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Lexicon of Names

Common name elements in Tolkien's works

This lexicon lists some of the more common elements found in the names of places and people in Tolkien's work. These are mainly derived from Elvish tongues, but some common forms from other languages, such as Old English or Adûnaic, are also included, as well as a few less recognisable words that are still found in modern English. There are very large number of these name elements, and this page is being expanded to include more over time.

Where possible, the particular Elvish source language for an element is shown, but sometimes this is not possible (for example, where a common root word occurs in more than one language). In cases like this, terms are simply labelled 'Elvish root'.

balar (Elvish root) said to derive from *bálāre, 'power', 'powerful'. It was thus indirectly related to the Valar or Powers (and indeed the word Valar descends from the same original root). As a place-name it was specifically related to the Maia Ossë, and was given the Isle of Balar, the island where he once taught the Teleri. By extension, the name was also given the Bay of Balar in which the island lay, and also to Cape Balar, a promontory on the mainland that extended southwards into the Bay. According to tradition, this element ultimately gave rise to the name Beleriand (which on this reading would mean something like 'land of the people of Balar') when the Teleri of Balar expanded across the wider region.
band (Sindarin) 'prison, place of confinement', seen in this Sindarin form only in Angband, the 'Hells of Iron' where Morgoth dwelt after his return to Middle-earth. The Quenya equivalent was mando, which appears in the name Mandos, meaning 'prison fortress'.
bara (Sindarin) 'fiery', used especially in the metaphorical sense to mean 'eager', 'fervent'. This element is present in the names of Barahir ('fiery lord') and his nephew Baragund ('fiery prince'). It may appear in Baran and Baranor, though the derivations of these names are less sure.
barad (Sindarin) 'tower', especially a fortified tower, ultimately from a root-word implying 'lofty, high'. By far its most prominent use is in Barad-dûr, the 'Dark Tower' of Sauron in Mordor, but the same word is also seen in the names of two more ancient towers in Beleriand. Barad Eithel was the 'tower of the spring' at the wells of Eithel Sirion, and Barad Nimras was the 'tower of the white horn' on the coasts between Brithombar and Eglarest. The same word seems to occur in the personal name Halbarad, which apparently means 'tall tower' (or perhaps 'high-lofty'), presumably in reference to this Ranger's great height.
bel 1 (Sindarin) 'strong', seen most prominently in the names of Beleg of Doriath (whose name simply means 'Strong') and his great bow Belthronding (which translates literally as 'strong-stiff-twang', but is usually rendered more euphoniously as 'Strongbow'). This element is related to the more common beleg 'great, large, mighty', and also bal, 'power, might'.
bel 2 (Sindarin) 'divine', seen in the name Belthil ('divine radiance') given to the silver tree that stood in Turgon's courts in Gondolin. This element derives from the Sindarin name for the Valar, and can also be seen in Orbelain, the 'day of the Powers' called Valanya in Quenya. In its connection to power, it is etymologically related to sense 1 of bel, described above.
beler (Sindarin) in Beleriand, is a form of uncertain derivation, but later interpretations relate it to Balar (ultimately a name for the Maia Ossë, from which the Bay and Isle of Balar also apparently derive their names). In fact, historically the name Beleriand evolved from Arthurian Broceliande, so the derivation via Balar is a later re-interpretation by Tolkien, rather than the original source of the name.
bëor (Bëorian) 'vassal', the name given in their own language by the People of Bëor to their leader (previously called Balan) after he committed himself to the service of Finrod Felagund.
beorn (Old English) originally 'bear', but the word developed over time so that it could be also be taken to mean 'warrior'. Beorn, the famous Skin-changer of the Vales of Anduin, took his name from this source, and the same element appears in the name of his son Grimbeorn ('grim bear' or 'grim warrior').
ber (Elvish root) 'valiant', 'daring', the origin of the name Beren (meaning 'bold'). This root is also probably present in names like Beregar ('valiant-noble'), Beregond ('valiant stone' or - perhaps more likely - 'valiant Gondorian') or Bergil ('valiant star'), though some or all of these may derive from the presumably related berék, meaning 'wild' or 'fierce'.
bereg (Sindarin) 'wild, fierce', the probable source of Bereg as a personal name. Variations on the same root appear in Bregolas ('ferocity') and Bragollach (literally 'wildfire', but usually translated 'Sudden Flame').
bizar (Khuzdul) a plural form of the Dwarvish b-z-r, meaning a small stream running down from a spring. Bizār therefore means 'small streams', and it is in this sense that it appears in the name Azanulbizar for the valley below the East-gate of Moria. That Dwarvish name translates in full as 'streams of the shadows', and is thus directly comparable with the archaic English version Dimrill Dale (and also with Elvish Nanduhirion).
blod (Old English) 'blood' in Blodmath, an alternative name for the ninth month of the Shire Calendar. Blodmath derived from Old English Blōdmōnað, 'month of blood' or 'month of sacrifice', from a tradition of slaughtering and sacrificing livestock before the onset of winter. At least, this was a tradition among the Anglo-Saxons; whether the same tradition was held by the Shire-hobbits is a question left unaddressed.
bor(o) (Sindarin) derives from a root bor- meaning 'endure', and can have various connotations, as in 'enduring', 'faithful', 'steadfast' or 'persistent', 'constant'. Seen most prominently in Boromir ('faithful jewel'), but also in names such as Boron (simply 'faithful') or Borondir ('steadfast man'). Bór the faithful Easterling derived his Elvish name from this root. In Quenya bor- became vor-, hence names such as Voronwë, 'steadfast one'.
