The name “Tolkien” (pron.: Tol-keen; equal stress on both syllables) is believed to be of German origin; Toll-kühn: foolishly brave, or stupidly clever – hence the pseudonym “Oxymore” which he occasionally used. His father’s side of the family appears to have migrated from Saxony in the 18th century, but over the century and a half before his birth had become thoroughly Anglicised. Certainly his father, Arthur Reuel Tolkien, considered himself nothing if not English. Arthur was a bank clerk, and went to South Africa in the 1890s for better prospects of promotion. There he was joined by his bride, Mabel Suffield, whose family were not only English through and through, but West Midlands since time immemorial. So John Ronald (“Ronald” to family and early friends) was born in Bloemfontein, S.A., on 3 January 1892. His memories of Africa were slight but vivid, including a scary encounter with a large hairy spider, and influenced his later writing to some extent; slight, because on 15 February 1896 his father died, and he, his mother and his younger brother Hilary returned to England – or more particularly, the West Midlands.
The Tolkien Society celebrates his birthday with a toast:
At 9pm your local time, we invite Tolkien fans to raise a glass and toast the birthday of this much loved author. The toast is simply:
Happy birthday, Beren.