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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Did elves repeat names?

Tol Eressea

Aug 7 2019, 8:49pm

Post #1 of 16 (3374 views)
Did elves repeat names? Can't Post

Obviously, I imagine the more infamous names weren't repeated- I HIGHLY doubt any elf parent would be willing to name their child Feanor, for example (or for that matter, any of his sons' names either). That would be like naming a child Adolf Hitler in our day and age Shocked

But I am curious to know what Tolkien's notes and such said about it. We know Glorfindel in LOTR is the same one as the one who fell fighting the balrog in Gondolin, but I wonder if he ever mentions anything about elves repeating less "famous" names when naming their children in later ages?

Also, I am sure that there are many traditions the Noldorin elves kept (LACE has a whole section on customs specific to the Noldor, for example, that can be reasonably argued doesn't apply to Telerin/Sindarin or Silvan elves, for example) that the other ethnic elven groups did not keep, and it's possible that naming traditions may not be one of them.

For those who happen to have far more books (HOME-I only have Morgoth's Ring, etc) with Tolkien's notes on repeated names, I would be very grateful if you'd share what Tolkien had to say on name repetition amongst elves Smile

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Aug 7 2019, 9:35pm

Post #2 of 16 (3326 views)
Random chance suggests: Yes. [In reply to] Can't Post

It would seem that Elves seldom (if ever) intentionally repeated names, but not every Elf in Arda would have known of the existence of every other Elf. Names could have been repeated due to sheer coincidence.

We know that Tolkien used the name Legolas twice, though he might have changed the name of the Legolas who dwelt in Gondolin if there had been a published final version of that tale in his lifetime (especially as the Elf later changed his name to Laiqalassë). And, as you note, there is the matter of Glorfindel, who might not always have been intended to be the same character from the First Age transplanted to Elrond's household in Rivendell.

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(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Aug 7 2019, 9:37pm)


Aug 7 2019, 10:13pm

Post #3 of 16 (3321 views)
and [In reply to] Can't Post

also Galdor (Lord of Gondolin in the old Tale, messenger from Cirdan in LR)

These I think were accidents, or rather, recycling; I would venture that Tolkien's logic was that a conditionally-immortal race had better not try it, because you never know when Grandpa might come back from Mandos!

OTOH, the Gondorians had no scruples when it came to recycling names, both their own and Elves'.

(This post was edited by Solicitr on Aug 7 2019, 10:15pm)


Aug 12 2019, 9:43am

Post #4 of 16 (3179 views)
Maybe like real-life names, they were 'pseudo-unique' [In reply to] Can't Post

So for example, there might be more than one elf called "Arwen". But Arwen of Doriath, daughter of A and B, grandchild of C,D,E,F is clearly not the same elf as Arwen of Rivenel, daughter of Elrond [etc.]

It's possible under this system that you would end up with two people with identical names, but I'd have thought the chances would be tiny. This system avoids a society somehow having to keep any central register of names that are taken. It also prevents running out of nice names so that some poor elf has to be called Phlegmpants or Gl0r7indel_ 97 (the sort of thing that happens when you have to find a unique username for a forum or similar).

To an extent that's what real-life societies have done for names, also adding in trades (Tom Baker, Jenny Fletcher) or nicknames. So, for example the 9th Century Icelandic leader Aud the Deep-Minded. Her name more fully is Aud the Deep-Minded Ketilsdóttir, either because lineage was important, or if there were a couple of deep-minded Aud's about.

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The Shire

Aug 12 2019, 10:42am

Post #5 of 16 (3172 views)
Elvish languages too [In reply to] Can't Post

I doubt that Elves would've quibbled over languages that were technically the same but had different sounds - take for example Calaquendi - Quenya versus Celbin - Avari, or Moriquendi - Quenya versus Morbin - Avari.
But then, names often were assimilated to other similar-sounding ones - Alatariel being assimilated to Galadriel; Ondolinde being assimilated to Gondolin.


