Narnia: Names and Reader Research

[Narnia Content Note: Racism]

The Horse and His Boy

Remember when we had book deconstructions around here and not just Ana scrambling to save old Twitter threads in the wake of Storify shutting down? I do! (The storifys will continue through June, sorry, there were a lot of them.)

I thought we were done with The Horse and His Boy but I remembered I wanted to do a post gathering together all the amazing work Gehayi has done researching the probable roots of the names within this book. I don't have anything to add except a grateful thank-you for doing this work and giving me permission to gather it all up into a big post. Thank you!

I've probably missed a few name comments, so feel free to drop links in the comments if you locate the older ones. Thank you!

Protagonist Names

Shasta by Gehayi:
I decided to look up the origins of the names in this section...and wow, was I surprised.

Let's start with Shasta. I went to a site about Mount Shasta, figuring that they might have some folklore about the origin of the mountain's name. Apparently there are four common reasons given for the name:

1) Our mountain is named after a very famous local Indian.

2) It's named after a local Indian tribe.

3) It comes from the Indian word Tsasdi, meaning `three' and refers to our triple-peaked mountain.

4) The Russians who settled at Bodega could see it from the Coast Range. They called it Tchastal or "the white and pure mountain."

But that has to be a coincidence, right? Well, then I found an article written in 1954 that scorned that theory--but that said this: According to Stephen Powers the tribal name of the Indians living in the Mt. Shasta region was Shasts-ti-ka, and their name for snowy mountains, and for Shasta in particular, was Wai-ri-ka, or, more correctly, Wai-i-ka. I kept looking, and most places kept saying that "Shasta" was the Native American word for "snowy" or "white mountain." In fact, that seems to be the translation of the the Karuk word Úytaahkoo, which is what the mountain used to be called.

Over and over, the same meanings in association with Shasta: "white," "snowy mountain," and--most damning--the Russian word carries a connotation of "pure or clean." Yeaaaah.

Aravis by Gehayi:
In the meantime, though, since Aravis introduced herself and her lineage in this chapter, I want to mention that I found the source of Aravis's name, or at least a word that looks an awful lot like it: arabisti.

Lewis didn't invent a name for his female protagonist, though most sites will tell you that he did. He didn't give her an Arabian or Farsi name, or even a name based on an Arabian or Farsi word. He mangled a Greek word about her quasi-nationality and quasi-language and called it good.

You see, "arabisti" is Classical Greek for "of Arabic." That is, of the Arabic language, not a person from Arabia.

Basically, Lewis took a Greek word, chopped off the suffix "-ti" and changed "b" to "v" so that it would be less obvious that he named his heroine "of Arabic." One of those who speaks the Arabic language. One of the Arabs.

So we have Shasta, whose name tracks back to several words for whiteness, cleanness and purity, and Aravis, who's fundamentally named "of Arabic." I like the way her name sounds, but the meaning behind it makes me flinch. Bein' real subtle there with your racism, Lewis.

P.S. There are a couple of similar words for "(male) Arab"--arabikos and arabios--but arabisti seems closer to "Aravis" to me.

Aravis (update) by Steve Morrison:
[quoting Gehayi] Lewis took a Greek word, chopped off the suffix "-ti" and changed "b" to "v"[/quote]

Not only that; the Greek language itself changed b to v. The letter beta was pronounced like our b in Classical Greek, but is pronounced like v in Modern Greek.

Aravis' Ancestry by Gehayi:
Ilsombreh Tisroc

If you remove the "h", you can see that this is really two French words--"il sombre." "Sombre" is an adjective meaning "dark," whether literally or figuratively. So the name literally means "the dark." And of course "sombre" is also the British spelling of "somber." Ilsombreh Tisroc is the dark, somber Tisroc--the one dark of skin, or the one dark of thought, or perhaps the one who kept his people unenlightened...metaphorically in the dark.

Ardeeb Tisroc

"Ardib" is part of a New Persian word--Ardibehesht or, alternately, Ordibehesht. It's the name of the Zoroastrian divinity Asha, which is the embodiment of truth and righteousness--a statement/concept/being so true and so real as to embrace all of existence. Ardibehesht means "truth of paradise" or "blessed truth." "Behesht" means "paradise".

Lewis just chopped off most of "behesht" and spelled the word the way it probably would have been spelled in Victorian times. Mideastern words that had an I pronounced as EE were often rendered phonetically. So "Ardib" is "truth"--but it's an imperfect truth, because the blessedness, the touch of paradise has been removed.

