On a review of "Hobbit Names Aren't From Kentucky" by David Bratman

My paper "Hobbit Names Aren't From Kentucky" was published in The Ring Goes Ever On: Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference, edited by Sarah Wells (Cheltenham: Tolkien Society, 2008), vol. 2, p. 164-68. The following was sent on June 7, 2011 as an e-mail to the scholar who reviewed it in Tolkien Studies 8 (2011), p. 206-8. No reply was received.

I've just had the privilege of reading your review of "The Ring Goes Ever On," the proceedings of the 2005 Tolkien conference, in the new issue of Tolkien Studies. It seems to me that you find my article "Hobbit Names Aren't From Kentucky" somewhat puzzling, perhaps not helped by the editor's failure to maintain the indentations of entire quoted paragraphs that were in my submitted copy.

Since you took the trouble to write an extensive criticism, might I take a little time to try to explain myself?

The paper does not, as you write, offer a "categorical rejection of the possibility that Tolkien may have used some names that he remembered hearing." In fact, you quote me denying such a rejection ("It's not impossible that Barnett's tales contributed a soupcon to Tolkien's cauldron of story," p. 168), so I don't know why you don't believe me as to my own intent. Rather, as stated in the abstract, again on p. 165, and finally on the last paragraph on p. 168, the paper's purpose is to use name statistics to counter the casual factoid that hobbits are merely Kentucky country folk transplanted intact to the Shire. The phrase "Hobbit Names Aren't From Kentucky" doesn't mean that not a single hobbit name could possibly have come from Kentucky, but that hobbit names as a group are not characteristic of nor distinctive to Kentucky, and I'm sorry if that was not clear, though I tried to make it clear.

You mention nicknames as a possible source, and that is indeed possible, but Davenport was discussing surnames, and it's Davenport I wish to counter. I'm not sure if you noticed that Davenport said he found all the hobbit names in the Lexington and Shelbyville phone books (p. 165). This is why I consider it significant that I found very few of them in 1999. You write that it doesn't seem to occur to me that in 25 years demographics change, but I did raise precisely that caution ("I don't know what Davenport may have seen in his phone book in 1973 or 1979 or whenever he looked," p. 165), which again you quote me as saying, so again I do not know why you don't believe me as to what occurred to me. I think this datum is relevant because it stretches credulity that almost all the names could vanish in only 25 years. Shelbyville is not one of those Southern towns taken over by Latino chicken-processing-plant workers, and neither is Lexington.

Nor did I "deride" (your word) Davenport for using the phone book, so the implication of hypocrisy is misplaced. The phone book is a perfectly good tool. Rather, I was ridiculing the findings he claimed to have made in it. (I suspect he was grossly exaggerating.) It was therefore only fair play to use his own tools against him. You suggest using 1910s data, but I was limited to current data for reasons explained in the paper. Birth certificates and cemeteries would not have helped, because I could not search them systematically any more than I could the 1910 US census. Even if I could, only the census would be a wide-ranging enough database to establish what I wanted to know: both whether a surname absolutely did not exist in Kentucky at a given date and, if it did exist, whether it tended not to exist elsewhere in the US, making it distinctive to Kentucky.

I regret that, in all the wordage you devoted to my small, very minor paper, you did not find room to mention my observation of Tolkien's own testimony that he chose the names merely 1) because they were English, and 2) from his own sense of folk etymology - which has nothing to do with regionalisms within England, let alone within America. Of the second part of the paper, all you report is that Tolkien could have come across certain prevalent names in the West Midlands. Actually I said that he could have come across all of the census-recorded names in the West Midlands (p. 167); my point about the prevalent names was more subtle than that: that he might have associated those as homelike, even as he appears to have treated other names, like Gaukroger, as relatively exotic. This is speculative, but I labeled it as such, and it's far less so than any association with Kentucky, because this time the names, at least, were definitely actually there.

I'm sorry my paper didn't work for you. It was really little more than a whimsical jaunt off the main point. But when I write "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies," I try to report accurately what the authors of the papers I review said, and I appreciate it when I receive the same consideration.

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