Bastard names and negativity

Pardon the dust. This page is a work in progress 🙂


Portrait by Amok of the three Great Bastards: Aegor Rivers aka “Bittersteel”, Daemon I Blackfyre and Brynden Rivers aka “Bloodraven”.

A Clash of Kings – Jon VI

“I’m Jon Snow.”

She flinched. “An evil name.”

A bastard name,” he said. “My father was Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell.”

It really seems that the custom of bastards being less than everyone else comes from the Andals, and we know that the Andals and the first men do not have a good history with each other. Everything from wars, to burning trees, to King Sherrit, to the other Andal oppression against the First Men/Free Folk. And this is really another “follow the money” situation with the Andals who brought the Faith of the Seven (fire associated), and the financial benefits they receive, which is why it is important to them that people believe in the Faith and its tenets rather than the “free” animism of the old gods. The Free Folk, indeed.

Much of this goes hand in hand with how GRRM repeatedly favors “mutts and mongrels” as his story heroes, which is the anti-elitism of incest. The first men/free folk are about spreading their genes through “stealing”, which is just a mating ritual (that Andal-descent, or southroners, have corrupted in name and practice). Garth the Green was renowned for spreading his “seed” all over. The skinchangers are known to hold “gatherings”, which in GRRM-world, gatherings are big orgies that spread genetic material all over.

  • A Storm of Swords – Bran IV

Jojen gazed up at him with his dark green eyes. “There’s nothing here to hurt us, Your Grace.”

Bran wasn’t so certain. The Nightfort had figured in some of Old Nan’s scariest stories. It was here that Night’s King had reigned, before his name was wiped from the memory of man. This was where the Rat Cook had served the Andal king his prince-and-bacon pie, where the seventy-nine sentinels stood their watch, where brave young Danny Flint had been raped and murdered. This was the castle where King Sherrit had called down his curse on the Andals of old, where the ‘prentice boys had faced the thing that came in the night, where blind Symeon Star-Eyes had seen the hellhounds fighting. Mad Axe had once walked these yards and climbed these towers, butchering his brothers in the dark.

But when you really compare, the first men/Free Folk do not think lower of those born out of wedlock. Mance Rayder gives us a first-hand look at a different angle of the free folk attitudes towards birth and “rightfulness”.

  • A Storm of Swords – Jon X

… “Are you a true king?” Jon asked suddenly.

“I’ve never had a crown on my head or sat my arse on a bloody throne, if that’s what you’re asking,” Mance replied. “My birth is as low as a man’s can get, no septon’s ever smeared my head with oils, I don’t own any castles, and my queen wears furs and amber, not silk and sapphires. I am my own champion, my own fool, and my own harpist. You don’t become King-beyond-the-Wall because your father was. The free folk won’t follow a name, and they don’t care which brother was born first. They follow fighters. When I left the Shadow Tower there were five men making noises about how they might be the stuff of kings. Tormund was one, the Magnar another. The other three I slew, when they made it plain they’d sooner fight than follow.”

High speculation warning: It is possible they used the more basic names of reflect the regional offerings like snow, waters, flowers, sand, etc. This is probably because GRRM based the Free Folk/northerners on the Norse and animism.

From a So Spake Martin…

  • Q: In the North: Lake, Condon, Fenn, Marsh, Slate, and Harclay…

    GRRM: These all look great too. Including Harclay, which is just what I intended. I am trying to keep the northern shields significantly simpler, to underline the fact that the northmen aren’t into the whole chivalry thing as deeply as the southrons. That’s the reason for Lake, Marsh, Fenn, Slate, etc. — simple names, simple shields.

What (possibly) started out as normal for the first men, became a derogatory term… just as the southroners have made mockery of the term “stealing”, in addition to the way the word “wildling” is the derogatory term for “free folk”. However, the stubborn communication error goes both ways over that culturally restrictive wall, as the free folk call those in the south “kneelers”.

  • The World of Ice and Fire – The Wall and Beyond: The Wildlings

In the lands beyond the Wall live the diverse people—all descended from the First Men—that we of the more civilized south name wildlings.

This is not a term they use themselves. The largest and most numerous of the various peoples beyond the Wall named themselves the free folk, in their belief that their savage customs allow them lives of greater freedom than the kneelers of the south. And it is true that they live with neither lords nor kings and need bow to neither man nor priest, regardless of their birth or blood or station.

