Bilbo: Speculation on the Origin of the Name

by Ulmo-(Valar)
Nov. 18, 1999


It has been speculated upon that JRR Tolkien based many if not all of his character names on words or roots of words from different languages.  These speculators make good arguments that the names JRRT chose often come from words that describe some major characteristic of the characters in the stories.  As the study of languages was in part his profession, and the creation of languages at least a hobby, I find it very likely that this is so.

While reading Shakespeare's "Hamlet" I came across a word that was surprisingly like the name of a character in "The Lord of the Rings".  It was also used in an analogy that further prompted me to suspect that maybe this was where he got the idea for this character's name.  I don't mean to imply the idea necessarily came from Shakespeare, but from the word.

In Act V Scene 2 Hamlet is sharing his thoughts and confiding in his only true friend Horatio.

        Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting
        That would not let me sleep.  Methought I lay
        Worse than the mutines in the bilboes.  Rashley,
        And praised be rashness for it - let us know
        Our indescretions sometimes serve us well........

Hamlet is telling Horatio of a circumstance that had such power over him that to ignore it would be more impossible than for mutineers to do anything constrained by the bilboes (iron fetters attached to an iron bar to bind prisoners feet).

As we know from the story; Bilbo has taken it upon himself to destroy the "One Ring", in spite of the fact that such an undertaking is extremely contrary to his personality.  Bilbo feels that for some reason that he cannot really explain, that he is fated, or doomed to at least try to carry out this mission.  In effect, he is "bilboed" by the Ring.