George RR Martin’s Symbolic Character Name Choices

grrm-names-symbol

Some images from ideas that might have inspired George RR Martin. Game of Thrones images © HBO.

It’s widely known that novelists, including George RR Martin, agonize over the naming of their characters: names represent much more than just a handy handle. Classic literature often uses symbolic names to foreshadow the destiny of characters, amplify theme, or simply cement the character’s identity in the reader’s mind.  As Alastair Fowler writes on the Oxford University Press’ blog, “In literature, names are often doors to meaning, and words giving glimpses of the writer’s intentions.”

Charles Dickens not only invested significant time in selecting names, he collected names he spotted in newspapers, in literature, in official lists, and even on the sides of vans for future use. In fact, Dickens often baptized his characters with monikers that symbolized a character trait.

In A Tale of Two Cities, the surname of the antagonist Madame Therese Defarge is a variant of la forge, the French word for a forge — the intensely hot fire blacksmiths use to melt metal. Defarge is an earthy name, fitting for the working-class revolutionary leader who galvanizes the peasants. Yet Defarge also evokes flames — appropriate for Dickens’ hell-sent antagonist.

madame-defarge

Madame Defarge (seated, right) in the wine shop. Image: Fred Barnard, Wikimedia Commons.

Dickens also used symbolic or thematic names to help readers remember minor secondary characters. Case in point: his A Tale of Two Cities’ character the “resurrection man” grave digger is named Jerry Cruncher — as in bone cruncher.

Even though A Song of Ice and Fire is “popular” fiction, George RR Martin uses literary devices and techniques in his work. He has acknowledged he spends a lot of time selecting character names. Martin bestows symbolic names on some of his characters whereas other names are literary allusions.

George RR Martin also names characters after friends and people to whom he wants to pay tribute — fantasy writers and football players are two examples.  Recently, Martin recently even offered to name a character in a donor’s honor — and, in classic Martin style, kill him or her off — in exchange for a $20,000 donation to a Sante Fe New Mexico wolf sanctuary. He ended up receiving a $200,000 donation from a Facebook employee.

George RR Martin has noted the names of the inhabitants of a fantasy land like Westeros can’t resemble everyday names in our world, “Coming up with the names for the characters is very tough. They can’t be too weird (with like apostrophes and stuff) and they can’t be too “real”, like Francois or Patrick or any kind of a name that is tied to a place (Sandor being a Hungarian name was unintentional).” Martin does use some names with roots in the real world, however, such as Robert, Eddard (Edward), and Joffrey (Geoffrey).

Do some of George RR Martin’s names provide insight into the character’s ultimate fate? I’d say they almost certainly do, but you be the judge. Here are a few interpretations I’ve come up with either through research (linked) or my own interpretations. The lists aren’t meant to be a comprehensive for each house. When I didn’t have ideas or couldn’t find any research information, I didn’t list the character.

House Stark Names

Stark is a German adverb for strongly1 . Also, as many people have pointed out, House Stark rhymes with the House of  York: the dynastic house of Edward IV and Richard III of England during the Wars of the Roses. The House of York overthrew the usurping House of Lancaster when Edward IV became king in 1461. Stark feels like an edgy, more serious variation of York.

It’s also worth noting much of the A Song of Ice and Fire series is told from House Stark’s perspective, and this house often has the “moral authority” throughout the series.

Eddard

edwardiv-face

Edward IV

There are many possible historical inspirations for Ned Stark, including Richard of York, Francis Lovell, and William Hastings (as I’ve discussed here). However, given Ned’s role as the leader of House Stark, his name may derive from the leader of the House of York: King Edward IV of England.

Catelyn

The Celtic name Caitlin means “pure.” (Although I can’t find the reference anymore, I believe Martin named her after a real person whose name is a variant of Catherine or Kate.)

Robb

Robertthebruce

A Victorian depiction of Robert the Bruce.

Possibly an homage to Robert the Bruce, who reigned from 1306-1329. Robert the Bruce was the Scottish king who lead Scotland during the Scottish Wars of Independence against England. As such, Robert the Bruce was the Scottish king just before the Hundred Years War began. He won control of much of Scotland in a series of dazzling military victories, including the famous Battle of Bannockburn.

Robb Stark — like his older counterpart, or foil even, Robert Baratheon — dies as a result of his choice in wife.

 

Sansa

Sansa is a Sanskrit word for charm.

Arya

arya-dancing

(c) HBO

Arya is actually a boy’s name, which suits a young girl who aspires to play a male role. This statement on Westeros.org may be a corrupted quote from Martin about the meaning of the Stark girls’ names: “The names Arya and Sansa are meant to represent the polar opposites of their characters, Arya being a hard sounding name, Sansa a softer more pretty name, etc.”

