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           “Pippin, though still amazed, no longer felt afraid.  Under those eyes he felt a curious suspense, but not fear.  ‘Please’,  he said, ‘who are you?  And what are you?’

            A curious look came into the old eyes, a kind of wariness; the deep wells were covered over. ‘Hrum, now’, answered the voice; ‘well, I am an Ent, or that’s what they call me.  Yes, Ent is the word.  The Ent, I am, you might say, in your manner of speaking.  Fangorn is my name according to some, Treebeard others make it.  Treebeard will do.’

            ‘An Ent?’ said Merry.  ‘What’s that?  But what do you call yourself?  What’s your real name?’

            ‘Hoo now!’ replied Treebeard.  ‘Hoo!’  Now that would be telling!  Not so hasty.  And I am doing the asking.  You are in my country.  What are you, I wonder?  I cannot place you.  You do not seem to come in the old lists that I learned when I was young.  But that was a long, long time ago, and they may have made new lists.  Let me see!  Let me see!  How did it go?

Learn now the lore of Living Creatures!

First name the four, the free peoples:

Eldest of all, the elf-children;

Dwarf the delver, dark are his houses;

Ent the earthborn, old as mountains;

Man the mortal, master of horses:

Hm, hm, hm.

Beaver the builder, buck the leaper,

Bear bee-hunter, boar the fighter; Hound is hungry, hare is fearful…

Hm, hm,

Eagle in eyrie, ox in pasture,

Hart horn-crowned; hawk is swiftest, Swan the whitest, serpent coldest…

Hoom, hm; hoom, hm, how did it go?  Room tum, room tum, roomty toom tum.  It was a long list.  But anyway you do not seem to fit in anywhere!’

            ‘We always seem to have got left out of the old lists, and the old stories’, said Merry.  ‘Yet we’ve been about for quite a long time.  We’re hobbits.’

            ‘Why not make a new ling?’ said Pippin.

Half-grown hobbits, the hole-dwellers.

Put us in amongst the four, next to Man (the Big People) and you’ve got it.’

            ‘Hm!  Not bad, not bad’, said Treebeard.  ‘That would do.  So you live in holes, eh?  It sounds very right and proper.  Who calls you hobbits, though?  That does not sound elvish to me.  Elves made all the old words: they began it.’

            ‘Nobody else calls us hobbits; we call ourselves that’, said Pippin.

            ‘Hoom, hmm!  Come now!  Not so hasty!  You call yourselves hobbits?  But you should not go telling just anybody.  You’ll be letting out your own right names if you’re not careful.’

            ‘We aren’t careful about that’, said Merry.  ‘As a matter of fact I’m a Brandybuck, Meriadoc Brandybuck, though most people call me just Merry.’

            ‘And I’m a Took, Peregrin Took, but I’m generally called Pippin, or even Pip.’

            ‘Hm, but you are hasty folk, I see’, said Treebeard.  ‘I am honoured by your confidence; but you should not to be too fee all at once.  There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain’t, as you might say.  I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please—nice names.   For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’  A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes.  ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story.  Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say.  It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.’ "  J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

            This is probably one of my favourite dialogues in the books because it is deeply thought provoking and awe inspiring as well as touching on a subject that I have become increasingly fascinated with: the Name.

            Shakespeare calls into question the worth and value of a name in his famous lines from Romeo and Juliet, rejecting that the name “rose” has any effect on the object itself, or if it is simply an arbitrary grouping of sounds that we associate with the object.  He denies that the name is the essence of the object and that a rose by another name has the same qualities and thus Romeo is not to be judged bad on the basis of his last name.

            But are names completely arbitrary?  Are they little more than a way of distinguishing one face from another face, and that face from a rock?  Are they truly devoid of meaning?  I wouldn’t say so, though there is nothing inherent to the particular speech sounds or letters that are used to make a name, I believe there is much more to a name than we realize.

            There are many unwritten rules that we don’t realize are in place until we or someone else violates them.  In many languages there are two ways to introduce yourself: the Spanish word nombre and the Russian word имя (eemya) both mean “name” in the sense that it is the one legally given to you by your parents.  However, often the words llamo and завут (zahvoot) will be used to introduce oneself and these carry the idea of calling oneself or someone else calling them by the title they give.  The title given after this word may or may not be your legal name, but it is likely to be a shortened version of it, or a completely different name that you go by and respond to with people pn a more familiar level.  Names like ‘Bobby’, ‘Johnny’, ‘Billy’, ‘Willy’, or ‘Thorin Oakenshield’, may not be entirely appropriate to use in a formal occasion, or if you do, you will be seen as making light of the situation or relationship and possibly offensive.

            On the other hand there may be names that you don’t give out upon your first meeting and a person will have to earn a place of trust and respect before they will be able to call you this certain name without offense.  One generally does not call one’s boss by his  or her first name and rarely by a nickname unless the boss has allowed one to do so.  If a person calls you by your familial name, or nickname, before they have earned your favour they will have overstepped their boundaries and be deemed rude.

