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Letter 297

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 297
RecipientMr. Rang
DateAugust 1967
Subject(s)Nomenclature

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

[edit] Summary

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

Tolkien told Mr. Rang that names and onomastics were a personal amusement of his, and in no way connected to real-world languages. He mentioned Nomenclature, his notes prepared for translators, and then discussed specific queries 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 was not mentioned in the letter. Gimli's name comes from a poetic Old Norse word, gimm, presumably meaning "fire".
  • Legolas: Rang had guessed "Fiery locks", to which Tolkien replied: "he was not a Balrog!". Legolas, as translated in the text, means Greenleaf.
  • Rohan: Rang found Old Norse rann, "house". Tolkien wrote that his origin was inappropriate for a people that were (partly) still nomadic horsebreeders. Rohan was Sindarin, meaning "Horse-land".
  • Nazgul (sic): This too was connected to an Anglo-saxon word according to Rang, gael-naes. Tolkien had never heard of that compound, and stated there was no conceivable reason to conflate Black Speech and Anglo-saxon.
  • Moria: Rang connected it to the biblical mountain range of Moriah. Tolkien saw no connection between the mining of the Dwarves and the story of Abraham.

After this "setting straight", Tolkien listed the external influences in names that were true. Dwarf names came from Völuspá. Rohan was, in name only, influenced by the Normandic family Rohan.

Then, Tolkien mentioned 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 wrote briefly about the story of Ëarendil.

A text note mentioned the text ended with a discussion of Númenórean religion, which was, unfortunately, omitted.