An aria is also a solo performance in an opera, typically by a soprano. Arias tend to carry the “emotional freight” of the story rather than the story line. Arguably, Aria’s character embodies the psychological and emotional motivations underpinning the Wars of the Roses. Like many of the sons who lost fathers and brothers at the 1455 Battle of St. Albans (during the Wars of the Roses), for Arya, the war is about more than just a struggle for power. She wants revenge for all those she has lost.

Rickon

Rickon is a more transparent variation of the medieval nickname Dickon. This maybe a kind of a pun implying that Richard III being as innocent as a babe.

House Lannister Names

circe

Circe offering a cup of wine to Odysseus.

In contrast with House Stark is House Lannister, which rhymes with Lancaster. The Lannisters — especially Cersei and Tywin — are often the villains.

The real House of Lancaster usurped the throne in 1399 when Richard II was ousted by Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV). The Lancastrians usurped the throne again in 1485 when Henry Tudor overthrew Richard III. When the Lancastrians sat on the throne, the house fielded the usurping Henry IV, the bellicose Henry V, who filled his coffers by slaughtering French peasants, and the insane and inept Henry VI, whose weakness led to civil war. This is to say nothing of Henry VII, who may not have been quite as bad, but  food prices rose to 90% of the average laborer’s wage in his reign. (Although the inflation was not Henry’s fault, mitigating its effects certainly wasn’t his focus.)  Suffice it to say, the Lancastrians were not necessarily great for the people.

I can’t speak for George RR Martin, but I’d willing to bet he’s more sympathetic to the Yorks than the Tudors. One piece of evidence: in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, relatively few chapters are told from the Lannister perspective. This is especially true if you discount the Tyrion chapters since he may not be a real Lannister anyway.

Tywin

Tywin’s name foreshadows his destiny: Tie/Win. Tywin wins the war against the Starks, but ultimately it is a Pyrrhic victory for the man who only cares about his legacy. At his death, he has no male heir, his grandchildren are the product of incest, and he is killed by his own son.

Tyrion

tyrian-purple

The background in this image is Charlemagne’s Tyrian purple funeral shroud. Images from Game of Thrones (c) HBO.  All other images are from Wikimedia Commons.

As discussed in this article, the name Tyrion might be an allusion to the color of Roman and Byzantine royalty: Tyrian purple. If this is the case, it means that Tyrion may be the only Lannister with true nobility. This name may imply that the heart of George RR Martin’s stories may be more Roman than English.

Cersei

circe-changes-men-swine

Circe changes Odysseus’ men into pigs.

Cersei is a variation on Circe, the mythological sorceress who fed men wine and turned them into swine. Given how a pig impales King Robert after Cersei’s “agent” (Lancel) induces him to drink too much wine, Cersei’s name foreshadows her defining moment: murdering a king through wine and pig.

  1. Stark as the German adverb for strongly is pointed out on http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/37293/how-did-george-r-r-martin-come-up-with-the-names-of-his-characters. See also Google Translator. []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

66 Comments

  • Reply July 7, 2014

    Grant

    Stark is also an English word, probably taken from German, that can mean different things such as being rigid, no ornamentation, barren, plain, obvious and other words that all go along well with Eddard and Robb Stark.

    And Martin does include at least one contemporary name, Jon, which is usually spelled this way to be short for Jonathon, which in turn goes back at least three thousand years to a Hebrew name. However I’m not sure what Martin’s intentions were for using the name since there have been so many famous figures in history with that name or some variation of it (it being a pretty common name in many different cultures across the Western world).

    • Reply July 8, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Grant, you’re absolutely right. Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees: I should have mentioned the English meaning of Stark – barren, austere maybe, etc.
      It is interesting because (off-hand, I think) it was Martin who made the comment about trying to avoid real-world names but he uses real-world names: Jon and Brandon. Also, Eddard and Joffrey are close enough to real world names. Jon is a confusing name like you say, but he might have named the character after a person he knew, such as a friend or another fantasy writer. He has described Jon as the perfect, quintessential romantic hero – or something like that.

    • Reply June 19, 2016

      Hrobs83

      Hi

      One name not mentioned (though i havent read all comments) is Bran, Welsh for crow or raven.

      Bran the blessed is also a character in the mabinogion – the giant king of ancient Briton.

      • Reply August 10, 2017

        Moncho

        Damn… reading this *after* makes more sense… kudos here!