borough (English) though used in modern English to mean a town or district, the word historically meant 'fortified township'. A common element of real English place-names, it appears in this particular form only in Tuckborough, 'Took town', in the Shire. The word derives from Old English burg ('fortress' or 'citadel') and in that form it is seen among many Mannish place-names in Middle-earth, especially among the Rohirrim (such as Aldburg, 'old fortified town', or Hornburg, 'fortress of the horn').
bottom (archaic English) 'valley', seen in two placenames of the Shire: Longbottom (simply 'long valley') and Willowbottom (the 'valley of willows' on the Thistle Brook).
bounder (archaic English) 'one who sets or defends bounds' (that is, boundaries or borders). Used by Tolkien for those Hobbits who protected the Shire from Outsiders. These Bounders were said to 'beat the bounds', a phrase related to a police 'beat', involving patrolling along the boundaries of the Shire.
branda (Common Speech) 'border', or archaically 'march'. Branda-nîn ('border water') was the Westron name - that is, the name actually used by the Hobbits - that is anglicised by Tolkien as 'Brandywine'. The family that led the settlement of Buckland, across the river from the Shire, chose a new family name from the name of the river. That new family name is usually given in its anglicised form as Brandybuck, but this represents the actual Westron Brandagamba, which literally translates as 'Marchbuck' or 'border-buck'.
brandy (anglicised Common Speech) an adaptation of branda, 'border', 'borderland', a name element used by the Hobbits. It is familiar from the river name Brandywine, which combines the meanings of the original Branda-nín 'border-water' with its common jesting name among the Hobbits, Bralda-hím, 'heady ale'. When the Oldbucks settled in Buckland they changed the name of their family to incorporate that of the river, and so founded the Brandagamba clan. That name literally translates as 'Borderbuck' or 'Marchbuck', though Tolkien incorporates the 'Brandy-' from 'Brandywine' to give rise to the far more familiar translated name of 'Brandybuck'. The same word appears in the name of the family seat, Brandy Hall.
bree (Celtic) 'hill', representing a name given to a great hill eastward of the Shire in the older tongues used by the early settlers of that region, and surviving as a place-name into the late Third Age. Though etymologically Bree referred to the hill, the name came to be used of the town that grew up on its slopes, with the hill itself being referred to be the reduplicative Bree-hill (literally 'hill-hill'). The word also appears in a cluster of associated compounds, such as Bree-land, Bree-folk, Bree-men, Bree-hobbits and so on.
breg (Sindarin) 'sudden, quick, fierce', this name element has a group of connected meanings ultimately deriving from a root berék, meaning 'wild'. From it derives Bregolas ('fierceness'), and presumably also the name of Bregolas' father Bregor. The same element appears, with a slightly different interpretation, in the name of the Ent Bregalad, translated 'Quickbeam'. The name of Eorl's son Brego is entirely unrelated to this Elvish term, and comes instead from Old English for 'lord' or 'chieftain'.
brethil (Sindarin) can mean either 'beech tree' or 'birch tree' depending on context. This was the word from which the Forest of Brethil took its name (which in full Elvish was Brethiliand, 'beech forest'). The same element appears in the name of the birchwoods of Nimbrethil (literally 'white birch', but presumably intended to equate to 'silver birch') and in Fimbrethil (represented in English as 'Wandlimb', but literally meaning 'slender birch').
bril (Sindarin) 'glass, crystal, glittering substance', from an Elvish root mbiril, itself a compound of mir 'jewel' and ril 'glitter'. It is seen uniquely in the river name Brilthor, translated 'glittering torrent'.
burg (Old English) 'castle, fortress, walled city', a word common in Germanic languages and commonly used by the Rohirrim for castles or cities. Probably the most prominent use is in Hornburg, the castle guarding Helm's Deep that held the horn of Helm Hammerhand (before Helm's time the castle was known as the Súthburg or 'southern fortress'). In the Folde was the town of Aldburg ('old fortress' or 'old city'), while the ancestors of the Rohirrim, the Men of the Éothéod, had founded a city named Framsburg (simply 'Fram's city', named for their leader Fram). Some cities or fortresses outside Rohan are also given names in this form, notably Mundburg, the name used in Rohan for Minas Tirith, which meant 'guardian fortress'. The old Dwarf-city of Belegost in the Blue Mountains is also given the Mannish name Mickleburg, 'great fortress'. In English -burg transformed into -bury in many place-names, and the same effect is seen among the Hobbits, giving rise to names like Newbury in Buckland or Norbury (a translation of Elvish Fornost, 'northern fortress'). Burg is not to be confused with berg (as in Dwimorberg) which means 'mountain'.
bury (Old English) 'castle, fortress, walled town', related to the -burg used by the Rohirrim, but found exclusively in place-names coined by the Hobbits. It was used of two places in Buckland (and therefore the protection implied by this element presumably referred to the High Hay along Buckland's border). These were Bucklebury (of somewhat uncertain meaning, but probably 'town of the (Brandy)bucks') and Newbury (simply 'new town'). The Hobbits also used this word in its original sense in their name for the old city of Fornost, which they called Norbury ('northern city', an exact equivalent of its Elvish name). In English -bury evolved into -borough, and there is also an example of that version within the Shire: Tuckborough ('Took town') in the Tookland.

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