            Coming back to the topic of meaning, a name rarely goes with some reason behind it, from formal and legal names to familial and the most bizarre of nicknames each has a story or reason for its giving.  Setting aesthetic quality aside, the formal name may have something to do with one’s heritage, ethnically or geographically, or it might be the name of a family member.  For example my siblings and myself all have middle names that are the names of family members.  The names might be that of an inspirational historic figure, or a biblical name chosen for the qualities that the person portrayed and possessed.

            Furthermore a name could be chosen specifically for its meaning; mine, Jonathan, is from the Hebrew name Yonatan (יונתן), which roughly means “gift of God”.  Many of the Biblical characters have Hebrew names that have a beautiful, theo-centric meaning to them.

            Turning back to the familial names that are acquired, these are the names an individual, or a specific group of individuals has given to us, or that we have taken up for ourselves.  These name to have meaning in that for some reason or another we have acquired them.  It could be a character trait (good or bad) that some one has labeled us by, or  an attempt to avoid confusion with someone of the same name something that has come out of a certain turn of events or an experience that you shared with someone.  Their significance, if nothing else, lies in that they have a story behind them.  One of my great aunts on my mother’s side was born with the name of Martha Jane, but when the visiting neighbor boy decided that was too hard to say he asked, “Can’t ya just call her Pat?” and so she was. 


Another unrealized aspect of names is the sanctity we place on our own.  For many people if there are multiple ways to spell their name are greatly perturbed when their name is spelled with a ‘c’ and not a ‘k’, or when the name is mispronounced as ‘ey’ instead of ‘eh’, heaven help you if you mix up Carolyn and Caroline!  Personally being a Jonathan that goes by ‘Jon’, I suffer from the phantom ‘h’ that leaves its place behind the ‘t’ and slips into the shorter version of my name.  I often feel too particular when I have to give my name to the coffee shop on campus and add the tag “without an ‘h’ ”, on the end of it, lest I feel like I am sipping on another person’s hazelnut latte for the next hour.

            There is also the offense of forgetting someone’s name repeatedly.  Is this person simply forgetful?  Are you just forgettable? Or do they simply not care enough to know you or do they want to forget you?  The joy fades of a successful navigation of the introduction when you realize you are so caught up in it that you have already forgotten their name.

            So what then does this all have to do with Ents and Hobbits?  I find it intriguing that Treebeard cautions the hobbits not to give out their “real” names so hastily.  They took “real name” to mean their formal names as well as their familial names, which one can hardly see the harm in for the most part.  Then again there is a sort of vulnerability that comes with giving one’s name out or having it known by a stranger.  When one is approached by a stranger that knows their name, though one cannot recall ever meeting this person in their life, the classic reply is, “you seem to have me at a disadvantage, you know my name but I do not know yours”.   Aside from the mysteriousness of a person whose name you do not know, there is a limited amount of power they have over you; with a name someone has the ability to identify you or find you, especially in this age of information and technology.  Just think of all the trouble that came from Bilbo accidentally blurting out his name and address to Gollum in Riddles in the dark!  With a simple slip of “Baggins!  Shire!” you might have Nazgul on your tail. 

            This, however, is not what Treebeard means by “real name”.  The real name as Treebeard describes it is something vastly more personal than the name Meriadoc Brandybuck.  From the name Meriadoc Brandybuck we can determine that the name bearer is from some (at least etymologically) of an English decent.  For hobbits it tells them he is from Buckland.  From the familial name Merry we can perhaps deduce that he is merry fellow, but beyond that we cannot guess too much more. 

            Treebeard describes the real name as something that is more than just a title, it is a description of the person, their life and character, their strengths and weaknesses, and honest description of their essence, good and bad.  Whether by his caution Treebeard means that someone might have true power over the individual by knowing his or her real name, as Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series did with the “true name”, or whether it is more dangerous in that it is not prudent for just anyone to know you so intimately.

            Moreover, Treebeard’s name is best said in a language so difficult and long in its execution that it is used only to convey information worth the time of the speaker and the listener.  Thus it encourages its speakers to speak only with sincerity and conviction for what they are speaking and to have enough of the listener’s respect for them to give you the time to say it.  When such a though is applied to an ever-growing, ever-changing, intimately descriptive name, it would mean to even know someone’s name is to know them intimately and to be consistent enough in communication to know the additions as time goes on.  The simple act of exchanging names the becomes a deep and vulnerable conversation that bonds the participants in a meaningful way.

            What if we too had names that described who we really are?  Perhaps they begin with our given name and its meaning and the hopes that our parents had for us and then went on to describe our background and relations; from there it would flow into our strengths and our weaknesses, our hopes and fears; who we were, who we have become and who we are becoming and what defines us.   What if our names were our story that we would share with those closest to us and we would be sincere in the time we took to share our names with each other?  What if spoke only with such prudence so as to use well our time in speaking and the time of listener so that both speaker and listener would benefit from what is spoken?  What if it were so, and why is it not?

This is a repost from my blog Chaos Vanquished which can be found through the link on my page.

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