Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature
Page 1 of 1

Author:  Elthir [ March 14th, 2015, 10:21 am ]
Post subject:  Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Westron is a very very ancient tongue from our perspective. Never mind preceding ancient English, Latin or Greek, Tolkien language expert Christopher Gilson looks at the question of whether Westron can be thought of as the ancestor of Proto-Indo-European!*

With this in mind, how is it that some characters seem to have names in "modern languages"? The translation conceit is the answer: if one reads the runes and Elvish letters on the title page of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien is said to be the translator of (some copy of) The Red Book of Westmarch. In Appendix F, On Translation, Tolkien explains some of what he did while translating whatever copy he had before him. As this concept came up in another thread, I decided to post a closer look at it here.

I did a bit of digging to try and provide some true names of the Fellowship and the reasons behind certain translations. Sources include Appendix F [and its drafts], Unfinished Tales, Letters of JRR Tolkien, a note on "Gimli" from Tolkien language expert Carl Hostetter, and a conversation I had with Roman Rausch (author of Sindanórie on the web) about the name Boromir. Anyway, here goes, for anyone interested.

Mithrandir [Sindarin] "Grey Wanderer". Mithrandir's actual Westron name is unknown, but it means something like "Elvish wight with a magic staff" in consideration of Old Norse Gandalf. It is also noted that the actual Westron name is one "… made up of elements not derived from Elvish tongues" (Unfinished Tales, The Istari)

Aragorn [Sindarin, and see note below] Although Tolkien interpreted this name at various times I'm not sure he ever landed on something he liked for certain. Some sites are posting a meaning "Revered King" but I think it's a bit more complicated than this.**

Boromir [Elvish, a mixed form]. Tolkien perhaps characterized this [in the Appendices] as a mixed form, as in Sindarin -v- might be expected here between vowels where we have -m- rather. This might mean that the ending -mir is to be considered the High-elven word for "jewel" [conversation with R.R.]

Legolas [Elvish, a Silvan dialectal form] "Greenleaves". The Grey-elven form is Laegolas.

Note that since Elvish was spoken back in Frodo and Bilbo's day, the Elvish names are considered to be the actual names spoken back in this period. They are not translations although transcribed into the Roman Alphabet of course. For example Mithrandir actually heard the name Mithrandir when it was spoken to him back "in Frodo's day" (to greatly generalize this ancient time period), but when someone used his Westron name we don't know what that Westron name sounded like.

Gimli we do not know Gimli's outer Mannish name nor his Dwarvish name.

According to Carl Hostetter Gimli is Old Norse for the site of the hall in which the righteous will dwell after the final conflagration, with a possible meaning "Fire-lee". In letter 297 Tolkien notes that: "Actually the poetic word gim in archaic O. N. verse is probably not related to gimm […] "gem", though possibly it was later associated with it: its meaning seems to have been "fire".

Gimli's outer Mannish name probably means something similar.

Hobbitish Westron***

Banazîr Galbasi Ban for short [Westron] Banazîr means "Half-wise" as does the modernized form Samwise. Reduced form Galpsi "Gamgee" [see Appendix F for a more detailed explanation of this surname]

Maura Labingi [Westron]. There was no word maur- in contemporary Westron, but in the archaic language of the Rohirrim it meant "wise, experienced’", thus Tolkien employed "Frodo" a Germanic name of similar sense. I note that Maura appears to match Bilba with respect to the masculine ending -a. Westron laban "bag" Labingi "Baggins".

Kalimac Brandagamba Kali for short [Westron] Kali, "jolly, gay" translated by "Merry" with full name translated with "Meriadoc Brandybuck," although Tolkien notes that "Marchbuck" would have been nearer.