Aug 12 2019, 10:44pm

Post #6 of 16 (3134 views)
They did. At least for some names. [In reply to] Can't Post

There is the short passages about this in HoME XII Last Writings, though it is inconclusive.

About the name Glorfindel it is said:

At any rate what at first sight may seem the simplest solution must be abandoned: sc. that we have merely a reduplication of names, and that Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell were different persons. This repetition of so striking a name, though possible, would not be credible. No other major character in the Elvish legends as reported in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings has a name born by another Elvish person of importance.

Although in margin he also wrote:

Why not?

A note about the name Galdor reads:

Galdor also appeared in The Fall of Gondolin, but the name is of a more simple and usual form [than Glorfindel] and might be repeated.

So I don't know what to make of that. He mention Elvish names and not only names of the Eldar, though all the three major names repeated, Glorfindel, Galdor and Legolas were given to Eldar.
The text about Glorfindel makes no mention of why Legolas and/or Galdor would not be considered major characters in the Elvish legends in either The Fall of Gondolin or The Lord if the Rings.
The note about Galdor on the other hand seems to suggest that this was a different kind of name in some unmentioned respect.

So it all seems to be about the names rather than the Elves.

At least Galdor and Legolas were re-used

The Edain indeed used names that were also born by Elves. The name Galdor was used by one of their chieftains.

The Dunedain in the third age also did this. The Stewards of Gondor happily used the names Turgon, Orodreth, Denethor, Dior, Ecthelion and Egalmoth, several of which were names previously used by Eldarin kings.

Yet names like Glorfindel, Fingolfin, Fingon, or Thingol seems not to have been used even by Men.

Anyway, even without mixing Mens customs into it I do not know what the difference is that would make Galdor and Legolas different names from Glorfindel or Egalmoth.

(This post was edited by InTheChair on Aug 12 2019, 10:46pm)


Aug 12 2019, 11:25pm

Post #7 of 16 (3128 views)
Eärendil is another name that does not seem repeated either by Elves or Men [In reply to] Can't Post


N.E. Brigand

Aug 13 2019, 1:37am

Post #8 of 16 (3126 views)
Andrew Higgins presented a paper on this subject at Kalamazoo. [In reply to] Can't Post

As part of the Tolkien track in May at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, held each year at Western Michigan University, Higgins (perhaps best known as the co-editor of the special edition of Tolkien's "A Secret Vice") cited the same History of Middle-earth volume that InTheChair references below, as well as a number of other works, in his discussion of this very subject. I made a point of noting to him something that Dunadan of North Arnor posted here more than ten years ago: how Tolkien's analysis of his own character Glorfindel is rather like his analysis, in Finn and Hengest, of the legendary character Hengest.

Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.

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Grey Havens

Aug 23 2019, 9:09pm

Post #9 of 16 (2980 views)
Not totally Elves maybe, but Mablung was repeated. [In reply to] Can't Post

Wasn't he both a warden of Doriath and also a Ranger of Gondor? But I suppose that despite been of different species they both liked the woodlands.


Aug 23 2019, 10:42pm

Post #10 of 16 (2980 views)
The [In reply to] Can't Post

Dunedain copied Elf-names all over the place. As mortals, it wasn't so big a deal for them.

Grey Havens

Sep 20 2019, 7:53am

Post #11 of 16 (1954 views)
yes they do in my opinion [In reply to] Can't Post

In my opinion, and generally speaking, Elves repeated names.

As already mentioned, in notes to the Glorfindel I essay, Tolkien stated that the name Galdor "is of a more simple and usual form [than Glorfindel] and might be repeated." And then we get into other examples from JRRT's late writings:

Argon -- name often given by Sindar and Noldor in memory of Aracano's valour (The Shibboleth of Feanor)

Celebrimbor -- Sindarized form of Telerin Telperimpar -- said to be a frequent name among the Teleri (late writing, noted in Of Dwarves And Men, note 7).

Rúmil -- there are seemingly two Rúmils noted in The Lord of the Rings.

