Several important conversations were started in our last discussion with regards to language and names. I was particularly struck by our discussion of how language and myth build one another, and how the stories themselves then come to arise from the land and the language in which they are situated. The languages of Middle Earth, of course, are an immense topic, and one I would like to learn about in greater detail. It stands to reason that our class does not have sufficient time to cover more than the basic grounds of language and names; to that end, I have done a bit of extra reading on the topic, some of which is included in the analysis below, although I hope most of the content is discernible from the readings we have done for class thus far.
On that note, I would like to return to our class discussion about the significance of Names and Naming, and the question of the ‘true’ name. To be clear, this is not to question whether or not names are significant in Tolkien’s work; rather, it is quite evident that everything is significant, not least of all those things concerning language and names. I simply believe that we were perhaps too quick in our discussion to dismiss the concept of the ‘true name’ in terms of its applicability to Lord of the Rings and in Tolkien’s ideology of names more generally. For the scope of this post, I will attempt to expand this concept via two main examples: Sauron, and naming customs among the Eldar.
First, the matter of Sauron – and some leading examples. During our in-class discussion, the closest we came to approximating indications of beings with true names were those who chose not to disclose a name (the Dwarves) or for whom saying their name would be impossible or impractical (the Ents.) In the case of the Dwarves, this secret name appears to be a private possession of the individual dwarf, and is known only to them, an inward kind of self-knowledge. The Ents, on the other hand, bear names that stretch into their long history, encompassing their entire being and experience. Treebeard, it should be noted, warns Merry and Pippin against revealing their true names as well (see: TT). In both accounts, the significance lies in the fact that the name is not spoken.
As for Sauron, Aragorn tells us in The Two Towers that, “Neither does he [Sauron] use his right name, nor permit it to be spelt or spoken,” by his servants. Beyond this apparently unbreakable rule, very few others will deign to speak Sauron’s name. Notable individuals who do not speak his name include Theoden, Denethor, Faramir, Gollum, all of the Hobbits, and Saruman himself. Aragorn and Gandalf are among the few who use the name, and use it frequently. To most, Sauron is referred to as ‘The Enemy,’ ‘The Dark Lord,’ ‘The Nameless One,’ or simply, ‘He.’
Why the deliberate avoidance? What are the implications of using Sauron’s name outright? The dangers – real or imagined – of using this name could perhaps be explained by the use of names as invocations; ‘Speak of the Devil, and he will appear.’ Invoking the name of Sauron draws the eye of Sauron, so to speak. Yet this power is not perceived to be inherent in the titles prescribed to Sauron; neither was it particularly dangerous to refer to Annatar, Sauron’s chosen name among the Elves. It seems that ‘Sauron,’ a name bestowed by the Eldar – and possibly derived from Valarin, a feature that I do not have the knowledge to expound upon – holds an undeniable potency. This brings me to my next point: The authority of naming, and a continuation of our ‘multiple names’ discussion.
Having discussed the naming of Sauron by the Eldar, I would like to address the names of the Eldar themselves. Specifically, child-naming practices, an account of which is provided in Morgoth’s Ring. The first name given to Noldor children, it says, was that bestowed by the father. A few years later (once they had discovered the pleasure of language) the child was considered old enough to choose its own name, which became private, for use among its kin and those outsiders granted permission to use the chosen name.
The most interesting names, and the most telling, were the mother-names, which could be given to a child by its mother at any time, and were often foretelling of the child’s future. All of these names were considered ‘true’ names, and all were compounded to form the full title of the Elf. Elves could be given other names, and these titles or nicknames could be included in the ‘full’ naming, but they were not considered ‘true’ names. These names, then, would equate to what we discussed in class. They were perceptions of an individual, and descriptive of the aspects of that individual’s personality or history that were relevant to the namer, but could be more or less accurate. Aragorn and Gandalf both have several such names – Strider or Mithrandir would fall in this category. Likewise, Sauron as Annatar was merely an inaccurately perceived persona.
I hope that this has covered some ground in explaining why I do not think we should speak so dismissively of ‘true’ names in Middle Earth. While names likely do not grant a tangible power, the attitudes of various characters towards both the naming process itself, and the act of speaking a name, indicate a greater symbolic power than we have perhaps allowed for. Certainly, it seems that Sauron himself considered his name to be no small matter of import, and even the Istari did not speak his name. A topic I touched upon briefly and would like to explore in greater depth is that of the approach to naming by different races of Middle Earth; further thoughts on that front are quite welcome, as well as (needless to say) any insight to the topics discussed here.
P.S. Apologies for lateness! Never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say, I suppose.