Kalimac, though its meaning is 'now' unknown, was seemingly also 'translated' with Meriadoc in consideration of the "Celtic feel" noted in Appendix F: "The folk of the Marish and their offshoot across the Brandywine were in many ways peculiar (...) it was from the former language of the southern stoors that they inherited many of their odd names (...) These I have usually left unaltered (...) They had a style that we should perhaps feel vaguely to be 'Celtic'.

Razanur Tûk Razar for short [Westron] raza "stranger" razan "foreign". But also the word razar referred to a small red apple, and Razar "Pippin" was associated with the apple-word but was actually short for Razanur. "Took" is an Anglicization.


*see Vinyar Tengwar 33 for Christopher Gilson's look at the possible fictive role of Elvish influenced Westron in the history of Primary World languages, in his essay: 'Elvish and Mannish I. The Role of Westron'.

**Aragorn: in a note associated with the Appendices Tolkien appears to explain this name as meaning 'Kingly Valour', but later in Words, Phrases And Passages he notes 'Ara(n)gorn = 'revered king' with the second element connected to a base NGOR 'dread' used in sense of reverence, majesty. But yet in another note (same source) Tolkien asks himself: 'What is gorn in Aragorn, Celegorn. kurna- ... Aragorn is [?simply modeled (on)? ending] of Arathorn, Celegorn etc. ... for [?pure] Argorn.'

And yet again in a very late source, a letter dated 1972 (letter 347): '5. Aragorn etc. This cannot contain a 'tree' word (see note).* 'Tree-King' would have no special fitness for him, and it was already used of an ancestor. The names in the line of Arthedain are peculiar in several ways; and several, though S. in form, are not readily interpretable. But it would need more historical records and linguistic records of S. than exist (sc. than I have found time or need to invent!) to explain them.'

Tolkien goes on to generally explain ara- as probably derived from cases where aran 'king' lost its n phonetically (as Arathorn), ara- then being used in other cases; but in the end, and perhaps notably, he does not specifically explain Aragorn's full name here.

***Labingi, Razanur, and Maura all hail from the drafts for Appendix F, rather than its final form as published. It's hard to say if Tolkien merely contracted this material for the final version, or if some of it was "rejected" for other reasons.

Author:  Jax Nova [ March 15th, 2015, 11:04 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Very good read, and I loved the information!

Thanks as always for sharing. :)

I find it very interesting the original names and how Tolkien translated them. Some of them I think sound a little better in their original form. :P

i knew Mithrandir, Greenleaf, and Gimli (since we had talked about that in the other thread)

Captain Boromir (here on the forum) might find it quite interesting to see Boromir's name.

If the mir (Vir) would refer to the high elven word for Jewel, do we have a meaning for the prefix of the name? Thus deriving a full meaning like, "Valiant Jewel..." etc. as a random non-specific example.

Author:  Elthir [ March 16th, 2015, 9:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Thanks Jax Nova. Ah Boromir... a tricky one!

If the mir (Vir) would refer to the high elven word for Jewel, do we have a meaning for the prefix of the name? Thus deriving a full meaning like, "Valiant Jewel..." etc. as a random non-specific example.

So far, all I can guess is that when Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, he intended the name to mean, "Steadfast, faithful jewel". This is based on the abandoned text Etymologies, which noted (edited here for brevity): "BOR- endure. Q voro ever, continually (...) *bóron-" ON boron (pl. boroni) steadfast, trusty man, faithful vassal (...) CF. names given to the "Faithful Men": Bór, Borthandos, Borlas, Boromir (...) Boromir is an Old N name of ancient origin also borne by gnomes: ON Boronmíro, Boromíro)..." BORÓN-- extension of the above (...) cf. name Voronwe = ON Bronwega"

But that's not only not the Boromir we are talking about here, this is before Tolkien drastically altered the history of his languages, and changed the language called Noldorin to Sindarin (N stands for "Noldorin" in the above entry, with ON referring to "Old Noldorin"). In his Words, Phrases and Passages (dated much later than the abandoned text Etymologies), a text written after The Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien does not explain the name Boromir for some reason, although he does note that Voronwe (Sindarin Bronweg) means "steadfastness".

