul encounter Wormtongue who is the one who finally tells them where the Shire is (and its name):

Spare me! I speak as swiftly as I may. West through the Gap of Rohan yonder, and then north and a little west, until the next great river bars the way; the Greyflood it is called. Thence from the crossing at Tharbad the old road will lead you to the borders. 'The Shire,' they call it.

But even at this stage there is no reason to think that they have any name other than "Baggins", as their questioning of Farmer Maggot indicates:

"I come from yonder," he said, slow and stiff-like, pointing back west, over my fields, if you please. "Have you seen Baggins?"

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    I'm not sure he even had Bilbo's first name; all Gandalf says is that Sauron knows of "hobbits" and "Shire" and "Baggins". He may have figured any Baggins would do, and they'd eventually lead him to the right one. – KutuluMike Mar 17 '15 at 0:02
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    Especially since AFAIR Gollum never calls Bilbo anything other than "Baggins"; he might not even have remembered "Bilbo" to tell it to Sauron. – Rand al'Thor Mar 17 '15 at 1:32
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    @randal'thor I think that reasoning is a step too far. In the culture in which Tolkien grew up, a penniless vagabond (such as Gollum), would be egregiously rude to refer to a propertied individual (Bilbo) by their given name. While Middle-Earth is not bourgeoise England in the early 20th century, Gollum is clearly aware of normative politeness in "Riddles in the Dark." However, not using a given name conversationally, is a very different thing than not knowing a given name (and being able to confess it under torture). – Lexible May 16 '15 at 5:23
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    @Lexible And as we all know, Gollum is a great stickler for the social niceties! A perfect guest at any dinner party ;-) – Rand al'Thor May 16 '15 at 10:06
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    "Thus it was that he dared to pretend that he believed that the land the Halflings was near to the places where he had once dwelt beside the banks of the Gladden." Oh man that's probably the worst written sentence I've seen from Tolkien – trallgorm Feb 24 '16 at 14:43

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