  • Reply July 7, 2014

    Jun

    Fascinating. He has certainly put a lot of thought into character names. I often wonder the origin or inspiration for Tyrell, Martell, or Greyjoy (what a great family name), or Walder (variation of Walter?) Fray. Martin said in some interview that the Targaryens are newcomers to Westeros with odd names and spelling (a lot with “ae”) from their old heritage. I wonder if they parallel Greek or Latin names or some eastern tribes that invaded western Europe, or just parallel the Norman invasion of England. I also wonder on what he based the naming conventions in Essos, which apparently is son’s given name followed by father’s given name, not unlike the way Scandinavian names usually work, ie, Niels Johannson is Niels the son of Johann. Man, it’s another huge subject for history and anthropology — How different cultures name individuals.

    • Reply July 8, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks. Actually I wrote an unfinished second half of this article that I hope to publish later this week. It is about some of those houses. And, yes, IMO some of the names have Greek/Byzantine roots. I can’t / haven’t quite figure out what GRRM is doing with the Byzantine stuff yet. I refuse to believe it is just because it is an earlier period he likes. I’ve found so many allusions to Byzantium – esp. after all the tips people sent in – they aren’t just borrowings, they are allusions.

      —POTENTIAL SPOILER —-
      I also have a theory based on the names that Tyrion is really a Stark. Eg his mom had an affair with somebody in the Stark extended family. After all, why is the Richard III character on the Lannister side? This may be my wacky theory, but it is fun. 😉 (or maybe funny…)

      • Olga Hughes
        Reply July 8, 2014

        Olga Hughes

        I want a full report on this theory!

        • Reply July 8, 2014

          Jamie Adair

          Ha. Well, it is pretty hokey. Maybe I should do a post on it sometime.

      • Reply July 8, 2014

        Jun

        BTW, I also want to read your analyses of the allusions to Byzantium. It’s been well established and confirmed that King’s Landing is partially based on Constantinople and the battle of Blackwater is similar to one of the sea battles defending the city during Eastern Roman Empire when Greek Fire was used.

    • Reply July 8, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Actually this is a very interesting comment – thanks – especially the part about the “ae”. Ae is Latin but also Greek. My late dog was named Phaedra, which is Greek.

    • Reply July 8, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      This point about Essos is very intriguing. I’ll have to ponder it.

      I find this topic in general *very* interesting too. In university, I took quite a few courses in semiotics — the “study of the sign and the signifier” as they say. Essentially, at its most basic level, semiotics is the study of symbols, whether linguistic or cultural. I’m fascinated by the metaphors in different languages. I’ve studied – but now barely speak/know – French, Spanish, and Latin. The psychology behind the different metaphors that various languages use for words fascinates me – same with names. BTW, “Fitz” — as in “Fitzpatrick” “Fitzgerarld” “Fitzempress” etc. — is a Norman French word for “son of.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitz And, yeah, I agree: anthropology is fascinating stuff. 🙂

      • Reply July 8, 2014

        Jun

        I can’t wait to see the second half of your dissertation on this subject! Also I find it a bit odd that the lineage of all the Lannister children have been massively questioned, but other families are totally spared of such doubts. (I have read the theory that Jaime and Cersei are of the Targaryen blood based on ASOIAF’s parallel to Norse mythology.) Poor Tywin…

      • Reply July 9, 2014

        Talia

        I’ve also heard the prefix “Fitz” used to indicate not just “son of” but, more specifically, “bastard of”

        • Reply July 9, 2014

          Jamie Adair

          Hi Talia,
          Welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting!
          Oh isn’t that interesting! Just thinking aloud… Matilda’s son, Henry II, went by “Henry Fitzempress” before he became king. He wasn’t a bastard. But, it doesn’t meant that the term couldn’t have evolved to mean “bastard of”. If you’re right, it would be the equivalent of naming bastards “Snow” and “Sand” etc.

          Jamie

          • August 23, 2014

            WH

            I know Henry VIII’s illegitimate son was given the last name Fitzroy as were the illegitimate children of Charles II. It seems, in English royal history at least, that Fitz seems to signal illegitimacy.

      • Reply May 12, 2016

        Martin McEvoy

        Agree about Fitz, but, interestingly, it also has the connotation of ‘noble bastardy’ – Fitz (‘Fils’ in modern French) Gerald would be, most often, the (bastard) son of Gerald – yet still noble – not dissimilar to the tendency for ‘noble bastards’ in Westeros to have a specific surname, Snow, Rivers, Sands…

      • Reply February 15, 2017

        Maya

        Yes, but for the Irish it usually implies “*bastard* son of”

    • Reply June 12, 2015

      Livv

      Greyjoy remind you of greyscale? I hear that immunity runs through their veins and it will be important in the next books.

