Túrin Turambar and “Spiritual Burden” behind Javanese Naming Philosophy


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.


What It Means to Read “Roverandom” after My Grandmother’s Death

tales from perilous realm

A week ago, after suffering from years of chronic illness, my grandmother finally passed away.  Continue reading “What It Means to Read “Roverandom” after My Grandmother’s Death”

Comparing the Indonesian Edition Covers of Lord of the Rings

Gramedia Pustaka Utama, a Jakarta-based publisher, has announced the republication of Indonesian edition of Lord of the Rings on 29 August 2016. The books have new covers like these:  Continue reading “Comparing the Indonesian Edition Covers of Lord of the Rings”

Random Thought: I’d Love to See a Play with Black Hermione


Ever since the announcement of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out, we knew what has made many people clamor: the casting of Noma Dumezweni as Hermione, and Cherrelle Skeete as Rose (Hermione and Ron’s daughter). Many people were used to see Emma Watson as Hermione in all Harry Potter movie adaptations, so the change is understandably jarring. However, while I was honestly a bit taken aback when I saw the news several months ago, I say this loud and clear:

I’d love to see a play with black Hermione.  Continue reading “Random Thought: I’d Love to See a Play with Black Hermione”

A Casual Reader’s Thought of “Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I”

I have grown from a lanky schoolgirl who watched the first Lord of the Rings movie in an almost-dilapidated local cinema with my mouth gaped in wonder, to a serious book hoarder who read books that I had never imagined I would’ve read, such as The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien, and finally this one: Baptism of Fire: the Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I. While I’ll forever envy the likes of Tom Shippey, Dimitra Fimi, Verlyn Flieger and John Garth for having a career that surrounds the works of Tolkien (not to mention the artists like Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith and Jenny Dolfen), I’m really happy to be immersed in Tolkien’s works, along with other books that help improving my understanding toward his modern mythology.  Continue reading “A Casual Reader’s Thought of “Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I””

Indonesia’s Mobile Libraries: Bringing “Reading Virus” to Villages and Islands


The box says: “Horse Library (of) Mount Slamet”


In the late 1990s, Luis Soriano stacked books on the back of two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, and brought them to impoverished areas in Magdalena Province, Colombia. An elementary school teacher with degree in Spanish literature and huge love for books, Luis was inspired by a dedicated professor who visited his town twice a month when he was little. He also saw the powerful effect of reading on his students, who were not only from poor regions, but also had witnessed bloody conflicts in their fragile years. His mobile library, Biblio Burro (lit.”Donkey Library”), slowly added its collections through donations; from mere 70 books to more than 4,000 books. Although the activity experienced setback a few years ago because of an accident that required Luis’ leg to be amputated, he refuses to stop his mission in spreading the power of reading among poor children in his region.  Continue reading “Indonesia’s Mobile Libraries: Bringing “Reading Virus” to Villages and Islands”

Real World: Natsuo Kirino’s Take in Teen Psychological Thriller


Buy here, here or here

I once read a piece of review on Natsuo Kirino’s books that basically said: “she must write novels that are more suitable for women.” I laughed and imagined that reviewer sitting in front of me before I shot back: “let me tell you something: Natsuo Kirino knows her sh*t, and she writes it beautifully, even if she doesn’t make ‘women’s novels’ full of flowers and candies and beautiful star-crossed lovers and cute ukulele soundtrack.” No. Kirino writes books about deeply suppressed darkness that subtly appears in the hearts of regular people with seemingly mundane life. We are so overexposed to fictions full of psychopathic murderers with eccentric behaviors and bizarre fetish that we often overlook the hidden darkness in the hearts of regular people around us: whether they are that housewife who shops for vegetables at the market, that gaggle of school students chatting about homework and crush, or that plain office worker with tired face and boring daily job. Put them in specific situations, and you can see how they snap and do things that might sound unthinkable. That’s what Kirino did with her books.  Continue reading “Real World: Natsuo Kirino’s Take in Teen Psychological Thriller”