6

I'm a huge hobbit and LOTR fan, so I did some research about the names. I found the meaning of a lot of names but some I didn't find, I thought maybe you can help me? Here are the names I still don't know:

  • Thrór
  • Oin
  • Gloin
  • Dwalin
  • Balin
  • Bifur
  • Bofur
  • Bombur
  • Fili
  • Kili
  • Gimli
  • Tauriël
  • Thranduil
  • Smaug
  • Azog
  • Sauron
  • Aragorn
  • Gríma
  • Elrond
  • Galadriel
  • Saruman
  • Radagast
  • Lindir
  • You looking for the Earth-meanings (what they mean in real world languages) or what they mean in Tolkien's constructed languages? :) – Mac Cooper Apr 3 '15 at 19:41
  • I believe that the names of the dwarves may have come from dwarves in Norse mythology. I remember recognizing a few names when I was reading some Norse stuff a while ago. Don't know what they mean, though. – Mary ML Apr 3 '15 at 22:46
  • 2
    I don't think this is particularly broad: there's a group of Dwarvish/Mannish names, and one of Elvish. Voting to reopen. – Matt Gutting Apr 4 '15 at 0:21
  • I'm surprised Ori, Dori, and Nori aren't on the list. – Matt Gutting Apr 4 '15 at 0:21
  • 2
    @MaryML - scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/85089/… – user8719 Apr 5 '15 at 3:15
18

Dwarves

It's important to remember here that Tolkien's work is, ostensibly, a translation; in-universe, Tolkien has translated ancient manuscripts from "Westron" into English, so the Dwarf-names are not the actual Dwarf-names, but rather an approximation of them. However, Tolkien notes:

I have also translated all Westron names according to their senses.

Return of the King Appendix F II "On Translation"

Tolkien frequently notes that he based the "Westron" language on Anglo-Saxon, and later in Appendix F he notes that the Dwarf-names come from a Northern dialect:

The still more northerly language of Dale is in this book seen only in the names of the Dwarves that came from that region and so used the language of the Men there, taking their 'outer' names in that tongue.

Return of the King Appendix F II "On Translation"

This indicates that we can go to Tolkien's out-of-universe source for the Dwarf-names to learn their in-universe meanings. Handy!

In Letter 297, Tolkien reveals this sources: the Völuspá, a poem from the Poetic Edda:

Thus the names of the Dwarves in The Hobbit (and additions in the [Lord of the Rings]) are derived from the lists in Völuspá of the names of dvergar [Norse dwarfs]; but this is no key to the dwarf-legends in The [Lord of the Rings].

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 297: To 'Mr. Rang' (Draft). August 1967

You can find the text of the Völuspá here. Now let's do the names:

  • Thrór - Probably derived from þrór, which means:

    Boar.

    "Dwarf-Names: A Study in Old Icelandic Religion" from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 44 Issue 4

  • Óin - Likely derived from Óinn, which means:

    Shy.

    "Dwarf-Names: A Study in Old Icelandic Religion" from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 44 Issue 4

  • Glóin - Likely derived from Glóinn, which means:

    The glowing one.

    "Dwarf-Names: A Study in Old Icelandic Religion" from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 44 Issue 4

  • Dwalin - Likely derived from Dvalinn, which means:

    Torpid.

    "Dwarf-Names: A Study in Old Icelandic Religion" from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 44 Issue 4

  • Balin - This name doesn't appear in the Eddas, which makes it somewhat unique among the Dwarf-names. In An Introduction to Elvish, Tolkien scholar Jim Allan suggests that the name may be related to the Old Norse word "bál", which means "fire". "Balin" would presumably then mean something like "Burning one"

  • Bifur - Some sources claim it's derived from the Old Norse "Bívur", meaning "Trembler." It may also have been from "Bifurr", meaning:

    Beaver, i.e. one who does things with zeal. [...] The name of this animal is often used figuratively for diligence.

    "Dwarf-Names: A Study in Old Icelandic Religion" from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 44 Issue 4

  • Bofur - Possibly from "Bávor", meaning "Grumbler"

  • Bombur - Probably from "Bǫmburr", meaning:

    The swollen one.

    "Dwarf-Names: A Study in Old Icelandic Religion" from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 44 Issue 4

    Poor Bombur.

  • Fíli - This one is unchanged from the Eddas; it means:

    (1) File. (2) By association with weak masculine] nouns formed on tool-names it may mean 'filer,'

    "Dwarf-Names: A Study in Old Icelandic Religion" from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 44 Issue 4

  • Kíli - Also unchanged, this one means:

    Wedge. Possibly, one who uses a wedge.