  • Reply July 8, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Now I hope I don’t mention anything that is in Jaime’s projected second article in this series. My mum was from Wales and I have thought that the names “Daenerys” and “Viserys” (and maybe “Varys”) had something of a Welsh ring about them – at least about the end. I think she’s retired now but there’s a Welsh actress called Nerys Hughes who was a familiar face on British TV at one time. There are other names of Welsh origin that end in -is or -ys though offhand Nerys is the only one that finishes “rys” that I can bring to mind. But there are the names Idris, Glenys and Dilys for example (though there are Doris and Iris which have NOTHING to do with Wales, at least as far as their origin is concerned). It could be purely co-incidental. “Targaryen” doesn’t sound at all Welsh.

    Grant’s comments on the word “Stark” are quite true. Further, GRRM is not the only writer who has used “Stark” in a name. In the 1930s Stella Gibbons wrote a book called “Cold Comfort Farm” in which the family who lived on the said farm were surnamed “Starkadder”. I haven’t read the book, though people have recommended it as being funny. It is, I’ve heard, a pastiche on novels set in the countryside such as those of Mary Webb and Thomas Hardy. (Now I like the works of Mary Webb and Thomas Hardy so maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to rouse myself to read “Cold Comfort Farm”).

    One of Arya’s aliases was “Arry” the orphan boy. That’s not unlike Harry. Harry is enjoying something of a resurgence after having been out of fashion. I’m not quite sure but I think the British Prince Harry is a “Harry” in that that is his actual name (but don’t take that statement as “gospel”) though “Harry” used to be a short form for Henry or Harold.

    • Reply July 8, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      More brilliant points – thank you. Watcher, I’m going to use your idea about the “…ys” names in the post I write about the Targaryen names – and acknowledge you of course. BTW, the name series has evolved into a “three-parter” as they say. I hope nobody gets bored of this topic in the meantime! lol.

    • Reply July 8, 2014

      Jun

      Interesting about the connection to Welsh or Celtic names and possibly history.

    • Reply September 5, 2014

      Lord Waxfoot

      Firstly, I love this site. Both the authors of the articles and the commenters do a tremendous job raising fascinating points in the spirit of curiosity and exploration.
      Secondly, my knowledge of history in general is unforgivably vague, so take what I’m about to suggest with the appropriate measure of salt.
      When you mention Arya’s alias Arry, i immediatelŷ thought of Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts 1/2 (loosely based on history, of course). The story deals with Henry V’s days before his coronation when he abandoned his charmed life and slummed it with a band of vagabonds and rebels. He did this whilst being known as Harry, or Hal, am I right? Arya abandoning her name as she gets an alternative education with The Hound and The Brotherhood Without Banners seems to mirror this. Thoros of Myr – lover of tourneys, women and wine – would seem to be the Falstaffian figure in this. Of course Harry/Hal ends up returning to claim the throne intended for him – will Arya reclaim Winterfell once her education is over?

      • Reply September 5, 2014

        Jamie Adair

        Hi Lord Waxfoot,

        First of all, welcome to History Behind Game of Thrones. Thanks for reading! And, thanks for your kind words. There are a lot of very talented contributors and commenters on this site. To be honest, it is a pleasure reading the comments people make because they are so intelligent. It’s wonderful.
        I’ve never studied Henry IV and Henry V, but now I’m thinking I should read it. I’ve read GRRM plays off of Shakespeare, but I’ve never really explored it. Jun may have a few thoughts if she sees this comment.
        Also, imagine if she did reclaim Winterfell — wow! I like that ending.

  • Reply July 8, 2014

    Connie

    Arya also made sense to me as a way of playing with her role between masculine and feminine – she fences (male) but as a water dancer (female). She also had a name that made sense between the delicate and the tough – Sansa is a bit of a shrinking violet, a trinket on a chain for most of the series until now (or at least it seems) as opposed to Arya being the one who really carries the family name.

    But you forgot Brandon Stark! Brandon, drawing its meanings to hill and similar to Brant (meaning river), kind of foreshadows his journeyman story, even while handicapped. But I also wonder if there is a connection to Charles Brandon – whom before becoming ambitious social climber via marriage, was described as being a pretty stand-up guy, similar to how Bran is very humble and courageous.

    Another name that intrigues me is Brandon’s journey partner, Jojen Reed. Jo is often use to preface a name talking about God, i.e. Joshua (god is salvation), Jonathan (god has given), Joseph (God will increase), Joanna (god is gracious). It points out to me that GRRM wants us to draw a religious parallel to Jojen’s character – even more obvious when we look at Jojen’s sister being Meera, most similar to Meira, meaning shining. And both of their last names being Reed, I can’t help but think about how the most common meaning associated with reed is red or red haired, commonly used to describe people who are evil!