There's more that could be said about the name Boromir in general (including a look at North Sindarin), but anyway, as of today my best guess for Boromir of Minas Tirith would be "Faithful jewel" with -mir being considered Quenya.

Author:  Jax Nova [ March 17th, 2015, 12:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Cool. :) Sounds like he has a bit of a mystery name, which is neat. I like the "Faithful Jewel" interpretation and makes sense the way you explain it.

My goodness how much easier it would be without so many different languages. I knew there was Noldor but didn't realize the difference between ON and the modern.

In quenya VS Sindarin which is the more complete language and does Sindarin play in to any of the names? I don't recall seeing it so far.

Author:  Elthir [ March 17th, 2015, 11:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Hmm, I don't know which language is more complete, but some consider the Noldorin of the Etymologies as basically Sindarin, or try to update some of these Noldorin forms to what they think they should be in Sindarin.

In the internal history of Middle-earth there is no "Noldorin" language of course, and no Old Noldorin. The Noldor spoke a form of Quenya when they returned to Beleriand, and learned Sindarin from the Grey-elves there. Although confusingly, some use the term "Noldorin" to refer to a Quenya-influenced dialect of Sindarin (as opposed to the language that Tolkien turned into Sindarin when he reimagined the history of his languages)!

Tolkien's languages have both internal history (the changes in various languages within the long history of Middle-earth), and external history too (Tolkien working on various languages at different times in his life, changing stuff both large and small), and thus the matter can get confusing.

Anyway, with respect to Sindarin, a lot of the personal names and place names in The Lord of the Rings are Grey-elven. Concerning the Fellowship: Mithrandir is Sindarin, Aragorn is Sindarin in form, Boromir seems "half" Sindarin (I guess), and Legolas seems a Silvan variant of pure Sindarin Laegolas. Even Sam gets a Sindarin name meaning "Half-wise", with Perhael.

There are plenty of Elvish names in Sindarin, for examples: Galadriel, Celeborn, Glorfindel, Cirdan, Mithlond, Gondor, Anduin.... and there are certainly a number of Quenya names too, but in theory Sindarin was the living language of the Elves (in the West of Middle-earth) of Frodo's day, even of the Exiled Noldor who had brought their Quenya to Middle-earth.

Some famous Elves acquired "Sindarized" names even, or Sindarized their own names. For an interesting example, Quenya Finwe Arafinwe became Finarfin although that was a fairly unusual type of Sindarization.

Not that you don't know some or all of this already... but sometimes I enjoy rambling a bit :-D

Author:  Jax Nova [ March 17th, 2015, 6:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Lol, no I don't know it all already! :P

So basically there is little difference between the Quenya and Sindarin within middle earth and they are both used?

lol that would almost make Noldor a mix between the two then?

Gets confusing. :P

Author:  Elthir [ March 18th, 2015, 11:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

So basically there is little difference between the Quenya and Sindarin within middle earth and they are both used?

They were both still used in Western Middle-earth, yes, but also the languages sound different and were used for different things. JRRT even makes a comparison to Latin to make a point about Quenya: "It was no longer a birth-tongue, but had become, as it were, an 'Elven-latin', still used for ceremony, and for high matters of lore and song, by the High Elves, who had returned in exile to Middle-earth at the end of the First Age." Appendix F

That's very general of course. Some of the West-men took names in Quenya at various points in time for example (even Aragorn took the name Elessar Telcontar for instance), or said certain things in Quenya, but generally speaking it had become a "book tongue" or a "learned tongue" as compared to the language of everyday use, Sindarin or Grey-elven.

Quenya is very ancient and archaic by comparison to Sindarin, as once a language becomes a "book language" it tends to change less over time than a living language. You might learn Quenya in school but it's not the everday language you speak (again generally speaking, without going into the more complicated, or more detailed, history of Quenya).

