Problems in Translating the Shire Map based on the German edition


The issue of translating English-language names of LR was a subject on which Tolkien reacted very sensitive. In June 1956, Allen & Unwin sent him a list of names which Max Schuchart had tried to translate into Dutch, asking for authorization. Fervently, he wrote back in July 1956:
"it has disturbed and annoyed me greatly, and given me a good deal of unnecessary work at a most awkward season..... In principle I object as strongly as is possible to the 'translation' of the nomenclature at all (even by a competent person). ... if we drop the 'fiction' of long ago, 'The Shire' is based on rural England and not any other country on the world... After all the book is English, and by an Englishman, and presumably even those who wish its narrative and dialogue turned into an idiom that they understand, will not ask a translator that he should deliberately attempt to destroy the local colour. ... I would not wish, in a book starting from an imaginary mirror of Holland, to meet Hedge, Duke'sbush, Eaglehome, or Applethorn even if these were 'translations' of 'sGravenhage, Hertogenbosch, Arnhem, or Apeldoorn! ... Actually the Shire Map plays a very small part in the narrative, and most of its purpose is a descriptive build-up. ... The proper way to treat the first map is to change its title to Een Deel von 'The Shire' and no more; though I suppose naar for 'to' in such directions as 'To Little Delving' wd. do no harm.
... Anyway lots of them are
nonsense anyway or wholly erroneous, which I can only equal by supposing that you met Blooming, Newtown, Lake How, Documents, Baconbury, Blushing and then discovered the author had written Florence, Naples, (Lake or Lago di) Como, Chartres, Hamburg, and Flushing = Vlissingen!"(L190)
This statement was as emphatic as thoughtless. Certainly, if Tolkien objected so fervently against Duke'sbush and Baconbury he was also careful to write Den Haag and München rather than The Hague and Munich and felt offended when someone said Mundburg and meant Minas Tirith? By any means, the Dutch LR appeared with translated town names. And when in December 1957 Tolkien received a similar list of proposed translations for the Swedish version of Aake Ohlmarks, he apparently began to change his mind at last about the nomenclature:
"I see now that the lack of an 'index of names' is a serious handicap in dealing with these matters. If I had an index of names ... it would be a comparatively easy matter to indicate at once all names suitable for translation (as being themselves according to the fiction 'translated' into English), and to add a few notes on points where (I know now) translators are likely to trip." (L204).
Eventually, Tolkien started to compose such a list which became a "great but dilatory and unmethodical plan", so CT described it (GN). Tolkien wrote in the Foreword "All names not in the following list should be left entirely unchanged in any language used in translation". Unfortunately, the list was much less than complete, indeed dropping many names that the Shire Map holds. But it was evidently made available to Margaret Carroux who translated LR into German. A version edited by CT was published in 1974 by Jared Lobdell, bearing the title Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings; and later, slightly expanded and corrected, as Nomenclature in TC.
Note: Two sources which proved very useful for this discussion were „Etymology of British Place-names“ (in the following referred to as BP) in „Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isle“, dated c. 1900, available on-line, and "A Survey of the History of English Place-names" by one Dame Cateline de la Mor la souriete who otherwise claims copyright as Kristine Elliott(, in the following referred to as SH. Thanks to Bill Eatock who brought this latter essay to my attention.
The differences and similarities of nomenclature between Walter Scherf's translation of H and Margaret Carroux' translation of LR baffled Arden R. Smith in Vinyar Tengwar #28. Smith speculated that Carroux knew about Scherf's translation but had read it long ago, so she inadvertently deviated from it in important points, such as „The Hill“ and „The Water“, while „Baggins“ was translated by both as „Beutlin“. That is plausible but not how it happened. Actually, the 1957 German edition of H, based on the second English edition, was in 1967 updated by Scherf to incorporate Tolkien's 1966 revisions, and it was then that Scherf adapted some of his names to the then already published LR translation, thus Scherf inconsistently followed Carroux, not the other way round! It may be seen, if one owns a copy of the 1957 edition of „Kleiner Hobbit und der große Zauberer“, that originally p.e. the surname Baggins had not been translated at all.
The following discussion compares the German translation of the names found on the Shire Map, beginning with the overall toponyms and then sorting according to the Farthings. References are to the LR translation by Margaret Carroux and the 1967 edition of H by Walter Scherf; the terrible more recent H and LR translations by Wolfgang Krege will be ignored.
See also my attempt to translate the Shire Map into Latin :-).