Rishti Tarkaan

Rishti Vaiga is the Persian name of the king Westerners call Cyrus the Great.. It translates to "spear swinger." Lewis just used the first word, Rishti, "spear."

Kidrash Tarkaan

I can't really be sure about this one, but I have found a couple of words that echo it in structure: "kadosh" and "midrash." "Kadosh" is a Hebrew word meaning "holy"; it shows up later in the prayer Shema Yisroel in the word "kid'shanu"--which some take to mean "sanctified" and some interpret as "separated," as in separated from sinners. Midrash is a means of interpreting deeper meanings in the Torah and the Talmud.

I am not sure if Lewis would have known about the differing interpretations of "kid'shanu"--but he was a theologian. I'm pretty sure he was familiar with midrash. In either case, Kidrash seems to be a portmanteau word--not holy, not sanctified, not scholarly commentary, just a broken mixture of both.

Supporting Cast & Narnian / Archenland Names

Lune by Gehayi:
Regarding King Lune--most locations define "lune" as "the moon" or "a month." But Norwegian Bokmål and Norwegian Nynorsk define it thus:

1) cosy, snug, sh eltered (house, room, valley etc.)
2) comfortable, genial, warm (person, room, weather)
3) good-natured, pleasant, quiet (person)

All of which strike me as how we're supposed to see King Lune.

Ram the Great by Gehayi:
I think that Lewis picked some etymology up from Tolkien. Tolkien created the RAMdal Hills ("ramdal" meaning "Wall's End"), which lay at the eastern end of the Long Wall or "AndRAM." Wiktionary lists Romansch, Norwegian Bokmål and Swedish as defining "ram" as "a frame ." The Swedish definition explains it best:

1) frame (e.g. around a painting)
2) frame, boundaries (the set of options for actions given)
3) frame (a context for understanding)
4) paw (of a bear)

So I think Lewis was picturing Ram the Great as someone who was a wall against outside threats; the one who knew what boundaries, physical and spiritual, to set and not go past; the one who, through setting those boundaries, led his people to a greater understanding of Aslan. He just didn't include any context for this, so all we have is guesswork.

Thornbut by Gehayi:
I would just like to note that "thornbut" is an actual word; it dates back at least as far as 1879, and it means "turbot." Basically, the Dwarf's name is "Flounder."

Antagonist & Calormen Names

Ahoshta by Gehayi:
I was curious about Ahoshta's name. It's not Arabic. In fact, it bears a strong resemblance to the Persian word "ahesta" and the Urdu "ahista," both of which mean the same thing: "slowly," or in a figurative sense, "graciously" or "gently." In fact, "Ahesta Boro" ("Walk Slowly" or "Walk Graciously") is a wedding song in Afghanistan and numerous other "-stan" countries.

I think that this, combined with his other alleged flaws, tells us what the problem with Ahoshta is supposed to be. He is described as greedy, flattering, servile. His name proclaims him to be slow, gracious, gentle, and associated with weddings. He is, fundamentally, one of Lewis's female characters; he has every quality Lewis most despises in women. (Even gentleness is not treated well elsewhere in the text; Susan is deemed an ordinary grown woman who is of little use in war, while Lucy is praised for her military valor and skills.)

I strongly suspect that we're supposed to see Ahoshta as weak and unmanly, a male quasi-Arab version of the allegedly shallow woman from "The Shoddy Lands"--the very opposite of the belligerent Narnians and Archenlanders, some of whom are more than willing to fight a war against an empire. In fact, he doesn't embody Lewis's masculine ideal at all; Ahoshta is intent on getting along with both the Tisroc and Rabadash, and on retaining his position with both. He loves his own country and has no desire for it to imitate Narnia. He likes wealth and stability. He doesn't want to change. Contrast him with Shasta, who is reckless and chaotic,who rides into battle despite not knowing anything about how to fight with swords on horseback, who basically tells a lion to scat, and who ends up being the crown prince of Narnia Lite. Clearly we're supposed to see Shasta as the nobler of the two, while Ahoshta is everything Shasta is not. (This becomes difficult when you realize that the only thing Shasta is is bland.)

Ahoshta (update) by Gehayi:
"Ahoshta" seems to have a name made up of two Persian words--"hosh", meaning "understanding," and "ta" appears to be a conjunction along the lines of "in order to" or "so that." I suspect that the A in this case is the Greek prefix "a-", meaning "not." So his whole name would mean "in order to not understand" or "not having understanding."

Anradin by Gehayi:
ANRADIN: Probably from the Persian "aŋra", meaning "destruction" or "destructive," and the Arabic "-adin", meaning "of faith" or "of religion."

