Samwise Gamgee

A Hobbit, servant of Frodo, one of the FotR

Comments and Annotations

Frodo's semi-wise gardener reveals, again, the theme "acts, even mistakes, with good intention have good, often unexpected, results." Sam demonstrates how loyalty, ordinary earthy mores and values, and careful mental patience can be just as effective in tight spots as wizardry or mighty sword-play.

'It's out of his own head, of course,' said Frodo. 'I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he's a jester. He'll end up by becoming a wizard - or a warrior!' 'I hope not,' said Sam. 'I don't want to be neither!'
The Fellowship of the Ring

Some Etymology

Sam, Samwise

In Appendix F of the LotR the - fictional - etymological origin of Sam's name is explained as meaning 'halfwise, simple':

I have not used names of Hebraic or similar origin in my transpositions. Nothing in Hobbit-names corresponds to this element in our names. Short names such as Sam, Tom, Tim, Mat were common as abbreviations of actual Hobbit-names, such as Tomba, Tolma, Malta, and the like. But Sam and his father Ham were really called Ban and Ran. These were shortenings of Banazr and Ranugad, originally nicknames, meaning 'halfwise, simple' and 'stay-at-home'; but being words that had fallen out of colloquial use they remained as traditional names in certain families. I have therefore tried to preserve these features by using Samwise and Hamfast, modernizations of ancient English samws and hmfoest which corresponded closely in meaning.
The Lord of the Rings - Appendix F


Again in Appendix F of the LotR we find for the etymological origin of Gamgee:

Gamgee. According to family tradition, set out in the Red Book, the surname Galbasi, or in reduced form Galpsi, came from the village of Galabas, popularly supposed to be derived from galab- 'game' and an old element bas; more or less equivalent to our wick, wich. Gamwich (pronounced Gammidge) seemed therefore a very fair rendering. However, in reducing Gammidgy to Gamgee, to represent Galpsi, no reference was intended to the connexion of Samwise with the family of Cotton, though a jest of that kind would have been hobbit-like enough, had there been any warrant in their language.
The Lord of the Rings - Appendix F

An earlier version of this part can be found in The Peoples of Middle-earth:

Gamgee. Hobbit Galbassi. A difficult name. According to family tradition (in this case reliable) duly set out by Sam Gamgee at the end of the Red Book, this name was really derived from a place-name: Galb(b)as. That name I have closely rendered by Gamwich (to be pronounced Gammidge), comparing galb- = Gam with C.S. galap, galab- = 'game'; and the ending bas in place-names with our -wick, -wich. Galbassi may thus be fairly represented by Gammidgee. In adopting the spelling Gamgee I have been led astray by Sam Gamgee's connexion with the family of Cotton into a jest which though Hobbit- like enough does not really reside in the suggestions of the names Galbassi and Lothran to people of the Shire.
HoMeXII - The Appendix on Languages

In the Notes on Nomenclature, originally a guide for translators (also called "Guide to Names"), Tolkien's explanation sounds a little different:

Gamgee. A surname found in England, though uncommon. I do not know its origin; it does not appear to be English. It is also a word for 'cotton-wool' (now obsolescent but known to me in childhood), derived from the name of S. Gamgee (died 1886), a distinguished surgeon, who invented 'Gamgee tissue'. In a translation it would be best to treat this name as 'meaningless', and retain it with any spelling changes that may seem necessary to fit it to the style of the language of translation.
Notes on Nomenclature

Tolkien's earliest explanations, however, are given in letters to his son Christopher, dating 1944:

Sam by the way is an abbreviation not of Samuel but of Samwise (the Old E. for Half-wit), as is his father's name the Gaffer (Ham) for O.E. Hamfast or Stayathome. Hobbits of that class have very Saxon names as a rule and I am not really satisfied with the surname Gamgee and shd. change it to Goodchild if I thought you would let me.
Letters #72


As to Sam Gamgee. I quite agree with what you say, and I wouldn't dream of altering his name without your approval; but the object of the alteration was precisely to bring out the comicness, peasantry, and if you will the Englishry of this jewel among the hobbits. Had I thought it out at the beginning, I should have given all the hobbits very English names to match the shire. The Gaffer came first; and Gamgee followed as an echo of old Lamorna jokes.1 I doubt if it's English. I knew of it only through Gamgee (Tissue) as cottonwool was called being invented by a man of that name last century. However, I daresay all your imagination of the character is now bound up with the name.
Letters #76

ToDo: Restructure, add L#184

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