The Shire:

This name is supposed to translate Westron sûza: "An organized region with a 'county town' ... 'district'. ... Gau seems to me suitable in German, unless its recent use in regional reorganisation under Hitler has spoilt this very old word." (GN) In the time of translation, it was apparently "politically correct" to adopt this position, though without historical or linguistic foundation. For example, the ancient region of the Rheingau a few kilometers from my home town, not named by Hitler, kept its name till today (incidentally, the Rheingau was protected from the outside by a huge hay; hence by some German readers it was not unreasonably compared to the Shire and its High Hay). Carroux very arbitrarily used Auenland, "land of meadows", which does not at all reflect the intended meaning. But see Bridgefields.
Farthings: "the same word as English farthing ..., quarter of a penny ... related words could perhaps be used: ... German Viertal (which is applied to 'regions, districts')." (GN) The translation has properly Viertel, avoiding the typo that was probably not Tolkien's. Farthing is further supposed to mimic the English Thrithings.
Three-farthing stone: "Translate, using whatever word is adopted to represent farthing." (GN) Carroux has Dreiviertelstein, a proper literal translation assuming a double meaning: It could be a stone of three farthings as well as three quarters of a stone!

North Farthing:

Bindbale Wood: The reason for the name is not, of course, given in the map -but there is one.“ (TC) And we would so much like to know which one!!! But this is, alas, the only authorised comment that we ever got on this obscure name. CT believes it should read Bindbole Wood,but fails to produce an explanation or trace it to an actual toponym. Bundballenwald might have been a possible rendering. But Carroux was apparently left in the dark, too: She has Schiefertonwald, "slate-clay wood", for no evident reason.
Oatbarton: Another unexplained name, though more legible than the former. The "barton" element in English town-names derives from Old English bere-tun, "barley farm; outlying part of an estate", including tun "enclosure, farmstead, village, manor, estate" (SH). The translation Hafergut, "oatstead", corresponds well to it.

West Farthing:

Bywater: "As being beside the wide pool ... Translate by sense." (GN) Carroux was evidently in love with meadows: Wasserau does not signify "by the pool" but "water-meadow". Moreover, since the Water was translated as Die Wässer (see below), should we not expect the same component here? Beiwässern would have been most suitable.
Scherf's translation Wassernach tempted Arden R. Smith in VT28 to back-translate as „Water-after“ with a huge question-mark. But indeed, nach was once cognate to nah and thus should here be translated as „nearby“. The former meaning is still preserved in the word Nachbar „neighbour“, actually a *nah-bar, one who lives nearby. Wassernach „Water-near; close to the water“ was thus in fact preferrable to Wasserau.
The Hill: Instead of the modern word Hügel, Carroux used the archaic Southern German form Bühl, from Old High German buhilhill“ (while Scherf simply had der Berg, actually "The Mountain") which now feels ancient and plausible. Correspondingly, the village of Overhill becomes Oberbühl. But alas, Carroux failed to see the significance of Frodo's cover name Underhill and translated it not by Unterbühl but by Unterberg - which may remind a German of the highly alcoholic Underberg bottles. Incidentally, Scherf translates Bilbo's address „under the hill“ as nid den Berg in the 1957 edition which sounds plausible and archaic; it became a more trivial unter dem Berg after 1967.
Hobbiton: "should be translated by 'hobbit' and an element meaning 'village'." (GN) The -ton element derives from Old English tun, see Oatbarton. Carroux' solution Hobbingen is not satisfying, for the suffix -ing, -ingen is the element found in Beornings, Eorlingas, and Hobbingen thus signifies a place founded by someone named Hobbs. Possible alternatives would have been Hobbitdorf, Hobbitweil.
Needlehole: According to TC, an actual place-name in Gloucestershire. The literal translation would have been Nadelöhr. But Carroux chose Nadelhohl, "Needle hollow", sounding credible enough. To German readers, it implies a location at a Hohlweg, a narrow passage between hillsides.
Nobottle: "-bottle is an English place-name element ... meaning '(large) dwelling'; it is not connected with bottle (glass container). ... Nobottle ... is an actual place-name in England (Northumberland). ... The equivalent and related element in German place-names is -büttel." (GN) CT however attributes the name to Northamptonshire (TR), adding that "my father allowed me to add to my map of the Shire..., although at that time I was under the impression that the name meant that the village was so poor and remote that it did not even possess an inn."
The English place-name element in question is Anglo-Saxon boil, „a dwelling“ (BP), thus Nobottle is probably a corruption of Newbottle, „new dwelling“. Carroux has Ohnbüttel, the first element being a compound variant of ohne, "without". Thus "Without a dwelling"? This translation assumes a very hobbitish secondary meaning: since a homophonous but unrelated Büttel was used to translate Shirriff (ignoring Tolkien's request that the translation of Shire should be retained here, see GN), Ohnbüttel is now a place without a policeman. Preferrable would have been Ohnbuddel, as the Northern German dialectal word buddel means „bottle“ and also suggests a relationship to buddelnto dig“.
Rushock Bog: rushock is a derivative of rush (water plant) or from rush + hassock (Old. E. hassuc) coarse grass” (TC) With Binse, "rush", the translation resulted in Binsenmoor. However, the suffix –ock is lost. See also Rushey.
Tookbank: since the surname Took was germanized as Tuk, we have here Tukhang of similar meaning.
Tuckborough: TC derives this from Tookborough, the second part is apparently derived from Anglo-Saxon burh "fortified place" (though it is apparently nowhere explained at which state in their history the hobbits built fortresses. Carroux' Buckelstadt, "hunch town", is without any foundation in the original and shows her at a total loss.
The Water: the modernized English name was genuinely translated as Die Wässer, which is not the common collective noun (Wasser) but an extinct plural preserved in geographical names and compounds (Gewässer, "body of water", Abwässer, "waste waters", etc.). It feels plausible so far; but problems arise with Bywater.
Waymeet: "On the map ... this appears as Waymoot, but in the text modernised as Waymeet, a village at the meeting of three ways. Translate by sense, as convenient." (GN) Presumably Tolkien "changed his mind about the form but neglected the map." (SD) Wegscheid is a plausible literal translation which indeed occurs as a place-name.