Destruction of religion. Destructive of faith. I'm sorry, but I can't believe that Lewis came up with this name by accident.

Arsheesh and Tarkaan by Gehayi:
Most sites said that Arsheesh was a name made up by Lewis, and that seems to be true. Tarshish, on the other hand--which I can easily see being pronounced "Tarsheesh"--is a name of a Biblical city associated with boats and wealth. Gee, what a strange coincidence that this name should be given to a fisherman so obsessed with wealth that he's eager to sell the child he's raised.

And then we've got the Tarkaan. Or, to use our world's version, the Tarkhan. Lewis didn't make up the Tarkaan class or title. They existed for several centuries.

From Gog and Magog in Early Eastern Christian and Islamic Sources: Sallam's Quest:

The tarkhan, probably of pre-Turkic Altaic origin, was a title rather than a proper name, used for subaltern and local emirs in the Khazar administration.

The Khazars were a Turkic people, originally semi-nomadic, who dominated an area that we would now think of as Russia and who pretty much owned the Western Silk Road for a time.

So we have a white protagonist who is effectively named Snow White, a greedy fisherman who spouts proverbs named after a place of ships and wealth that shows up in ancient proverbs, and a man with a fantasy title that turns out to be a real title. Lewis is looking less original all the time.

Azrooh by Gehayi:
AZROOH: "Az" seems to be from the Old Turkic prefix "az," meaning "little, few," or "a bit," while "rooh" appears to come from the Turkish (and Old Arabic) "rūḥ," or "soul." A man who only has a bit of soul. Lovely.

Chlamash by Gehayi:
CHLAMASH: He seems to have gotten his name from a Greek word, "khlanis", which refers to a cloak or mantle, especially one of royal or military use. This word came into English as "chlamys," meaning "a short cloak caught up on the shoulder, worn by hunters, soldiers, and horsemen in Ancient Greece."

Chlamash by John D.:
The first thing I thought of was "Chumash!" Who I thought was a Canaanite (anti-Israelite) god. Turns out that name really was Chemosh; I'd misremembered. But it does seem that Lewis gave the Calormene names not just an Arabic flavor (medieval "baddies"), but also some non-Israelite Canaanite flavor (Old Testament "baddies").

Corradin of Castle Tormunt by Gehayi:
CORRADIN: "Coradyn" or "Coradin" shows up in The Chronicle of Pierre de Langtoft: In French Verse, from the Earliest Period to the Death of Edward II, Volume 2. Thomas Wright's 2012 translation describes Coradin as a member of Saladin's second squadron, "Lord of Damascus and son of Saffadin; a more courteous soldan never tasted wine."

The "adin" ending of Corradin comes from "ad-Dīn" in Arabic, which means "of faith" or "of religion." No clue what "Corr" or "Cor" meant to Langtoft--possibly he was taking the Latin or the French for "heart" and pasting an Arabic ending on the word. So "heart of faith" or "heart of religion."

This wouldn't sound bad, but Lewis decided that a man named for the heart of the Calormene faith had to come from "Castle Tormunt." Which is how John Milton and Robert Burns spelled the word "torment." Great.

Ilgamuth of the twisted lip by Gehayi:
ILGAMUTH: The last syllable of his name appears to have come fromMot or Muth, an ancient Canaanite god of death. I am not certain where the "ga" comes from; it might come from an Arabicverb meaning "to drop dung" (applying to animals) or from another such verb meaning "to make, place or lay". I have no idea what "il" is supposed to mean--"he/it", maybe?

"He/it shits the god of death. He/it creates the god of death." I have no way of knowing if this is what Lewis had in mind, but if it was, he was being exceedingly rude.

Ilgamuth of the twisted lip by Ymfon:
In Ilgamuth's case, I wonder if there's an even simpler explanation, given that he's the only one of that list to get a physical description. I wouldn't put it past Lewis to include a villain with a twisted lip and literally name him Ill-mouth.

Lasaraleen by Gehayi:
As for Lasaraleen...from what I can tell, her name isn't even vaguely Arabic or Persian (or, like Aravis', modified Greek). Her name seems to be Scottish Gaelic--"lasair"--which literally means "flame" or "flash" but figuratively refers to "a flashy person or thing." The "een/leen" ending (as in Kathleen, Maureen, Colleen, etc.) is a diminuitive and means "little."

So Lasaraleen is "a flashy little person" ...someone who shines brightly but doesn't have much substance. I suspect that's what Lewis was going for. However, there's another word in Scottish Gaelic that strongly resembles "Lasaraleen".