    "Dwarf-Names: A Study in Old Icelandic Religion" from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 44 Issue 4

  • Gimli - This one is unknown. In Letter 297, Tolkien discusses the Old Norse word gim, which he translates as "fire". Gimlé is also a fixture of Norse Mythology: it's where the survivors of Ragnarök will live, and is described in the Völuspá as the most beautiful place on Earth

Elves

In Appendix F, Tolkien notes that he left Elvish names unchanged from the original in his "translation":

Only the languages alien to the Common Speech have been left in their original form; but these appear mainly in the names of persons and places.

Return of the King Appendix F II "On Translation"

So we turn to Tolkien's own (extensive - the man loved his Elvish) writings on Quenya and Sindarin:

  • Tauriel - An invention of The Hobbit movies, Tauriel's name was nonetheless made consistent with the Elvish language. SFF.SE's own Darth Melkor has previously translated her name as "Forest Daughter", though according to Peter Jackson her name means "Daughter of Mirkwood"

  • Thranduil - I can't find an online copy to verify, but multiple sources indicate that his name is Sindarin for "vigorous spring" according to Parma Eldalamberon 17

  • Elrond In Letter 345, Tolkien himself translated it as "vault of stars". In the character index in The Silmarillion, it's translated as "star-dome"

  • Galadriel - In Letter 345, Tolkien translates her name as "Glittering garland". In Letter 348, he gives it again as "Maiden crowned with gleaming hair"

  • Lindir - From The Sillmarillion Appendix: "Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names" we get lin-, meaning "sing". The -dir suffix doesn't appear in any writings I can find, but Tolkien Gateway suggests that it means "man"1, in which case "Lindir" would mean "song man" or "singer"

Wizards

  • Gandalf - According to Unfinished Tales: "The Istari", "Gandalf" translates to "the Elf of the Wand" in the language of the Men of the North

    • Out-of-universe, Gandálfr is a Dwarf-name found in Völuspá, where it also means "wand-elf". Good evidence to support my earlier claim that we can use the out-of-universe meanings to find the in-universe ones!
  • Saruman - I can't find a direct translation of this. It's possible that it's just a Mannish corruption of his Elvish name, Curunír, which means "man of skill." This is the implication given by "The Istari":

    The two highest of [the Istari] (of whom it is said there were five) were called by the Eldar Curunír, “the Man of Skill”, and Mithrandir, “the Grey Pilgrim”, but by Men in the North Saruman and Gandalf

    Unfinished Tales Part 4 Chapter II: "The Istari"

    Tolkien Gateway, citing A Reader's Companion, says that it's derived from the Old English searu, which basically means "work of skill". This suggests that "Saruman", like "Curunír", also translates to "man of skill"

  • Radagast - Translated in Unfinished Tales: "The Istari" as "tender of beasts" in the language of Old Númenor

Men

  • Aragorn - In Letter 347, Tolkien suggests that the "Ara-" part is from aran, meaning "king". Tolkien Gateway gives the full translation as "Revered King", but they again cite Parma Eldalamberon 17.

    In comments, Darth Melkor says that "Aragorn" is translated as "Kingly Valour" in the foreword to History of Middle-Earth 12

  • Gríma - As far as I know, Tolkien never gave a direct meaning for this. It possibly comes from the Old English word, which can mean either "mask" or "spectre".

Other

  • Smaug - None given in-universe, but out-of-universe this is given in Letter 25. I'll let Tolkien himself explain this one2:

    The dragon bears as name – a pseudonym – the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb Smugan, to squeeze through a hole: a low philological jest.

    The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 25: To the editor of 'The Observer'. January or February 1938

    So "Smaug" means "Squeezed through a hole."

  • Azog - Unfortunately unknown, both in-universe and out. In-universe, we know essentially nothing about the Orcish languages. Out-of-universe, Tolkien never wrote about it. One theory suggests that it's from the Spanish azogue, which means "mercury"

  • Sauron - According to The Silmarillion Index of Names, it means "The Abhorred"


1 We can tease this out another way by looking at "Mithrandir", which in the essay "The Istari" is translated from Sindarin as "Grey Pilgrim". According to The Silmarillion Appendix: "Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names", mith means "grey" and rand- means "wander". "grey wanderer" or "grey wandering man" is a fair approximation of "grey pilgrim", which would suggest that -dir means something like "man"

2 I just now learned that this was answered before by SFF.SE's own Richard

  • 7
    What's quite amusing about all this is that the Dwarf names come out as "Shiny", "Grumbly", "Bashful", "Trembly", "Burny", "Sleepy", etc. – user8719 Apr 5 '15 at 3:18
  • 1
    @DarthMelkor - You missed out Doc. Everyone always does. – Valorum Apr 5 '15 at 15:42
  • 1
    This demonstrates that the names "Smaug" and "Smeagol" are in fact related. – Matt Gutting Apr 5 '15 at 17:48
  • 2
    @MattGutting - and Smial (the Hobbit's names for their holes). – user8719 Apr 13 '15 at 20:32
  • 2
    @MattGutting: Also 'smok' in Polish means 'dragon' – Edheldil Jun 3 '15 at 10:54

Your Answer

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