Strongbow and Dragonhelm, by Elena Kukanova
When listening to an episode in Prancing Pony Podcast about Of Túrin Turambar chapter in The Silmarillion, I was struck with one particular notion emphasized in the podcast: the fact that Túrin changed his name several times (or bestowed a name by others). Each name reflects different aspect of his life, such as Neithan (“The Wronged”), Gorthol (“The Dread Helm”), Agarwaen, son of Úmarth (“Bloodstained, son of Ill-fate”), Adanedhel (“Man-Elf”), Mormegil (“Black Sword), and the infamous Turambar (“Master of Doom”). These names reflect changes that happened in Túrin’s life.
For example, after accidentally caused Saeros’ death in Doriath due to previous altercation, Túrin fled before he could be either punished or forgiven by Elu Thingol. Afterward, when meeting a band of outlaws in the Forest of Brethil, he introduced himself as “Neithan”. When he ruled the land of Dor-Cúarthol, he became “Gorthol”, due to the dragon helm that he wore. After accidentally caused the death of his best friend, he became “Agarwaen, son of Úmarth”. Finduilas called him “Adanedhel” because she thought he resembled an Elf. Finally, in an act of bravado, he gave himself the name “Turambar”, thinking that he has successfully avoided the curse planted on him and his kin by Morgoth.
The last name is particularly interesting. If you have read Of Túrin Turambar, you knew that Morgoth originally planted curse to his father, Húrin, after the latter was captured in a battle. Morgoth’s curse was to make Húrin see all the tragedies that befell his family during his capture. Indeed, Túrin met tragedy after tragedy during his life, and he changed the way he introduced himself whenever a major life event happened. Túrin called himself “Turambar” in a defiant act toward the curse that always seemed to follow him, which gives the story even more interesting dimension, because we cannot tell whether all those tragedies are caused by curse, or by Turin’s own brass and arrogant acts.
In the end, the name “Turambar” became an irony. In an attempt to convince himself that he finally managed to defeat the curse, Túrin received different fate in the end. He wanted to “master the doom”, yet the doom consumed him instead. Either by Morgoth’s curse or Túrin’s own arrogance and recklessness, the name “Turambar” marked his downfall. Instead of becoming a good omen or even amulet, the name became a spiritual burden that brought his ultimate ill fate.
Speaking about spiritual burden behind names, the story reminds me of something that I often hear in my own cultural background. Despite being born and raised in East Borneo, I’ve always been an East Javanese by heart, even though my family raised me in the city and did not connect too deeply to our root culture. But sometimes certain things came up: my parents talking in Javanese to friends and relatives, folklore books from childhood that featured Javanese heroes and heroines (including the infamous “Kancil” or Mouse-deer, a trickster figure), gamelan melodies that my father enjoys so much as sleep-inducing music, and of course, the philosophy of names.
Sometimes I still hear something like this: Javanese parents gave a really beautiful name to their child, but the child was plagued with sickness when growing up. They decided that the name might be too “burdensome,” and changed it to something they deemed more suitable (usually shorter or less majestic, although it is still something beautiful). This seemed to work, since their child was no longer sickly. Of course, my first reaction when hearing that story was: “What’s the deal with that?”
Skeptics among us can explain such phenomenon with things like power of suggestion and other logical explanations. However, Javanese culture puts serious emphasis in names. Every name given to a child has meaning that the family believes will affect his or her life. Parents may plan for names way before the birth, or simply wait until the child is born to see any signs that will inspire the right name. They may consult with traditional calendar, calculate the time and day of the birth, or talk with a respected elder to get idea. However, no matter what methods they choose, finding beautiful-sounding name is not enough. Javanese parents must be careful not to choose names that will give their children spiritual burden. This is a concept known as kabotan jeneng, which means something like “Burdened by name.”
When a child earns name with high spiritual burden, and the child cannot handle the burden, it might result in various woes in life, from sickness to continuous bad luck. Certain names, such as any names that contain the word Surya (“sun”), Candra (“moon”), Nata (“king” or “leader”), Mangku (something like “to carry”), Jaga (“to guard”), Cakra (“wheel”, “to create”), or Darma (“responsibility”) are considered as having high spiritual burden, as if demanding their owners to live up the names. This might also be explained with the fact that people often judge others through names, including comparing the similarities and differences between the names and the owners.
“A leader must inherit the characters of the earth, moon, stars, sun, wind, water, fire, and sky.” A cartoon about hasthabrata, or philosophy of leadership. Names taken from hasthabrata concept are usually considered as having high spiritual burden.
(I’m still looking for the name of the original cartoonist)
Of course, this concept is no longer prevalent, especially among new generations of parents. However, when I finished reading Of Túrin Turambar chapter for the first time, the similarities between Turin’s name changes and this Javanese naming philosophy struck me so hard, I sat silently with the book on my lap, with my eyes gazing on the ceiling (at that time, I still was not too deeply immersed in Tolkien’s legendarium).
Name is important, and people pay much attention to name as much as any other aspects when welcoming a new child. As a language expert, and someone whose lifelong passion lied in that particular field, Tolkien understood about powerful aspect behind names. For example, Fëanor’s father named him Curufinwë (“skillful Finwë”), but it was his mother who gave him the name Fëanor (“spirit of fire”), because she saw how much that name suited him; in the end, when he finally died, his fiery spirit turned his body into ashes. The story of Túrin Turambar is a particular reflection on the important connection between names, life, and fates.
That left the important question: does a name determine one’s life journey, or does one live up the name given after birth? By blurring the lines between free will and fate in this story, Tolkien definitely created unique experience in reflecting one of the biggest questions in our existence.
Kuntjaraningrat. 1994. Kebudayaan Jawa. Jakarta. Balai Pustaka
Sedyawati, Edi. 2003. Budaya Jawa dan Masyarakat Modern. Jakarta BPPT
Tolkien, J.R.R. 2007. The Children of Húrin. Christopher Tolkien (ed). New York: Harper Collins.
Tolkien, J.R.R. 1999. The Silmarillion. Christopher Tolkien (ed). London: HarperCollins.