Are there deeper meanings to the names of Tolkien's characters?
December 19, 2003 8:05 AM   Subscribe

I've got a friend wondering if there's an underlying logic to how Tolkien came up with his character names. Specifically, he's wondering about any meanings or allusions to the name "Boromir." Any leads on this kind of scholarship?
posted by blueshammer to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
I always just assumed that he came up with regional naming conventions. Just like Norse names have that paternal thing going on - Sven Olafson (Olaf's son), Gudmund Gudrundsdottir (Gudrund's daughter) - the different kingdoms of Middle Earth have naming conventions. The Kingdom of Rohan sports names like Eowen, Eomer, and Theoden, and the Kingdom of Gondor has names like Boromir, Faramir, and Denethor.

I've tried to read Tolkien research, but it just bores me to tears. I'd rather just read the stories.
posted by starvingartist at 8:17 AM on December 19, 2003

I'm afraid I don't have the time right now to mount an extensive search, but I'm pretty sure that the information you seek can be found at The Green Books. If you can't find it there, you can always email them.

Sorry that's kind of a 'do it yourself' answer, but I hope it gives you a place to start.
posted by anastasiav at 8:23 AM on December 19, 2003

How about this?

Bór M or S? appears to derive from BOR- endure, Nol bór faithful vassal [Etym]; Gaelic borr to
stick out (e.g.: the chest), great; Anglo Saxon bora ruler; chieftain of men from the East; most likely
originally a M term then adapted to Elvish; bound himself to Maedhros and Maglor

Boromir S; see BOR- endure, Nol bór faithful vassal, bor-o- [Etym], and see Borlad; it seems likely
that ROM- loud noise, horn-blast [Etym] must be included; in one writing Tolkien writes that Frodo
was asked about the most memorable possession of the later Boromir [of the Fellowship of the Ring],
and he replied 'I remember that he bore a horn'; see mîr jewel [appx]; 'Faithful Jeweled Horn'; great-
grandson of Bëor and ancestor of Beren, and a legendary name amongst the Edain

I found it here.
posted by kittyb at 8:33 AM on December 19, 2003

Tolkein invented most of the languages first, and then went from there.

That's one of the many things that gives an illusion of reality to Middle-Earth. You'll find that the Elven names are consistent (for the most part) as well.

This may help, as well as this
posted by bshort at 8:33 AM on December 19, 2003

I wanted to add that I don't think there are any Tolkien names that don't contain some kind of allusion or meaning... "Eowyn" translating to something like "horse joy" comes to mind.
posted by kittyb at 8:39 AM on December 19, 2003

Boromir always struck me as being a very Slavic-sounding name.
posted by oissubke at 9:04 AM on December 19, 2003

All the names come from the languages invented by Tolkien. Creating suitable character names was one of his favorite parts of writing.
posted by Orange Goblin at 9:31 AM on December 19, 2003

So, how do you pronounce Eowyn anyway?
posted by konolia at 5:31 PM on December 19, 2003

The films are sticking to an "Ay-Oh-En" pronunciation. Eomer is "Ay-Oh-Mer" and Theoden, "Thay-Oh-Den" or "Thee-Oh-Den." This hits my ear fine.

But the online Encyclopedia of Arda begs to differ, saying "the King of Rohan would not be addressed as 'Theeohden', but more as if his name were spelt 'Thearden.'"
posted by grabbingsand at 7:32 PM on December 19, 2003

All the names come from the languages invented by Tolkien

That simply isn't true.
posted by nthdegx at 3:14 AM on December 20, 2003

Coming a little late to the game, so I apologize. I asked a friend of mine, the most serious Tolkien fan I know, to comment on this question. Here's his response:
As others have explained, most of the character and place names in Tolkien's books come from his invented languages. (Among other exceptions, I believe that the names of the people of Rohan come from actual Old English.) Quite a bit of information on these issues can be found in Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings, specifically in the section "On Translation"; I think that will more than answer your friend's questions.

Tolkien's languages were in many ways the inspiration for his writing, rather than the reverse: as I recall, he started writing stories about Elves so that his languages would have a history to go along with them (history is an essential part of the development of a language, after all). But interestingly, when Tolkien came up with a character name that "sounded good", he would often keep the name and just change the underlying language so that it fit! He would make up an etymology for the name, and then try to figure out how those new root words fit into the language and its history. Sometimes he would end up writing entire stories just to explain why a particular name was possible. (Two examples of this that come to mind can be found in The Peoples of Middle-earth, in the essays "The Shibboleth of Feanor" and "The Problem of ROS".)

As for the name "Boromir" in particular, it is taken from the Sindarin language (the most common Elvish language in LotR). Boromir of Gondor was named after a human leader in the First Age of Middle-earth; according to the Etymologies (published in The Lost Road), his name means "faithful jewel". (I don't have the books in front of me, so I've taken that information from the entry on Boromir in The Encyclopedia of Arda.

As far as I can tell, the name does not have any connection to the word for "horn". In particular, I recall no connection between the original First Age Boromir and horns (and the Etymologies do not mention "horn" in their translation).
I should mention that this guy knows what he's talking about — among other things, he's the maintainer of the Tolkien Meta-FAQ.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:17 AM on December 20, 2003

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