The Dwarves' Secret Names In The Rings Of Power Explained

The idea of "true names" has existed for thousands of years. Ancient cultures, religious traditions, and folktales all make mention of a "true name," a signifier for a person or deity's deepest self that must be guarded closely, lest its power dissipate. Speak your true name only in a moment of utmost trust and intimacy, if at all, because once the word has been given, it can't be taken back. This is a concept that's taken hold not just in real life, but in literature, too, particularly in fantasy worlds like J.R.R. Tolkien's.

So when dwarf Durin IV (Owain Arthur) almost told his half-elf bestie Elrond (Robert Aramayo) his secret name in the latest episode of "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," it was a huge deal. You could tell by the glistening of tears in his eyes, and the mixture of hesitation and determination in his voice. He explained the concept of secret names to his friend in a succinct way, saying, "We do have our secret names, for use only amongst ourselves. We reveal them only to family: wives, parents, sisters, brothers." He starts to speak again, and it's clear what he's about to say, but Elrond cuts him off, gently telling him to save his words.

It's a tearful moment, and it's one that's meaningful and resonant in the context of the series, but perhaps even moreso with Tolkien's own take on secret names in mind. The author mentioned the nature of the dwarvish language Khuzdul several times throughout his works, and made it abundantly clear that it was a private language that dwarves rarely shared with anyone outside of their communities.

Khuzdul and dwarf culture

The inner language was so special and secret, the Khuzdul names for dwarves apparently didn't even appear on their gravestone inscriptions. Instead, dwarves mostly spoke the language of man, which in on-screen adaptations has always been English. In "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien" and a BBC Interview, Tolkien says he took inspiration from Hebrew for the creation of Khuzdul.

So how, then, does Durin end up with his true name on the tip of his tongue during a heart-to-heart with Elrond? Well, apparently other races weren't forbidden wholecloth from learning Khuzdul in Middle-earth. Instead, the language was purposely made complex to keep outsiders from learning it, while on rare occasions, people who got super close to dwarves did end up with that information. In the "Quenta Silmarrillion," a collection of First Age Middle-earth lore published after Tolkien's death, the author writes the following:

"The Dwarves do not gladly teach their tongue to those of alien race; and in use they have made it harsh and intricate, so that of those few whom they have received in full friendship fewer still have learned it well."

In an essay titled "Of Dwarves and Men" from another Tolkien book, "The Peoples of Middle-earth," explained further, saying that dwarves "were not unwilling to teach their own tongue to Men with whom they had a special friendship, but Men found it difficult and were slow to learn more than isolated words." It also notes that non-dwarves typically ended up taking dwarvish words for their own language, implying that there's a good reason besides age-old tradition for the dwarves to keep some of their cultural secrets private.

The episode almost included Durin's true name

Given that "The Lord of the Rings" showed that elves and dwarves have enduringly complicated history centuries after this story ends, it's upsettingly possible that Elrond and Durin's strong kinship will not last. After all, it's not always a good idea to go into business with your friends, especially when it comes to something as mysterious as mithril mining. The fact that this mostly non-canonical pair seems doomed to part ways makes Durin's show of faith all the more nerve-wracking and emotional.

But for now, they're clearly about as close as two longtime friends can get, aside from that pesky true name part. Series showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay told Radio Times that they actually did film a scene featuring Durin's real name, but cut it out at the last minute. In this scene, Durin apparently didn't share it with Elrond directly, but is being addressed by his own father, the king. Payne started to reveal the true name to the outlet, only for McKay to reportedly cut him off, just as the half-elf did to his dwarf friend in the series. After all, it's called a secret name for a reason.