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When Tolkien choose, or translated Bilbo and Frodo last name as Baggins, did he choose it because to bag or pocket something means to steal it? Is it an example of significant naming or Meaningful Name as per Tv Tropes? Or is it just a coincidence?

Per TV Tropes some other names are like that. Samwise means half wit for example.

I mean like how some authors give unimaginative names to characters that explain what they are, as out of universe meanings. See Sirius Black as black dog for someone that changes into a black dog, Remus Lupin as Werewolf mcWerewolf, Selena as Sailor Moon, etc.

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  • Tolkiens original name for Bilbo was Bilba Labingi, as seen in The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 12: The Peoples of Middle-earth, II: "The Appendix on Languages".
    – Mithical
    Jun 3, 2015 at 14:50
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    "His original name" - meaning "the first name that appears in the early manuscripts of The Hobbit" or meaning "the name that Tolkien developed once he integrated The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings"? Jun 3, 2015 at 15:05
  • Tv tropes says that Tolkien worked backwards with names, name first, character traits second. Hmm tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/MeaningfulName/Literature
    – user16696
    Jun 3, 2015 at 16:26
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    @Superplane - the LotR wiki is unreliable. Tolkien Gateway is much better.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 3, 2015 at 17:03
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    Interesting, on reading the question I immediately thought of "bagman", meaning a small time crook. Jun 3, 2015 at 17:14

4 Answers 4

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In the excellent History of Middle Earth (Vol 12), there's some discussion of the etymology of Baggins. Christopher Tolkien attributes it to it literally descending from Bag End, the family home of the Baggins' dynasty.

Baggins. H. Labingi. It is by no means certain that this name is really connected with C.S. labin 'a bag'; but it was believed to be so, and one may compare Labin-nec 'Bag End' as the name of the residence of Bungo Baggins (Bunga Labingi). I have accordingly rendered the name Labingi by Baggins, which gives, I think, a very close equivalent in readily appreciable modern terms

Out of universe, the LOTR Wiki (referencing the LOTR Companion) describes it thusly;

J.R.R. Tolkien's aunt Jane Neave's farm was called Bag End by the locals in Dormston, Worcestershire.

"It [Bag End] was the local name for my aunt's [Jane Neave] farm in Worcestershire, which was at the end of a lane leading to it and no further..."

So in answer to your question, the answer is no. There's no obvious connection between him being a Baggins (someone who lives in a cul-de-sac) and his being a burglar.

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  • Well that's anti climactic
    – user16696
    Jun 3, 2015 at 18:18
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    @cde - Sorry, old chap. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
    – Valorum
    Jun 3, 2015 at 18:20
  • It might be worth noting that the reason there's the suffix -a in HoMe is that that's the masculine form; however Tolkien made it to be -o instead. This is also (explained) in HoMe XII.
    – Pryftan
    Apr 8, 2020 at 21:22
  • That first quote is from JRR Tolkien's earlier draft of Appendix F. It is not from Christopher Tolkien.
    – ibid
    Jan 12 at 11:00
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I believe it didn't have anything to do with stealing in the first place - so that would be a coincidence. The only resource I found is this site, which says:

The name Baggins is a translation in English of the actual Westron name Labingi, which was believed to be related to the Westron word laban, "bag". The name is associated with Bag End.

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Guy Davenport said that an Oxford classmate of Tolkien's who hailed from Kentucky supplied the author with many of his Hobbit names.

I wrote a more detailed answer here: https://literature.stackexchange.com/a/21582/15517

Basically, a historian named Allen Barnett reminisced to Davenport about conversing with Tolkien. Barnett says Tolkien eagerly asked after the curious names of Kentucky folk:

I forget how in the world we came to talk of Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien’s. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.\

“Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that.”

Perhaps Tolkien intended 'Baggins' to have certain connotations, but if Davenport is to be believed then the first time Tolkien heard the word it was in the context of a Kentucky surname. As for the history of that name in Kentucky, I have no idea.