    Names are really fun to talk about. I can see why it takes authors so much work to come up with names, because they mean so much to the people that fall in love or out of love with the characters.

    • Reply July 8, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Oh isn’t this brilliant Connie! I love this: “But you forgot Brandon Stark! Brandon, drawing its meanings to hill and similar to Brant (meaning river), kind of foreshadows his journeyman story, even while handicapped. But I also wonder if there is a connection to Charles Brandon – whom before becoming ambitious social climber via marriage, was described as being a pretty stand-up guy, similar to how Bran is very humble and courageous.”
      I actually didn’t mention Brandon because I had no ideas whatsoever for him and my research didn’t turn up anything. And, now, after reading your comment I’m glad I didn’t write anything. Wow! That’s great.
      Also, so clever about the Reeds! Wow.

      • Reply July 10, 2014

        rosswittenham

        Brandon is also a version of Brendan/Brendon, or vice-versa. At least in the UK, Brendan was a famous saint, and one of the group of Celtic saints who reintroduced Christianity to the country from Ireland.

      • Reply August 8, 2014

        Brandon Butler

        It being my name, Brandon is definitely Celtic in origin, going back to pre-roman times (perhaps alluding to Brandon going north to visit the remnants of the ancient past). I’ve heard that it refers to a hill, but also that it refers to ‘bring of light’.

        It’s roots are probably in the name “Brennus”, which was a very old Celtic term for chief or General. A Brennus was responsible for the sacking of Rome before the Empire around 400-500 BC or so, while another is recorded independently by the Greeks, somewhere beyond their northern borders.

      • Reply March 13, 2016

        joe

        Branwen means white, blessed raven. In various Celtic and Norse mythology, characters with the name starting with “Bran” often end up crippled in the feet or legs. Sound familiar?

        • Reply March 14, 2016

          Jamie Adair

          Really?? Now, that is VERY interesting. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing. GRRM is so clever. The more I learn, the more amazed I am.

        • Reply March 14, 2016

          Jamie Adair

          Can you give some examples of characters who ended up with crippled legs or feet?

  • Reply July 8, 2014

    Pat F.

    I find the name “Tyrell” rather ominous in a series supposedly inspired by the Wars of the Roses; considering that Sir James Tyrrell, a servant of Richard III, confessed to murdering Edward IV’s young sons in the Tower on Richard’s orders. I wonder if Mace Tyrell will welcome Aegon to the palace by presenting him with poor Tommen’s dead body…

    • Reply July 8, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      >>”I wonder if Mace Tyrell will welcome Aegon to the palace by presenting him with poor Tommen’s dead body…”
      Lol. That would really be something, eh?

      BTW, I’m writing about the Tyrells right now, as we “speak,” and that connection to Sir James is exactly the one I’m making. Admittedly, I’m kind of winging it a little. 😉

  • Reply July 9, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    The people mentioned below may not be known in the USA (with one obvious exception) but there is the singer-songwriter Cerys Matthews and Catherine-Zeta Jones and Tanni Grey-Thompson (former paralympian, ongoing disabled rights campaigner and Baroness) both have daughters named Carys (I think Carys is also Baroness Thompson’s real name, “Tanni” being a nickname). There are some Celtic (or names of Celtic origin which have been altered over time) which have slipped into mainstream use. My understanding is that Jennifer and Gaynor are both variants of Guinevere (Jennifer being Cornish – from British Cornwall rather than Breton la Cournouaille) and Gavin comes from Gawain (the character was “Gauvain” in Chretien de Troyes’ “Yvain” – {incidentally Yvain is also “the knight of the lion”}) but that relates to the King Arthur myth rather than GoT

    As for theories about how the final books of ASOIAF will play out, I don’t know if I have any. GRRM plays tricks on his readers sometimes I feel. I do sometimes think “Well I’d like it if x ended up with y” but wouldn’t presume to guess what GRRM has in mind. Personally, I have reservations about a Targaryen restoration. I know Prince Rhaegar was supposed to be “good” but the kidnap – or was is elopement if the theories about a certain person’s parentage are borne out – of Lyanna was highly irresponsible IMHO. The Targaryens do seem to have the danger of flipping into a madness that makes Lysa Arryn seem fairly well grounded!! Dany is supposed to have a “good heart” and I know the witch tricked her and caused the death of her husband and unborn child but if she wanted to put the witch to death she could have done it in a less cruel way than burning her alive. So I am not 100% sure I want to see Dany as queen. Perhaps if she could marry a sensible husband who would keep her grounded. What about a republic of Westeros – The United States of Westeros for example. In the UK we sometimes laugh at how things are done in the USA (I’m sure Americans return the “favour” [favor]) but at least in the USA there are rules about how long a President can hold office. Though having said that, there is something in force now that says we have to have a general election in the UK next year. Tommen, both book and show, is one of the few Lannisters I like, despite having such a horrible mother, so – oh Connie, looking at your post above, it just doesn’t bear thinking about. I don’t want to say anything that might be “spoilery” for people that have not read past ASOS or have only watched the show, but “shroud” can mean part of the rigging of a sailing {sail} ship as well as a burial garments, so I’m just hoping……..

