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  • Updated 23 July 2015
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Goodchild Family

The family of Sam Gamgee’s maternal ancestors

A family of the Shire, probably of Hobbiton stock,1 notable as the family of Bell Goodchild, the mother of Samwise Gamgee. In fact Bell is the only member of the family for whom we have any record, but she shows that the Goodchild family was extant in the later years of the Third Age. Through Sam and his children, the Goodchilds were therefore among the ancestors of the famous Fairbairns of Undertowers, hereditary Wardens of Westmarch.


Though the name 'Goodchild' is barely mentioned in The Lord of the Rings - it appears on a single genealogical chart - this family almost became far more important to the story. Writing to his son Christopher during the composition of the book, Tolkien wrote, '...I am not really satisfied with the surname Gamgee and [should] change it to Goodchild if I thought you would let me.' (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, No 72, dated May 1944).

Christopher Tolkien expands on this in volume 8 of The History of Middle-earth: it seems that, with hindsight, Tolkien would have preferred all the Shire-hobbits to have names derived from English to reinforce the linguistic connection between England and the Shire, and he doubted that the name 'Gamgee' had Anglo-Saxon origins.2


Notes

1

Working out the homeland of the Goodchilds requires some detective work, though we can gain a clue by considering that Bell Goodchild married Sam's father Hamfast Gamgee. Hamfast started out in Tighfield but removed to Hobbiton, so it is safe to assume that the Goodchilds were associated with one of these two places. The question is whether he married Bell Goodchild in Tighfield before leaving, or met her in Hobbiton after arriving there.

Hamfast left Tighfield at about the age of thirty-five (that is, just having come of age in Hobbit terms). This would be in about the Shire-year 1361, and Hamfast and Bell had their first child, Hamson, in 1365. These dates aren't absolutely conclusive, but they strongly imply that the couple met and married after Hamfast arrived in Hobbiton, thus connecting the Goodchild family to that township rather than Tighfield.

2

Tolkien was probably right that 'Gamgee' is not originally an English name, but it is so rare as an actual surname that its etymology is difficult to discover. It is perhaps connected to 'Gamage', a marginally more common name that shares a similar geographical distribution (concentrated especially in the southeastern English county of Essex). If that is correct, it ultimately derives from Old French, probably meaning something like 'winding stream'.

Tolkien solved the problem by devising his own entirely independent (and rather more English-sounding) meaning for the name: he derives it from 'Gammidgy', describing a Hobbit from the village of Gamwich.

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About this entry:

  • Updated 23 July 2015
  • Updates planned: 2

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