Look at how much English has changed in "only" one thousand years for instance. And thousands of years before Frodo was born the Noldor were already adopting Sindarin in Beleriand in the First Age, even before Thingol's ban on the High Elven language.

Author:  Jax Nova [ March 18th, 2015, 7:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Ah, I see.

So quenya isn't really a spoken language in middle earth anymore. More for just ceremonial importance and occasion.

So learnign Elvish, we would typically want to start with Sindarin. (Which I have heard but previously did not know why)

That makes sense now.

It would make sense, to me, to pick names out of Quenya, however, since they would be more "Noble" perhaps. Certainly less plain and ordinary than if chosen out of Sindarin.

Author:  Elthir [ March 19th, 2015, 12:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

That's basically it about the languages, yes Jax.

As for names and certain Men: the Numenorean kings started off with Quenya names, then switched to Adûnaic. Inziladûn repented the ways of the kings and changed his name to one in Quenya, but then along came Ar-Pharazôn anyway.

In Arnor: after Earendur the kings no longer took names in Quenya. In Gondor, the successors or Mardil Voronwe 'the steadfast' (first of the Ruling Stewards), ceased to use High Elven names...

... which means I just noticed that Voronwe "the Steadfast" was published by JRRT, not merely noted in Words, Phrases And Passages!

I could have noted that in my post about Boromir :-D

Author:  Jax Nova [ March 20th, 2015, 10:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Cool. :)

So pretty much Quenya is the language they should have kept using.

When choosing a name (or in today's world for someone to choose a name in Quenya)

Would it be a situation where you "translate" your existing name into Quenya or is that possible? Or do you have to just take on a new name entirely? Could you, perhaps, take the meaning of your current name, find the words in Quenya that had similar meanings and just do it that way?

Author:  Elthir [ March 21st, 2015, 12:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

It's interesting to compare the mannish customs of using Quenya names for kings (before switching to Sindarin, and the introduction of the Stewards in Gondor and so on), to what Tolkien notes about the Noldor themselves, keeping in mind that they spoke Quenya and had Quenya names, until encountering and learning Sindarin upon their return to Middle-earth...

"The changes from the Quenya names of the Noldor to Sindarin forms when they settled in Beleriand in Middle- earth were on the other hand artificial and deliberate. They were made by the Noldor themselves. This was done because of the sensitiveness of the Eldar to languages and their styles. They felt it absurd and distasteful to call living persons who spoke Sindarin in daily life by names in quite a different linguistic mode. (...)

The Noldor of course fully understood the style and mode of Sindarin, though their learning of this difficult language was swift; but they did not necessarily understand the detail of its relation to Quenya. At first, except in the few words which the great changes in the Sindarin form of Telerin in Middle-earth had left unaltered or plainly similar, none of them understood or were yet interested in the linguistic history. It was at this early period that the translation of most of their Quenya names took place. In consequence these translations, though fitted entirely to Sindarin in form and style, were often inaccurate: that is, they did not always precisely correspond in sense; nor were the equated elements always actually the nearest Sindarin forms of the Quenya elements - sometimes they were not historically related at all, though they were more or less similar in sound."

JRRT, The Shibboleth of Feanor, 1968 or later

Anyway, with respect to translating names, yes this can be done. Ales Bican, for example, has a Quenya "baby book" of names based on translation.

I'm not sure how often translating a name would be done today in the real world. I mean if you meet someone who speaks a different language for example, and your name has sounds in it that really don't occur in that language, the name might be 'adapted' somewhat. But anyway name making based on translation has been done, considering both Sindarin and Quenya, if the elements or words are available that is.

Name generators are a different thing however and can have nothing to do with meaning. Although that said, I just had an interesting discussion with someone who used one, and "by luck" (it would seem) actually got a translation from a generator: this girl's name had a Latin derivation meaning 'queen' and Chris Wetherell's generator gave her Tari as a name. Yet Chris explained how the generator works...