Which means "spearwort", a pretty yellow flower in the buttercup family. And it's poisonous.

I don't know if Lewis knew the word "lasair-lèana" or if he knew that spearworts were poisonous. It's entirely possible that he didn't know either. But if he did (and "Lasaraleen" does look like an Anglicized version of "Lasair-lèana"), he might have been commenting on Lasaraleen's interest in looks, fancy clothing, and the attractiveness of her lifestyle as seemingly pretty and innocent, but fundamentally toxic--something that Aravis would be well away from. This also fits with Lewis' perception of feminine qualities as evil.

Either way, Lasaraleen's name is very definitely not a compliment.

Rabadash and Tash by Gehayi:
I think that I've found where Rabadash's name comes from. I found two words in a Spanish dictionary, rabada and rabadán. The first refers to the rump of a slaughtered animal. The second means "chief shepherd," and is derived from the Arabic rabb addan, "owner of sheep."

The name of the god Tash (which almost certainly forms the "-dash" part of Rabadash's name) is Turkish for "stone", but in compounds, "-tāsh" or "-dāsh" means "companion."

So the prince is literally an arse (of a slaughtered animal that belongs to Tash or stone) and, if we use the definition of the Arabic origin of the second word (because "shepherd" generally has positive connotations in the West), Rabadash is not an owner of sheep but an owner of his companions. Whom, presumably, he herds as if they were sheep.

Rabadash (update) by Gehayi:
I'm late to the party, but I think I've got something for Rabadash's name. And it says something about how Lewis wants us to see him--with utter and unmitigated contempt.

There are two Arabic words that look very similar in transliteration--"rahba" and "rahhaba." The first means "marketplace of grain"; the second means "to frighten." A third word, adaş, is Turkish and means "a person with the same name as another; namesake." If you were writing the words out, they would be Rahba-adaş or Rahhaba-adaş.

But, I hear someone asking, why would Lewis be remotely interested in naming his villain after a market? That has to be wrong, doesn't it?

You know, the scene that's coming is one time when Lewis unashamedly pulls out all the stops and lets Aslan be openly harsh to someone. But Aslan is Lion Jesus...and even Jesus had his moments. Like when he became outraged at the merchants and moneychangers in the temple. He resented the fact that they had turned a house of worship into a marketplace. In fact, this arose in response to the many kinds of sacrifice demanded by the Jewish God and the need to have such sacrifices readily available to any Jewish person from anywhere in the known world...but most people don't think about that part. They just associate the merchants and moneychangers with greed.

And I think that's what Lewis is going for. Rabadash IS the marketplace's namesake--that is, he is the embodiment of worldly greed and blasphemy. (I know, I know, that's NOT what was going on, but I believe that's how Lewis would have seen it.) As such, he doesn't deserve mercy from Lion Jesus, only punishment. And because of this divine punishment, Rabadash is only able to "frighten his namesakes"...that is, to inspire fear from people spiritually like himself.

Lewis is telling us with Rabadash's very name that we are not to respect or identify with him.

Tisroc by Gehayi:
"Tisroc", it seems, was almost certainly stolen from E. Nesbit, who referred to a god known as "Nisroch" in her Psammead series. Nisroch was an Assyrian god of agriculture; Nesbit, however, made him Babylonian. So Lewis took the historical name of a god and turned it into the title of a man.


Calormen Landmarks by Gehayi:
Azim Balda: As Aravis mentioned, it's four days ride' northeast in (or from) the province of Calavar, stands at the intersection of multiple crossroads, and it's a base for royal (and noble) postal messengers. Four days' ride--assuming that Hwin is pushing herself to her utmost and is in perfect shape--would be, at most, about thirty miles per day. So it's no more than 120 miles northeast of Aravis's home in Calavar.

An organized postal system implies shipping packages (by land and, possibly, river), which brings in trade. Azim Balda is probably a large trading center and a stop for merchant caravans heading west, south, and northeast to Tashbaan. This is supported by the name: "Azim" is Arabic for "great" and "baldah" means "town." (Both New York and London are both sometimes referred to as "the Big City," so I don't think that a city being called "Great Town" reflects badly on the Calormenes.)

Calavar: The province of which Aravis's father Kidrash is lord. It seems to be derived from "calavera," the Spanish word for "skull." Apparently "calavera" and "calaveras" are most commonly associated with the Day of the Dead (which I thought was Mexican, but I'm guessing that Lewis didn't make any distinction between Mexican and Spanish). I'm interpreting this as a possibility that maybe some of the people who founded Calormen came through a portal in Mexico, while others came from countries where Arabic was spoken.