  • Reply July 9, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Edit: my earlier post of today – singular – “garment”, plural “garments”. “A burial garments” is grammatically wrong – didn’t do a very good job of “proofing” that. I’m always better at proofing other folks’ writing than my own. Incidentally, vis-a-vis Essos, there is one school of (historical) thought that holds that some of the members of the English (Anglo-Saxon) royal house that were ousted by the Norman William the Conqueror, fetched up in the Byzantium area http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England_(medieval). However, I must stress that this belief is not universally held by all scholars. Although I am a Western European person, I did not realise, until well into adulthood, the full force with which the Ottoman Empire had once held power in Eastern Europe or that there were a lot of people in Eastern Europe who still are of the Islamic faith. (When the “former Yugoslavia” was still Yugoslavia the population seems to have jogged along together irrespective of religious beliefs – or is someone from the Balkans going to visit this site and tell me it was not so?) I knew Spain once had a “Moorish” population of course.

  • Reply July 10, 2014

    rosswittenham

    Surprised that you mentioned Dickensian names without picking up on Mance Rayder. I’ve got a feeling that I’ve seen it discussed elsewhere on this blog though. A manse is a mansion; the sort of place that knights and nobles live. If Mance Rayder is a manse raider, does he specifically target the homes of the rich and powerful?

    • Reply July 12, 2014

      Watcher on the Couch

      I think in Scotland the “manse” can also be the vicarage (says she having read a few Lewis Grassic Gibbon novels).

    • Reply August 8, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Oh isn’t that clever? Almost like Robin Hood in a way?

    • Reply September 5, 2014

      Lord Waxfoot

      This would tally with Mance’s actions at Winterfell in A Dance With Dragons, but more generally it fits with his ‘Robin Hood’ persona as a lute playing ‘man of the people’ who wants to raid the rich of Westeros to aid the poor Wildlings.

  • […] is a German adverb for strongly1 . Also, as many people have pointed out, House Stark rhymes with the House of  York: the dynastic […]

  • […] article is continued from George RR Martin’s Symbolic Character Name Choices and looks at the names in Houses Bolton, Greyjoy, Baratheon, and […]

  • Reply August 19, 2014

    Chantal B

    I’m not sure if it’s been mnetioned yet, but I believe that Brandon’s name’s meaning ay be more in the nickname than the full. The name ‘Bran’ is Welsh for ‘Crow’ which links well to the three-eyed raven. It also possibly links him to Bran the Blessed, a king from Welsh mythology who ruled Britain. Part of his legend is connected to the raising of the dead as soldiers with the use of the cauldron, which should be familiar to fans of Lloyd Alexander’s “The Black Cauldron”, but which also reminds me of the wights.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bran_the_Blessed

    As much as I agree that inspiration for the characters has been taken from history, I think that plenty is also traceable to Scottish, British, and Welsh myth as well.

  • Reply August 20, 2014

    Robert

    Sansa is also the Swedish word for “tranquil.”

    • Reply August 20, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      I didn’t know that. Sansa is – at least initially before all the trouble began — like a placid, calm, lady like princess. I wonder if Sansa will end up remaining tranquil? If this will become an ironic name?

  • Reply August 20, 2014

    Robert

    Bran means “raven” in Gaelic.

    • Reply August 20, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      That’s very cool.

  • Reply September 18, 2014

    KB

    “The boy’s name Bran

    Bran, meaning ‘raven’, was one of the most popular early Celtic names, especially among the O Byrnes.
    Many Brans appear in Celtic lore, among them Bran mac Febail in the 8th century tale Journey to the Land of Women, and real men, too, including Bran Finn, son of Maelochtraigh and king of the Deisi of Munster, who died c670.
    Bran also features in the legend of Finn MacCoul – as a dog with an ever-handy gift of foretelling.”

    from http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/traditional-Irish-names.html

  • Reply December 23, 2014

    Anonymous

    There is a street called Tirion in Macclesfield this apparently means “little palace” which is funny as tyrion himself is a dwarf and nobility

    • Reply December 26, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks for sharing this little tidbit!