Q: How's it work? A: Compared to some of the other name generators out there, the algorithm is simple. It takes the first and last letter of each name then, based on a character set, expresses those letters as a two-digit key which maps to the index of a particular Hobbit name.

That was for "Hobbit names" but it appears to be the same for Elvish names too. In any case it doesn't work by meaning (translation), as you can just type in Roman letters randomly and get an Elvish name generated...

... so considering that, and considering Tolkien's Elentári "Star-queen"... that's quite the coincidence for the name Regina!

Author:  Jax Nova [ March 22nd, 2015, 12:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Hm, I will have to look up that book on Queny baby names. I had no idea there was such a thing!

Yes, I have never put much stock in the typical name generators. If there were meanings (like the coincidence you mentioned) that would seem much more lagit to me.

Is there an Elvish word for Healer?

Author:  Elthir [ March 24th, 2015, 8:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Here's a link to Ales Bican's Quenya lapseparma "Quenya baby-book". At the bottom of the page you can search for names starting with a given letter. I take it that it's called a "baby book" due to it being a book for any modern mortals looking for names to name one's baby (in theory anyway)... I mean it's not about the naming customs of the Eldar, in any case.

For feminine "healer" someone coined a Neo-sindarin word *nethril, with masculine *nethron, for the game "Elendor Mush" although I forget who coined it (it might have been the person who worked on the Neo-elvish for the films). It's based on Bair Nestad (nestad *healing) published in The War of the Ring.

That said there is a Noldorin word nathron (weaver, webster) in Etymologies. If it is considered Sindarin (as some seem to consider it Sindarin) then it could be a masculine form, and if so the feminine form could be... *nethril! Compare masculine lathron and feminine lethril as words for "listener". The masculine forms for "weaver" and *healer are not identical, at least.

Neo-Sindarin Nethron could be a name just by using a capital N :-D

Although all that said, I did not check Tolkien's Words, Phrases And Passages to see if there is anything there, in an updated context.

Author:  Jax Nova [ March 24th, 2015, 11:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Cool, I will check out the link! :)

Ah, so it's a little added into the language in more modern times but that works anyways. That is interesting because one name I had come up with nearly 7 years ago was Nestaron. I don't even know how or where I got it from anymore. It is similar to Nethron and my real name means "Healer" so.. hm *shrugs*

Author:  Elthir [ March 25th, 2015, 6:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

You possibly got it at the name list here :)

Ales Bican went to the The Lord of the Rings however, and suggested (Quenya): "JASON (m.) - probably derivative of Greek 'to heal'; envinyata "heal, renew", thus could be Envinyatar (though it is Aragorn's title)"

And the linguist who invented lots of Neo-elvish for the films explained and suggested (both Sindarin and Quenya):

One of the HoME books, probably Vol. VIII, uses the Sindarin word "nestad" to mean "healing". I take this to be a nominal derivative of a verb *nesta- "to heal", with a relation like that of eithad "an insult" to eitha- "to insult". This I suppose would come from a root *NES + the verbal affix -ta-.

From the verb *nesta would naturally arise the noun *nethron "healer" < *nestrondo; cf. ithron "wise man" and ista- "know". The plural of *nethron would be *nethryn. The Quenya equivalent would be *nestar, plural *nestari.

The * denotes that a word is not attested by Tolkien of course, not to be confused with Tolkien's use of *. Tolkien does sometimes asterisk a theoried, archaic form for instance, but within the conceit even his theoried forms...

... although they may not be attested in the (imagined) writings he is looking at, are still attested forms by Tolkien himself (as the creator of his world).


Author:  Jax Nova [ March 25th, 2015, 9:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tolkien as translator, and nomenclature

Hm, that could be. I just don't remember where I got it from. However, that sounds about like it. ;)

Page 1 of 1 All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group