John Ronald *Reuel* Tolkien?

The “J.R.R.” in J.R.R. Tolkien stands for John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. The third name often confuses people (me included). What kind of a name is that, anyway?

Family Origins

Reuel was a family name; it was the middle name of Tolkien’s father (Arthur Reuel Tolkien). As of the initial publication of this post, I haven’t been able to determine whether the name goes any further back than Arthur. Arthur and his wife Mabel decided shortly after their son was born that they wanted to carry on the tradition, according to a letter to Arthur’s mother (published in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter).

“The boy’s first name will be ‘John’ after its grandfather [on both sides: John Benjamin Tolkien and John Suffield], probably John Ronald Reuel altogether. Mab [Tolkien’s mother] wants to call it Ronald and I want to keep up John and Reuel.” ‘Reuel’ was Arthur’s own second name, but there was no family precedent for ‘Ronald’. This was the name by which Arthur and Mabel came to address their son, the name that would be used by his relatives and later by his wife” (Carpenter, 20-21).

Two years later, the same name was given to the Tolkiens’ second son, Hilary Arthur Reuel Tolkien (Carpenter, 262).

Pronunciation, Meaning, and History

According to Baby Names World, the name is pronounced “ROO-el.” Wikipedia says the name means “friend of God” in Hebrew. The name belonged to several biblical figures, most notably Moses’s father-in-law (who is also known as Jethro). Interestingly, this is also the name of the father-in-law of Tobias in the book of Tobit. (Perhaps there is some significance relating to fathers-in-law? I have no idea since I’m neither a Biblical nor a Hebrew scholar.) It is unlikely that any of the Tolkiens or Suffields were aware of this when the baby was named, since the book of Tobit is not accepted as a legitimate part of the Bible by non-Catholic Christians. Catholics, however, do accept the book of Tobit as inspired Scripture. One wonders if Mabel and her sons would later come to notice and appreciate this.

Carrying on the Tradition

The name apparently did mean something to Tolkien, as he gave it to all of his children, including his daughter:

  • John Francis Reuel Tolkien (“Francis” more than likely came from Father Francis, the priest who raised Tolkien and his brother after their mother died)
  • Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien (“Hilary” after Tolkien’s younger brother)
  • Christopher John Reuel Tolkien
  • Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel Tolkien

A number of Tolkien’s descendants carried on this family tradition, according to the Tolkien family tree on Wikipedia:

  • Michael George Reuel Tolkien, son of Michael
  • Simon Mario Reuel Tolkien, eldest son of Christopher (by his first wife)
  • Reuel Tolkien, second son of Christopher (by his second wife)
  • Clare Reuel Tolkien, daughter of Christopher (also by his second wife)
  • Royd Allan Reuel Tolkien, son of Joanna Tolkien, daughter of Michael

Further Research I feel like there’s more information to be had about this name and its significance to the Tolkien family. Was Arthur the first Tolkien to bear that name or does it go further back? If he was the first, why was he given that name? It seems odd, particularly since his siblings seem to have more “normal” names. I would also love to find some comments from Tolkien himself about the name. Clearly the name was meaningful to him, since he passed it on to all of his children. Chances are it signified a connection to his father, who died when Tolkien was only 4 years old. I’m sure he would be pleased to see his children and grandchildren carrying the family name on into the future.

Photo Credit: John O’Nolan

  2 comments for “John Ronald *Reuel* Tolkien?

  1. March 17, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    Check out Letter #309 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a pretty extensive description of where Tolkien got his various names, and which he preferred.

    To God be all glory,
    Lisa of Longbourn

    • Emily
      April 24, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      Excellent point, Lisa! I should have mentioned that. :)

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