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Letter 297

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 297
RecipientMr. Rang
DateAugust 1967

Letter 297 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.


A Mr. Rang seems to have written this letter after J.S. Ryan published "German Mythology Applied", and asks several questions about the names in Tolkien's book. Tolkien writes a lengthy reply, but this letter was never sent.

Tolkien tells Mr. Rang that names and onomastics are a personal amusement of his, and in no way connected to real-world languages. He mentions Nomenclature, his notes prepared for translators, and then sets to specific quieries and guesses by Rang.

  • Gladden (the flower): Identified as Iris pseudocorus, rather than the usual Iris foetidissima.
  • Gimli: Rang connected it to a Anglo-saxon word that is not mentioned in the letter. Gimli's name comes from a poetic Old Norse word, gimm, presumable meaning "fire".
  • Legolas: Rang had guessed "Fiery locks", to which Tolkien replies: "he was not a Balrog!". Legolas, as translated in the text, means Greenleaf.
  • Rohan: Rang found Old Norse rann, "house". Tolkien writes his origin is inappropriate for a people that are (partly) still nomadic horsebreeders. Rohan is Sindarin, meaning "Horse-land".
  • Nazgul (sic): This too was connected to an Anglo-saxon word according to Rang, gael-naes. Tolkien never heard of that compound, and states there is no conceivable reason to conflate Black Speech and Anglo-saxon.
  • Moria: Rang connected it to the biblical mountain range of Moriah. Tolkien sees no connection between the mining of the Dwarves and the story of Abraham.

After this "setting straight", Tolkien tells of the extenral influences in names that are true. Dwarf names came from Völuspá. Rohan was, in name only, influenced by the Normandic family Rohan.

Then, Tolkien mentions a case where he was not aware of the "borrowing". For Nazg, Tolkien was not aware that there was a Gaelic word nasc, meaning "ring".

The only true borrowing was Eärendil, from an Anglo-saxon name Aurvandil. Both signify the Morning Star, Venus. As The Silmarillion was not yet published at the time, Tolkien writes in short the story of Ëarendil.

A text note mentions the texts ends with a discussion of Númenórean religion, which is, unfortunaltely, omitted.