Saturday, 18 June 2016

What's In A Name?

The title character of Hrolf Kraki's Saga by Poul Anderson is born on p. 74 and named Hrolf at the end of that page. That is late in the narrative. However, the text continues until p. 261.

But a character's origin story has not been completed until his full name has been explained, especially including any distinctive nickname.

Famous examples:

(i) "What a super man! Superman!"

(ii) "I am not a god. I am awakened (buddha)."

(iii) "My body's glowing! It's radioactive! I'm radioactive! From this moment on, I am - RADIOACTIVE MAN!"
Bart Simpson: "So that's how it happened!"

So how will Hrolf become Kraki? We have no alternative but to continue reading.

Addendum: Another excellent example is "Yes, father. I will become a bat..."

For an sf origin story, see ZERO: Origins.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I'm reminded of how Tolkien gives some of his characters in his Middle Earth mythos distinctive nicknames: Hurin the Steadfast, Thorin Oakenshield, Gandalf the Grey, Aragorn the Strider, etc.


Paul Shackley said...


And different names in different contexts.

Alan Moore's character, John Constantine, was at loggerheads with a demon called Nergal. Later, when Mike Carey wrote Constantine, the latter was temporarily allied with Nergal who told him, "Use my full name. I'm sure you know it," whereupon Constantine intoned, "Nergal Draanu Viatroformis Memoth Asrokhel!"


David Birr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Birr said...

Deleted previous comment when I spotted a major error AFTER publishing.

Paul and Sean:
Different names in different contexts, yes. Gandalf = Mithrandir = Thark√Ľn = Olorin ... depending on who was talking about or to him. Likewise Aragorn was earlier Estel (Arwen reverted to calling him that as he died) and later Elessar -- and, for that matter, he was, as I remember it, called "Strider" OR Aragorn, not using both names together.

Aragorn acquired other nicknames, too, or used aliases, while serving as an alleged mercenary in Gondor and among the Rohirrim. But here I have to say I don't believe Tolkien thought it through properly: he states that no one in Gondor knew any name for Aragorn, so they nicknamed him "Thorongil" -- the Eagle of the Star. Wait; a guy comes wandering into a land at war and quickly becomes a high-ranking officer without anyone DEMANDING that he give them some name by which to call him? I think this takes respecting personal privacy a TOUCH too far....

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, David!

I actually thought of the different names Gandalf had among different peoples. With "Olorin" being the true name he had long ago, west of the Sea in Valinor.

It IS recorded that Ecthelion II of Gondor accepted into his service any man of worth and ability. Given the wars Gondor was waging so often with the Haradrim and the Corsairs of Umbar, I can see Ecthelion not inquiring too deeply about "Thorongil's" antecdents AFTER being convinced of his bona fides.

This is what Tolkien "quoted" in Appendix A of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (section iv): "Ecthelion II, son of Turgon, was a man of wisdom. With what power was left to him he began to strengthen his realm against the assault of Mordor. He encouraged all men of worth from near or far to enter his service and to those who proved TRUSTWORTHY [my stress, SMB] he gave rank and reward. In much that he did he had the aid and advice of a great captain whom he loved above all. Thorongil men called him in Gondor, the Eagle of the Star, for he was swift and keen-eyed, and wore a silver star upon his cloak; but no one knew his true name nor in what land he was born. He came to Ecthelion from Rohan, were he had served the King Thengel, but he was not one of the Rohirrim. He was a great leader of men, by land or by sea, but he departed into the shadows whence he came, before the days of Ecthelion were ended."

I do see your point about the authorities of a realm in dire danger very logically wanting to know more about Thorongil before promoting him to high rank. I can only speculate that the Rohirrim gave him such high praise that Ecthelion was willing not to inquire too deeply.