  • Reply January 7, 2015

    jamespowellauth

    I found this webpage while I was looking for Medieval English names and I was surprised to find that I often came across names that resembles George RR Martins to the very spelling (http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/christian/fairnames/). It explains why the most common name in Westros is Jon. According to the article 29% of names dating from the 1600 seems to be John. Martin also has other very different frequencies for his names but he seems to draw inspiration from real life. In the list of surnames (http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/christian/fairnames/surnames.html#list) I saw the names Pratt and Pray listed together and immediatly thought of Pyat Pree from GoT(although I admit it may be just a coincidence). Many of the GoT names seem common here. The parent article is also worth checking out (http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/eng1450to1600.shtml).

    • Reply January 11, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      These are great links. Thanks for sharing (and reading)! I didn’t realize how common Jon was. Martin has said he spent a lot of time selecting names, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he made Jon such a common name because of its frequency historically.

  • Reply March 15, 2015

    Shirley Fawcett

    More thoughts on the Welsh connection:

    While Targaryen doesn’t look very much like a Welsh name, if you change the spelling a bit it gets much more of a Welsh ring to it: Targarion.

    Garion or Garrion is a (rare) Welsh male name, while the similar-sounding Gaerwn is slightly more common.

    And finally, guess what creature appears on the Welsh flag? Yes indeedy, it’s a proud red dragon!

    • Reply March 16, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Shirley, this is very clever! Thank you for sharing!

  • […] **http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/characters/grrm-symbol-names […]

  • […] George RR Martin, the writer of Game of Thrones, has a plethora of funky names in his work. Yet, he has still noted the struggles of coming up with names; “Coming up with the names for the characters is very tough. They can’t be too weird (with like apostrophes and stuff) and they can’t be too “real”, like Francois or Patrick or any kind of a name that is tied to a place.” Most interestingly though, there are some theories that many of the names allude to the ‘ultimate fate’ of the characters. You can read more on the theory here. […]

  • Reply September 8, 2015

    Althene

    A little late to the party, but thought it is worth mentioning that the name Tiernan (pronounced TIR -nin or TEER- nawn), an Irish name that sounds similar to Tyrion, means “little lord”, which is quite literal in relation to everyone’s favourite kinslayer. It also means “regal”, so make of that what you will.

    It is also worth noting that James (Jaime) derives from the name Jacob which means “supplanter” or “holder of the heel”. GRRM really did portray the Lannister twins in the biblical sense! In the bible, Jacob was the younger twin of Esau, and arrived into the world holding the heel of his twin. Sound familiar? “Supplanter” may convey Jaime’s pivotal act of killing Aerys Targaryren which allowed Robert (and therefore Tywin and Cersei) to usurp the throne. Also, several wise Internet people feel that the meaning of his name lends credence to the theory that Jaime will be at the center of a certain prophecy involving Cersei.

  • Reply September 10, 2015

    Duchess of Lancaster

    “Fitz” means “son of” and can be used for legitimate or illegitimate children. Henry Fitzempress was the legitimate son of Geoffrey of Anjou, who was just a count. Mathilda wanted to play up that Henry was the son of the former Empress of the Holy Roman Empire and therefore fit to rule England (and much of France). Henry Fitzroy’s name meant just that: son of the king (Roy). Some take that to mean that Henry VIII might at some point have made him legitimate, but poor Richmond died while his father was still expecting to have a legal heir.

    • Reply September 15, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks Duchess. You are absolutely right. (I’ve tried to politely point this out before.) To the best of my knowledge, Fitz just means son. Henry Fitzempress (aka Henry II) is the classic example of the use of “Fitz” for a legitimate child.

      I believe I read that Fitz may have originated in the Norman period and it is similar to another such word used around that time. (Fitz superceded that word.) Ah, yes, I just googled it. Here is a little bit about the Norman origins of this prefix (for lack of a better term). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitz

  • Reply January 24, 2016

    Nick

    I thought Tyrion might be more likely to be related to the classic Greek word Therion, meaning Beast. This would make sense as he was dubbed “a monster” upon birth. And not that far-fetched as GRRM probably indeed got his inspiration for Cersei’s name from the Greeks as well.

  • Reply February 10, 2016

    Hazel

    I always wondered if he came up with ‘Tyrion’ from King Tirian in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Tirian was the last king of Narnia before the ‘last battle’ wherein everyone met judgement day and Narnia was laid to a barren wasteland as all life ended and the heavens were undone. Matches up with George’s famous remark about the series ending with (I paraphrase): “A cold wind blowing across an endless graveyard.”