South Farthing:

Green-Hill Country: becomes Grünbergland – not as literal as Grünhügelland would have been, but of smoother sound. (It is true that English often uses hill for elevations which a German does not call Hügel any more but already Berg, "mountain"; perhaps because England has no Alps?)
Longbottom: "Probably lay in a river bottom (though none was shown in that area other than the Brandywine)" (TAMe) Apparently, Karen Fonstad has not read GN where "the second element retains its original sense ... of 'valley' (especially the head or inner end of a valley); ... also German Boden, but this does not agree closely in sense.". German Langgrund solves the problem conveniently, though Grund implies at least a brook running through the valley.
Pincup: This one has baffled readers for decades! One tentative inetrpretation was this: "It could be a hybrid like the English name Pinhoe, from *penn British root meaning a hill and copp Old English word for top, summit (as in the English name Sidcup)". (Contribution to the Tolkien list) This sounds plausible enough, but TC quotes an entirely unexpectable statement: „would, of course, not be analyzable by a modern Englishman, but is of a well-known pattern, containing bird/animal name and hop 'recess, retreat'. In this case the bird-name is pinnuc, pink (a finch or sparrow)”. This would suggest something like Finkenkoppe; but alas, it was not analyzable by a modern translator, too: Carroux' Felsmulde, "rocky dell", does not even remotely come close to this.

East Farthing:

Bridgefields: most surprisingly, this did not become Brückenfelde as one might have expected but Brückengau! Here now appears the ominous Gau which Tolkien shunned so much! Why then Carroux refused to use it in translating Shire will stay her secret.
Brockenbores/Brockenborings: "Not (I think) a genuine English place-name; but intended to have the recognized sense: 'badgers' borings, badgers' tunnellings." (GN) The origin is Old English broc, „badger“ (BP). Dachsbauten is a literal translation with -bauten, "buildings", being a well-conceived pun on the actual plural -baue!
Budgeford/Budge Ford: "the crossing of the Water by the road ... to Scary." (TR) "Budge- was an obscured element, having at the time no clear meaning. Since it was the main residence of the Bolger family (a hobbit-name not to be translated) it may be regarded as a corruption of the element bolge, bulge." (GN) Balgfurt is close enough to Bolger, though Balg is in fact a word meaning "a hide".
Deephallow: „is not clear in etymology (not meant to be - not all names are!)', but probably contains the Old English element -hall (or -healh) 'recess, a piece of land half-enclosed (by slopes, woods, or a river-bend) ” (TC). Tiefenhain comes close enough, though hain would signify the wood itself, not the land enclosed by it.
Dwaling: This has been unexplainable until TC came forth with the authoritative statement: 'should be the settlement of (the descendants of) a person called Dwale, probably a nick-name and therefore also probably uncomplimentary: older English dwale "dull"? (TC) For others, it looked like a foundation by Dwarves (Dwalin-ings?), or „it might represent a variant of 'dwelling'." (Contribution to the Tolklang list). Carroux ingeniously connected the name to dwale, "deadly nightshade, belladonna" (cf. Belladonna Took!) and came up with Nachtschatten, turning Dwaling into the paradise of Shire dopes. Most surprisingly, even the recent Slovene translation follows this suggestion. But maybe the answer is more straightforward. The OED records an expression dwale „error, delusion; deceit, fraud“. Well, nothing more needs to be said about this...
Frogmorton: "This is not an actual English place-name; but it has the same element as in Frogmore (Buckinghamshire): frog + moor + town. ... It may be translated." (GN) Froschmoorstetten is plausible; -stetten is an extinct variant on Stätte, "place", which survived only in place-names.
Girdley Island: apparently, Tolkien assumes that the element –ey in Girdley became obscured (see Rushey) and was redoubled with Island. (Michael Martinez doubted my interpretation, but it is supported by TC). The first element is a little obscure, and German Gürtelinsel does not reflect this etymological history. A conceivable alternative might have been something like Insel Gürtlau, imitating real place-names such as Insel Mainau.
the Marish: "An old form of English marsh. Translate (using if possible a word or form that is understood but local or out of date)." (GN) Der Bruch, from Old High German broehmarsh“, obeys this advise (Arden R. Smith commented that the Bruch in Bruchtal „Rivendell“ could be confused with this, but this is not easily suggested to a native German speaker. By far the more common meaning of this element is „breaking, cleft“. Indeed, I had to look up an etymological dictionary to find out for the first time about broeh!)
Overbourn Marshes: Literally as Oberbronnmarschen. Convincing and credible.
Rushey "'Rush-isle'; in origin a 'hard' among the fens of the Marish. The element -ey, y in the sense 'small island' ... is very frequent in English place names. The German equivalent is Aue 'river-side land, water-meadow', which would not be unsuitable in this case." (GN) This may the origin of the obscure Auenland. But Carroux' choice Rohrholm is even better: it uses a local Low German/Scandinavian element –holm, "low island", found for example in Bornholm, Rungholm. The possible alternative Binsenholm sounds less well, hence maybe the two different translations of rush: see Rushock Bog for which Rohrmoor would have been inappropriate.
"The spelling Rushy on the published map of the Shire is an error." (RS)
Scary: "Since it was in a region of caves and rock-holes ... and of a stone-quarry ... it may be supposed to contain English dialectal scar 'rocky cliff'. Leave unchanged except as required by the spelling of the language of translation." (GN) Carroux' Schären germanizes the name, but unfortunately, the element is occupied by the meaning "small island off-shore from Scandinavia" and thus gives an aberrant impression.
Shirebourn: has nothing to do with 'The Shire'.... It represents a genuine river-name, ancient Scire-burna 'bright -spring', or 'bright-stream' from Old English sclr 'bright, clear, pure'” (TC). This was, alas, not known to Carroux! Thus she fell to the trap of outward similarity and based on her obscure Auenland for Shire she chose Auenbronn – while Schierborn would have been the proper choice.
Stock: another name not explained by Tolkien. The origin is evidently Old English stoc, "place, outlying farmstead or hamlet, secondary or dependent settlement" which in modern English place-names commonly became Stoke. Carroux retained the name because it looks meaningful. However, in German it means "pole; heap of logs" and thus suggests a place of wood-cutters. This is not so implausible as we are near the Woody End. But it is not what Tolkien had in mind.
Stockbrook: semi-translated as Stockbach, see Stock.
Thistlebrook: translated by its compounds as Distelbach.
Whitfurrows: "whit- being the usual shortening of white ... Similarly Whitwell in the Shire (an actual English place-name). The reference ... is usually to the colour of the soil." (GN) Weißfurchen translates literally.
Willowbottom: following the example of Longbottom, the element -grund was adopted. Hence Weidengrund.
Woodhall: Translated as Waldhof, literally woodstead, as Carroux was unaware of the actual etymology for Deephallow (above) whose second element is repeated here.
Woody End: literally translated as Waldende.
the Yale: Only referenced in LR as "the lowlands of the Yale" (FR): "a region, like 'The Marish', not a particular place of settlement. ..." (RS). On the map, it is written next to an obscure dot which looks like a house, "this must have been a misunderstanding" (RS), perhaps due to a spot on the hand-made map. CT felt himself unable to "explain the meaning of The Yale". It occurs as a surname (cf. Yale University), and some believe that this "comes from obsolete Welsh *iâl, which means hill-country. Thus a very hobbitish word!" (from private correspondence with me). Others explain *iâl as „fertile“, and still others think Yale was a variation on Yell, the name of a Shetland island, deriving from Old Norse geldr which means „infertile“! Most surprisingly, Carroux translated the Yale as das Luch which like der Bruch (see Marish) signifies "swamp, marsh". She not only correctly interprets this as a regional name, but as one which signifies a territory similar to the Marish - though its location next to the dot was retained. It seems Carroux had informations not accessible to CT?!?