Gelmir -- there are seemingly two Gelmirs in Silmarillion writings.

Ambarussa -- (somewhat related here, though not exactly reflective of the point in general): Nerdanel gave her 6th and 7th child the same name: Ambarussa, though Feanor called one Ambarto desiring that they should be differently named.

Finarfin's Mother-name was Ingoldo, and Finarfin itself is a Sindarization of his name Arafinwe after being "prefixed" by the name Finwe -- that is, Finwe Arafinwe> Finarfin (see also Finwe Nolofinwe> Fingolfin)

Finrod's Mother-name was Ingoldo as well.

"Eärwen gave this name [Ingoldo] to her eldest child Artafindë (Finrod), and by it he was usually called by his brothers and sister who esteemed him and loved him. It was never Sindarized (the form would have been Angoloð). The name spread from his kin to many others who held him in honour, especially to Men (the Atani) of whom he was the greatest friend among the Eldar."

JRRT Shibboleth of Feanor

Especially to Men seems to include to Elves too, in my opinion anyway.

Grey Havens

Sep 20 2019, 8:23am

Post #12 of 16 (1948 views)
archaic and Silvan [In reply to] Can't Post

For myself, I don't actually consider "Legolas" of Gondolin a character in Middle-earth.

Back in the very early Book of Lost Tales he was of the Noldoli, as well as the Elf Gimli, although in that conception "Legolas" was a Gnomish construction (there was no Sindarin in this early period), and it was even said that it may have been a confusion of the names Laigolas Legolast, which would have thus made these forms his true names (although granted, even a confusion can catch on and become a name, if "Legolas" is meant to be a form actually spoken to the character).

"Laigolas = green-leaf, (...) legolast i.e. keen-sight (...) but perhaps both were his names as the gnomes delighted to give similar sounding names of dissimilar meaning. Legolas, the ordinary form is a confusion of the two" JRRT Book of Lost Tales

This is interesting! But in any event, much much later Tolkien decided (edited a bit here, by me)

"Legolas means 'green-leaves', a woodland name -- dialectal form of pure Sindarin laegolas (...) (H.E. laica, S. laeg (seldom used, usually replaced by calen), woodland leg)."

So the name Legolas has become a dialectal Silvan name, suitable to Legolas of Greenwood. Was Tolkien going to retain this same name for an Elf of Gondolin? It's possible that he could have used the purer Sindarin form Laegolas here, but it's equally possible that Tolkien could have wholly avoided this and made up a new name for the Gondolin character, if he was to remain.

The name Glorfindel was also invented in Gnomish, but we know Tolkien decided to explain it (at least in WPP) as archaic in form (now in a Sindarin context), and that Glorfindel of Imladris was Glorfindel of Gondolin re-bodied, in any case.

Also, to be honest, I'm not sure I agree with JRRT when he writes (already quoted by you) . . .

"This repetition of so striking a name, though possible, would not be credible. No other major character in the Elvish legends as reported in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings has a name born by another Elvish person of importance."

. . . in the sense that this would not be credible. And even if Glorfindel was considered archaic in form, to my mind it need not be updated for use in a later time.

Just my opinions here.

(This post was edited by Elthir on Sep 20 2019, 8:27am)


Sep 20 2019, 12:02pm

Post #13 of 16 (1919 views)
How do we distinguish 'story fact' from 'author choice'? [In reply to] Can't Post

Given the multitude of manuscripts, drafts, and doodles by our favorite story-telling Prof, how are we supposed to judge what the various cultures of Elves 'do' or don't do when it comes to names?

In other words, when the same name occurs twice in his stories (say, Rumil), does that stand as evidence that Elvish names did get used twice in Elvish cultures within the fictional world? Or does it mean the author used a name a second time while forgetting he'd used it earlier, or used it again because in his mind the earlier draft had been abandoned and no longer had currency within his fictional world?