    • Reply February 11, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Oh that’s an interesting connection. I assumed that GRRM based Tyrion’s name on the Byzantine color for royal silks. (See this article: http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/ancienthistory/tyrion-purple) But, that’ s only a guess, and I would assume that he is a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia. An allusion to The Last Battle would certainly be appropriate.

  • Reply April 29, 2016

    Apocalyptic Queen

    I know I have joined this discussion rather late – but do you have an article covering the names of the Targeryans?

    I recall reading some posts which appeared to suggest that the inspiration for the Targeryans and their names is a mixture of Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, along with some Ancient Egyptian and Angevin and Plantegenet history thrown in for good measure.

    What I haven’t seen is any reference to the Ancient Britons and their customs. It has been theorised that many aspects of Game of Thrones are inspired by a mixture of European medieval history, coupled with Middle-Eastern, North African and Southern European history and mythology. However, I also see many parallels with the customs of the Gaelic and Breton people (for instance, I am sure that I read somewhere that the inspiration for the wall was motivated in part by Hadrian’s Wall and the belief held by the Romans that the people north of the wall, the Gaelic people and Picts were so fierce, warlike and religious that they could not be tamed and their territory could not be taken). This reference parallels with the depiction of the Wildings but I also think it parallels with the history of Game of Thrones going back to the “First Men” and the “Children of the Forest”.

    A while ago, I wrote an article on the AFOIAF paralelling the depiction in GoT of the Children of the Forest with the ancient Britons (who were described as fierce and warlike by the Roman historian, Tacitus) and the First Men with the Romans, and seeing as there are also some parallels to King Arthur and Henry VII (who some prophesised as a descendant of Arthur) with the arcs of some of the key characters – notably, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targeryan.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that I feel that these people may also influence the story arcs of some the pivotal characters and plotlines. But not oly do I see some reference to Celtic history in the arcs of the Stark characters, I also think it is possible they influence some aspects of the Targeryan characters.

    Many members of my family are Welsh (a language which has descended from the ancient British/ Brythonic Celtic language), and the name Daenerys is very similar to the Welsh female name of Nerys. This name is pronounced exactly like the last five letters of Daenerys’ name. When Daenerys’ name is pronounced, it is done so with the first two letters pronounced first, “DA-NERYS”, whereas the Welsh name focuses on the second part of this name only, “Nerys”.

    Very interestingly, it has been widely theorised that the name Nerys in the Brythonic tongue, meant “Chief” or “Lord” (as the Celts had chiefs rather than Kings) https://www.google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=Meaning+of+name+Nerys

    I believe it is possible this could form some inspiration for this name. Also, there are a host of other names in Welsh which end in “ys” – Enfys, Anerys, Carys

    Furthermore, the Targeryans are affiliated with dragons.
    Dragons are a feature in Welsh mythology. The flag of Wales incorporates a red dragon which apparently defeated the white dragon in battle, and as we know from the books, Dany may come into contact with another “dragon”, hence the title of the fifth series – “A dance with dragons” (although this does not appear to have been incorporated into the TV series).

  • Reply April 29, 2016

    Apocalyptic Queen

    Sorry – obviously had not read all the posts before commenting and see that this subject has been covered above. My apologies!

    I hope I have at least added something to the discussion though.

    Great site by the way! – I love reading about and theorising on fortelling and using historic parallels as potential drivers of the story arcs!

    • Reply August 10, 2016

      WATCHER ON THE COUCH

      Yer ‘Ighness, there is no need to apologise for anything relating to what has been mentioned previously. I don’t know if you are old enough to remember Nerys Hughes who acted in “The District Nurse” and “The Liver Birds”? Maybe not because one is from the eighties and one from the seventies. I don’t know where you are from – I’m from central England but although my mother was from Wales I never learned the Welsh language except for a handful of words – I’m sort of a mish-mash of Welsh and English and Irish (with possibly some Italian – but it might be that a relation of my paternal grandmother married an Italian rather than my grandmother actually had Italian blood). I speak with an English accent of course because England is where I was brought up.

      Although the BBC’s “Merlin” (2008-12) was a somewhat loose adaptation of the King Arthur story (though I preferred it to the “Camelot” that was shown on Channel 4) I did quite enjoy it in a guilty pleasure kind of way – Merlin’s other name was “Emrys” in that series.

      • Reply October 15, 2016

        WATCHER ON THE COUCH

        BTW Tirion can be a Welsh girl’s name.

  • Reply June 24, 2016

    Sam

    I think Tyrion’s name might be based off the ancient Greek word το θεριον (to therion) which means beast.

  • Reply August 9, 2016

    Amber Bond

    Do you think that Timett son of Timett may be in reference to the fantasy writer Peter Valentine Timlett? Or is that too obvious?

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