Desert Oasis: About one day's march (or thirty miles) north of Tashbaan in the center of the Great Desert. Since there is nothing north of the oasis save impassable mountains, presumably caravans head east to sell their goods or ship them to the Seven Isles, Doorn, Felinth, Terabintha, Galma, the Lone Islands, and points south. (There may be other oases, but this one is called "the great oasis," at least by one Talking Animal from Narnia.

Flaming Mountain of Lagour: A gour is a fire worshipper--it's another word for a Gabar, Gheber or Gueber, one of an Iranian sect practicing Zoroastrianism. I'm going to conclude, therefore, that the Flaming Mountain is considered holy by the descendents of Farsis. Also, apparently, you can follow faiths other than the worship of Tash, Azaroth and Zardeenah. Who knew?

I would guess that the Flaming Mountain is far to the northwest of Calormen, since the one Calormene who mentions it comes from the far west and the only place known to have mountains is the north, beyond the Great Desert.

Great Desert: Basically, a huge swath of desert extending north-south from the border of Archenland to Tashbaan, and east-west...well pretty much as far as the eye can see. It can be crossed in a night and a day, according to one Narnian Animal, and Hwin and Bree certainly manage to do so, but that suggests that Narnian Talking Horses are sturdier than regular ones, since a normal horse would probably drop dead before it could ride sixty miles without a night's rest.

Ilkeen: The location of one of Ahoshta Tarkaan's three palaces. The palace at Ilkeen is particularly beautiful and is located on a lake. "Ilkeen" is probably derived from the Persian "il-khan" or "subordinate khan," which did not exist as a title until after 1260.

Mezreel: A lake in Calormen, as well as a town of the same name. Noted locations nearby are gardens and the Valley of a Thousand Perfumes, which may be a valley used to grow flowers to create scents such as attar of roses. Lasaraleen Tarkheena lived in Mezreel for at least some of her growing-up years. The name is probably a garbled version of "Jezreel," a large fertile plain in a valley in Israel. "Jezreel" means "God sows" in Hebrew. Should we conclude that some of the people in Calormen are also Jewish?

The closest I can come to making sense of "Mezreel" is to mash together "mazer" and "el," which would basically mean "the drinking bowl of God."

Pugrahan Salt-Pits: No idea what the name means, but "grahan" is Hindi for "eclipse" or "shadowing." The miners seem to be slaves and prisoners. Many salt mines are in large mountain basins or are underground; I'm tending toward far to the south, even beyond where Shasta and Arsheesh lived, because we don't know much about what's there.

Tashbaan; "City of Tash"; capital of Calormen; a port city on an island, surrounded by numerous rivers.

Teebeth: A city taken by the Calormene army, probably after a rebellion. Bree says that he fought there, as did Aravis's cousin Alimash, who was the captain of the chariots. "Teebeth" is probably derived from "tebeth", the tenth month of the Jewish calendar, usually spanning the end of December and most of January in the Gregorian calendar. (The hints that there are Jews in Calormen are growing.)

Tehishbaan: City in the far west of Calormen, after the Great Desert ends. No idea what it means, but "hisham" is Arabic for "the generous." So it's possible that it means something along the lines of "city of the generous one/ones."

Tombs of the Ancient Kings: Bree describes them as looking like stone beehives, which would have made them tholos tombs in the Mediterranean and in West Asia. In the Mideast, similar structures were used as houses and as storage facilities. I can see the "tombs" being an emergency storage facility for caravans, and the legends about ghouls being put about to discourage potential thieves. (This in no way means that ghouls don't exist in this world.)

Winding Arrow: A swift river filled with rapids that forms the border between Archenland and Calormen. It's shallow enough to ford at one point.

Zulindreh/Zalindreh: Aravis pronounces it Zulindreh while Bree pronounces it Zalindreh. I'd like to think that it's this world's version of "shibboleth"--a word that foreigners just can't seem to pronounce. Zulindreh was the site of a battle which, presumably, the Calormene army won. Like the Battle of Teebeth, it may have been part of the Calormene military's attempt to quash a rebellion. Bree and Aravis's cousin Alimash fought here.

The closest I can come to a translation for it is "zahlen dreh," "zahlen" being German for "figures" or "numbers" and "dreh" the German for "twist" or "trick." Maybe Zulindreh is a center of science, mathematics and education. Maybe there's a university or two there.


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