Vol. 61 No. 2 (2013)
Research Article

What Makes the Names of Middle-earth So Fitting? Elements of Style in the Namecraft of J. R. R. Tolkien

Published 2013-06-01



What makes a name ‘fitting’? Or, in closely related formulations, what makes a name ‘sound right’ or ‘ring true’? From the Cratylus to present-day studies in literary onomastics, the usual answer is that a name is fitting, right, or true for the person, place, or thing that bears it. The names in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fiction are fitting in this sense, reflecting by way of their source words, sound symbolism, or etymology some characteristic of their designees. At the same time, however, Tolkien insists that a name fit not only its designee, but also the phonological and morphological style of the nomenclature to which it belongs, as well as the linguistic scheme of his invented world. These elements of style are determined at the level of the nomenclature as a whole, independently from concerns with the motivation of individual names. The personal and place names of Middle-earth are thus fitting in more than the usual sense.


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