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Grey Havens

Sep 20 2019, 8:27pm

Post #14 of 16 (1879 views)
I can't speak for we [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
Given the multitude of manuscripts, drafts, and doodles by our favorite story-telling Prof, how are we supposed to judge what the various cultures of Elves 'do' or don't do when it comes to names?

If the emphasis is on various cultures with respect to naming customs in general, then yes one could argue that the LACE description, for example, might not necessarily stand for the Elves of Greenwood.

My response to the question of repeated names among Elves at least seems to cover the Eldar (which includes the Sindar), and as I say above, in general I think it's safe to say yes, they do repeat names.

In Reply To
In other words, when the same name occurs twice in his stories (say, Rumil), does that stand as evidence that Elvish names did get used twice in Elvish cultures within the fictional world?

If we use only canon -- which for me means only Tolkien-published sources -- I'm not sure the mere existence of one example (unless I'm forgetting another) is going to shed great light on the practices of Elves with respect to naming.

In Reply To
Or does it mean the author used a name a second time while forgetting he'd used it earlier, or used it again because in his mind the earlier draft had been abandoned and no longer had currency within his fictional world?

This question doesn't matter much to me in the sense that, in my opinion, no matter how it got "in", even Tolkien has to deal with the fact that there are two Elves in his published corpus who have the same name. And actually, in Words Phrases and Passages, Tolkien questions his choice here:

"Rumil is not Sindarin but identical in form with the Quenya name of the learned sage of Valinor. It might be assumed to have been borrowed from tradition, but this is not very credible, since the traditions were High-elven and not known to the Silvan Folk or the Sindar and must therefore have been given by Galadriel (who was of the Noldor); but why the name, such a choice for an elf who seems one of the plain guards and soldiers of the kingdom."

JRRT, Words, Phrases and Passages

In a second text concerning this Elf, Tolkien merely notes: " . . . whereas Rumil is actually a 'learned' Quenya name."

Anyway here's how I approach things: as far as I know, nothing in the author's published work seems to contradict what Tolkien writes in his posthumously published papers (including the text I just quoted) , and so I include a number of late writings, in which the repetition of Rumil appears to fit in any case.

Is there anything hazy here? Arguably so, given what Tolkien says about the name Glorfindel at least. In other words, if we (I) defer to this admittedly late text, what other name is "striking", or, too striking to be repeated (and so forth about Elves of importance)?

As with other things in Tolkiendom, often enough there's a but-what-about-this question niggling at a seeminly otherwise "easier" answer. And as you note, further questions arise about this topic, especially given the separation of Elvish communities for example. But that said, I feel safe enough to go as far as I usually do, again, preceded by my "generally speaking" above.

Although maybe I'll switch to Eldar, rather than Elves, whether thinking about the Avari or not Smile

(This post was edited by Elthir on Sep 20 2019, 8:38pm)


Sep 21 2019, 8:20pm

Post #15 of 16 (1777 views)
I think I agree, but [In reply to] Can't Post

...your very narrow definition of canon in fact wipes away the problem entirely, since neither Rumil of Valinor nor Glorfindel of Gondolin even exist within its confines.

Grey Havens

Sep 22 2019, 6:09pm

Post #16 of 16 (1740 views)
how many Rúmils [In reply to] Can't Post

Aha! I said "seemingly" two Rúmils (not that you challenged me on it), in case one is going to imagine "them" as one (Robert Foster includes two different Rúmils, for example, in my Guide to Middle-earth -- the version published before the Silmarillion was published).

In any case, with respect to the "multitude of manuscripts, drafts, and doodles" as you say, these, in my opinion, agree with the general notion that the Eldar reused names. And it seems to me, from WPP, that for Tolkien, there wasn't a problem with the duplication of Rúmil, rather we see him wondering "why a Quenya name (and so on)" for this Elf. I assume Galadriel knew the name of Rúmil the Elf-sage.

If only Tolkien himself had published all this stuff about naming, then I wouldn't have to bounce around in my HOME.

Sorry, couldn't resist Wink

(This post was edited by Elthir on Sep 22 2019, 6:18pm)


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