"The element 'buck' should be translated." (GN). Carroux obeyed and produced Bockland.
Brandy Hall: "The whole word in the language of translation, for example Branntwein ... could be used, since the Hall was on the east bank of the river." (GN) Thus Villa Branntwein? Unfortunately, it is more difficult to translate the Hall, burdened with an inflection on English society that has no exact counterpart in German history. Carroux' solution Brandyschloß is terrible. Schloß is a palace - what are we talking about? The Louvre? For the first element, see Brandywine.
Brandywine: "Since this is meant to have been intelligible at that time it should be translated by sense; but a difficulty arises, since it would be desirable that the translation should also be a possible corruption of Baránduin. ... German Branntwein would also do." (GN) As indeed it would! Why Carroux instead produced the clumsy hybrid Brandywein (and correspondingly Brandybock rather than Branntbock) is not rationally explainable. To modern readers drowned in double-speak, it feels foul and artificial.
Bucklebury: "Translate with a name containing the 'buck' element ... + some equivalent of English -bury (Old English burg, a place occupying a defensive position, walled or enclosed; a town. ...)." (GN) Once again: When did the Hobbits ever build towns with walls, I wonder? Bockenburg is a suitable translation
Crickhollow: "An obsolete element + the known word hollow. The -hollow (a small depression in the ground) can be translated by sense, the crick- retained (in the spelling of the language of translation)." (GN) Carroux obeyed and plausibly produced Krickloch. The „obsolete element“ derives from Gaelic carraig „crag“ (BP), compare Beorn's often-discussed Carrock, probably translating a word that the early Bucklanders adopted from the Dunlendings?
Hay: also High Hay. "'Hay' is the old word meaning 'hedge'" (TR), it was translated as die Hecke. But see Haysend.
Haysend "Translate as 'hedge's end." (GN) Hagsend with Hag being an ancient word for "hedge" (modern German Hecke) is well enough, though many readers would now want to separate it Hag-send. But why then the Hay was not appropriately translated as der Hag remains Carroux' secret.
Newbury: literally as Neuburg.
Standelf: What is this? A "standing Elf"? No – "Standelf means 'stone-quarry' (Old English stan-(ge)delf, surviving in the place-name Stonydelph in Warwickshire)." (RS) One may add Stanfield in Norfolk here (SH), also Stanhope, Stanley and numerous others. Its translation Steingrube is literal but Steinbinge would have been preferrable: See Little Delving.

The Westmarch:

"Translate. March means 'borderland'." (GN) Westmark is proper, and cognate to Theoden's Mark.
Little Delving: given as Lützelbinge. Lützel- is an extinct counterpart of little that survived only in surnames and place-names while –binge is found as an as ancient expression for "mine, quarry". The translation indeed feels ancient and plausible to the reader. Appropriately, Dwarrowdelf was translated as Zwergenbinge – but why Standelf became then Steingrube remains a mystery.
Michel Delving on the White Downs: This was translated as Michelbinge auf den Weißen Höhen. The element Michel- is common to Middle English and Middle High German and therefore was plausibly retained. But the stupefying expression Downs for a feature rising upwards has no equivalent in the German language: Höhen is linguistically (though not geologically) appropriate enough.