Dwarf names in The Hobbit: what do they mean?

  • The names of Characters featured in The Hobbit

I have added each character’s name, followed by Andy Orchard’s translation, then Varg Vikernes’ translation…Please note that the name Balin isn’t mentioned in Voluspa. It is possible Tolkien could have invented this name himself 🙂 See below, for further information about the sources, the translations, and the meaning of what a dwarf is!

Dwaves, as represented in the Hobbit films

Dwarves, as represented in the Hobbit films

  1. GANDALF= WAND ELF/ ANIMATED ELF (WHITE)
  2. THORIN= DARING/ DEFIANT
  3. BIFUR= TREMBLER/ CORPSE
  4. BOFUR= GRUMBLER/ DEAD
  5. BOMBUR= TUBBY/ WAITING FOR A WAVE
  6. DORI= ARTISAN?/ DEAR
  7. FILI= FILER/ FILE
  8. GLOIN= GLOWING/ GLOWING
  9. KILI= WEDGER/ WEDGE
  10. NORI= OLD SALT/ WASHED BY A WAVE
  11. OIN= GREAT GRAMPA/ GREAT GRANDFATHER
  12. ORI= STAINER/ ALDER
  13. BALIN= Not featured in Voluspa
  14. DWALIN= The dormant one / One slumbering (alternatives sources found)
  15. THRAIN= URGE/ BRAVE
  16. THROR= SPURT/ COMFORTABLE

Illustration of the dwarves

  • Where do the names come from? 

The first Hobbit film has been released, and it got me thinking about the influence of Norse Mythology on Tolkien’s work (what else?!) It is no secret that the names of most Dwarves featured in the Hobbit are taken directly from a poem called Voluspa, or the Prophesy of the Seeress. Voluspa is one of the most beautiful and prolific works of poetry ever, and possibly the most important in terms of European heritage.  That is because so much can be read into Voluspa, for it is a treasure trove of wisdom and mythology. In it’s literal sense, it can be seen as a creation myth, an account of the ancient world where the gods ruled supreme. But Voluspa is much more than that, it is a ritual, a secret initiation to the secrets of the ancient pagan world. I won’t go into these secrets, but the true, esoteric meanings of Voluspa are brilliant explained and analysed in the book Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandanavia by Varg Vikeness. Varg is a man whose knowledge of European paganism is surpassed by no one.

Voluspa was written (or rather, spoken) in Old Norse, and there have been many many English translations. There are digital translations online, but I have found these to be rather dry and lifeless, compared to two translations that I own. In Varg Vikernes’ book, he offers a translation that is incredibly accurate, and it is superbly detailed for those who want to dissect the poem and all it’s mystery. The Penguin Classics edition of the Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore, contains a translation of Voluspa that is beautiful and compelling as a work of art. I would recommend the Penguin edition (translated by Andy Orchard) for those who want to get lost in the fantastically mythology of the old (and best!) European Religion. Both books are excellent! From reading these books (and by glossing over online translations),  the often cryptic Old Norse language can be interpreted in many different ways. As a result, some words and phrases can be completely different, depending on which translation you read.

The dwarf names are Old Norse words, each with a literal translation. As mentioned above, the translations can differ depending on the source, so I have offered translations from both Vikerness and Orchard’s books. Before I go into the names, how did the words ‘dwarf’ and ‘elf’ emerge?

by Varg Vikernes

by Varg Vikernes

translated by Andy Orchard

translated by Andy Orchard

  • What does Dwarf mean?

The original Norse word for dwarf is ‘Dvergr’, which means “opening in the ground” or “entrance to the grave (or burial mound)”. Before the dwarf names are listed in Voluspa, there is a verse that relates to the ‘King of the Dwarves’ being created from the blood of the sea and the legs of the blue. This is really the ‘initiated king’, who had entered the burial mound to gain hidden knowledge from the grave (undertaken spiritual death in ‘hel’, later represented as ‘Odin’ and ‘Baldr’ in Hel), and returned from the lair of ‘blue’ and ‘red’ (‘blue’ the colour of dead , and ‘red’ blood from sacrifice. The translation becomes clearer as ‘Dyrgja’ is the feminine form of the word, dyrr (meaning ‘door’) and gja (meaning opening in the ground). In time, the small, human like ‘dwarf’ creature came to being, as a physical embodiment of such dark and deep places as the burial chamber, and there they dwell to this day!

  • What does elf mean?

The word elf translates as ‘White’. This represents the purified and innocent spirits of the dead, and perhaps more literally, the ‘white’ corpse in the burial chamber. It is no coincidence that many places in Europe, ‘elf’ or ‘fairy’ legends have become associated with prominent hills or roads that have associations with the ‘dead’, burial mounds, or coffin roads. Over time, the idea of dead spirits at such places became more literal in folk mythology, and they took on the more physical presence of the elves and fairies. A perfect example of such a place can be found near where I live in Cumbria, England. There is a place called ‘Elva hill’, (named by the Vikings), complete with stone circle. A sacred place indeed!

Elva Plain Stone Circle, Cockermouth

Elva Plain Stone Circle, Cockermouth

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