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    It should be noted that this claim is rather contested. In particular see David Bratman's "Hobbit Names Aren't From Kentucky" (The Ring Goes Ever On: Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference) and John Garth's Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien (page 21 & 189). It's a mixture of lack of evidence in any of Allen Barnett's papers or Tolkien's correspondence with him, and some problems with other things Davenport claimed in conjunction with this (such as that Hobbit names could be found in Kentucky phonebooks at the time.)
    – ibid
    Jan 12 at 20:32
  • @ibid - Have we found the LOTR version of SuperShadow?
    – Valorum
    Jan 12 at 20:38
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Baggins comes from the word "bag", which is used in "Bag End", meaning a cul-de-sac or a dead-end.

In his notes to translators, Tolkien explains that the name Baggins is meant to be associated with a bag or a sack, and should thus be translated as such. Tolkien adds that Bag End is a realistic local name for a house at the end of a lane, and that his aunt Jane Neave's house was called this.

Baggins. Intended to recall bag - cf. Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug in The H.[obbit] [Chapter 12] - and meant to be associated (by hobbits) with Bag End (sc. the end of a ‘bag’ or ‘pudding bag’ = cul-de-sac), the local name for Bilbo’s house. (It was the local name for my aunt’s farm in Worcestershire, which was at the end of a lane leading to it and no further.) Cf. also Sackville-Baggins. The L[anguage of] T[ranslation] should contain an element meaning ‘sack, bag’.
"Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings", published in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion

The line that Tolkien is referring to in The Hobbit is when Biblo tells Smaug that he is "from the end of a bag".

"I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me."
The Hobbit - Chapter 12 - "Inside Information"

In a previous draft to Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had expounded a bit about the parallel in-universe etymology of the Westron name that he had "translated" Baggins from, explaining that the "real" name was Labingi from Labin-nec (Bag-end), which was from labin (bag), and so Tolkien translated it as Baggins to give it a similar english etymology.

Baggins H.[obbit] Labingi. It is by no means certain that this name is really connected with C.[ommon] S.[peech] labin 'a bag'; but it was believed to be so, and one may compare Labin-nec 'Bag End' as the name of the residence of Bungo Baggins (Bunga Labingi). I have accordingly rendered the name Labingi by Baggins, which gives, I think, a very close equivalent in readily appreciable modern terms.
"The Languages at the end of the Third Age" §47, published in *The Peoples of Middle-earth

Tom Shippey explains that the etymology of Baggins is actually somewhat significant, being Tolkien's idea of an "English reaction" to the deliberately frenchified cul-de-sac, and that the name Sackville is intended as a snobbery response to that.

Cul-de-sacs are at once funny and infuriating. They belong to no language, since the French call such a thing an impasse and the English a ‘dead-end’. The word has its origins in snobbery, the faint residual feeling that English words, ever since the Norman Conquest, have been ‘low’ and that French ones, or even Frenchified ones, would be better. Cul-de-sac is accordingly a peculiarly ridiculous piece of English class-feeling – and Bag End a defiantly English reaction to it. .... Mr Baggins, then, is at the start of The Hobbit full of nonsense, like modern English society as perceived by Tolkien: he takes pride in being ‘prosy’, pooh-poohs anything out of the ordinary, and is almost aggressively middle middle-class in being more respectable than the Tooks though rather ‘well-to-do’ than ‘rich’. If he went much further in this direction he would end up like his cousins the ‘Sackville-Bagginses’ – they, of course, have severed their connection with Bag End by calling it cul-de-sac(k) and tagging on the French suffix -ville!
The Road to Middle-earth - Chapter 3 - "The Bourgeois Burglar"

Shippey also offers another possible etymology for Baggins, based on a British word for tea, which he says Tolkien would have been familiar with.

As for Mr Baggins, one thing he is more partial to than another is his tea, which he has at four o’clock. But over much of the country ‘tea’, indeed anything eaten between meals but especially afternoon tea ‘in a substantial form’ as the OED says, is called ‘baggins’. The OED prefers the ‘politer’ form ‘bagging’, but Tolkien knew that people who used words like that were almost certain to drop the terminal -g (another post-Conquest confusion anyway). He would have found the term glossed under bæggin, bægginz in W. E. Haigh’s Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District (London: Oxford University Press), for which he had written an appreciative prologue in 1928.
The Road to Middle-earth - Chapter 3 - "The Bourgeois Burglar"

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