  • A Clash of Kings – Jon VIII

“He is a warg,” said the Lord of Bones, “and a crow. I like him not.”

A warg he may be,” Ygritte said, “but that has never frightened us.” Others shouted agreement. Behind the eyeholes of his yellowed skull Rattleshirt’s stare was malignant, but he yielded grudgingly. These are a free folk indeed, thought Jon.

  • A Storm of Swords – Jon II

“Do you mislike the girl?” Tormund asked him as they passed another twenty mammoths, these bearing wildlings in tall wooden towers instead of giants.

“No, but I . . .” What can I say that he will believe? “I am still too young to wed.”

“Wed?” Tormund laughed. “Who spoke of wedding? In the south, must a man wed every girl he beds?”

Jon could feel himself turning red again. “She spoke for me when Rattleshirt would have killed me. I would not dishonor her.”

“You are a free man now, and Ygritte is a free woman. What dishonor if you lay together?”

I might get her with child.”

Aye, I’d hope so. A strong son or a lively laughing girl kissed by fire, and where’s the harm in that?”

Words failed him for a moment. “The boy . . . the child would be a bastard.”

Are bastards weaker than other children? More sickly, more like to fail?”

“No, but—”

You’re bastard-born yourself. And if Ygritte does not want a child, she will go to some woods witch and drink a cup o’ moon tea. You do not come into it, once the seed is planted.”

I will not father a bastard.”

Tormund shook his shaggy head. “What fools you kneelers be. Why did you steal the girl if you don’t want her?”

…and it continues..


Homeless in the Underworld

But what is animism?

Animism is the perception that consciousness or spirit is a quality of the entire world, rather than the exclusive possession of humankind. Everything has the potential ability to communicate with other beings (whether verbally, through gestures, intuitively, or otherwise) and to bring about change. This somewhat relates to what Leaf explains to Bran and  company about the nature of the old languages:

  • A Dance with Dragons – Bran II

Bran knew. “She’s a child. A child of the forest.” He shivered, as much from wonderment as cold. They had fallen into one of Old Nan’s tales.

“The First Men named us children,” the little woman said. “The giants called us woh dak nag gran, the squirrel people, because we were small and quick and fond of trees, but we are no squirrels, no children. Our name in the True Tongue means those who sing the song of earth. Before your Old Tongue was ever spoken, we had sung our songs ten thousand years.”

 And history repeats, just with a twist, and we have Bran Stark and his “spearwife” Meera Reed naming the Children of the Forest names inspired by nature… the True Tongue.
  • A Dance with Dragons – Bran III

“You will never walk again,” the three-eyed crow had promised, “but you will fly.” Sometimes the sound of song would drift up from someplace far below. The children of the forest, Old Nan would have called the singers, but those who sing the song of earth was their own name for themselves, in the True Tongue that no human man could speak. The ravens could speak it, though. Their small black eyes were full of secrets, and they would caw at him and peck his skin when they heard the songs.

The moon was fat and full. Stars wheeled across a black sky. Rain fell and froze, and tree limbs snapped from the weight of the ice. Bran and Meera made up names for those who sang the song of earth: Ash and Leaf and Scales, Black Knife and Snowylocks and Coals. Their true names were too long for human tongues, said Leaf. Only she could speak the Common Tongue, so what the others thought of their new names Bran never learned.


Nothing, not even a rock, is completely inert, and no creature’s actions are exclusively the result of genetic “programming” – rather, there is always some element of feeling, understanding, evaluation, and choice present. A rabbit doesn’t run from a dog because it has been “programmed” to do so, as if it were merely a machine. Rather, it runs from the dog for the same reason that humans run from bears: we’d prefer to not be killed and eaten if we can help it. This involves no Winnie-the-Pooh-style personification or anthropomorphization; sentience and spirit are genuinely perceived to be inherent in potentially anything and everything.

Since consciousness or spirit is a property of the world at large rather than residing only in one organ (the brain) of one species (humans), it follows that the essence of the self is not a “soul” or anything else that stands aloof from the self’s particular earthly context. Rather, the essence of the self is to be found within its earthly context, as the sum of its relationships with other beings. We would not be ourselves if we were not simultaneously a part of something greater than ourselves.

  • The World of Ice and Fire – The North

In the North, they tell the tale of the Rat Cook, who served an Andal king—identified by some as King Tywell II of the Rock, and by others as King Oswell I of the Vale and Mountain—the flesh of the king’s own son, baked into a pie. For this, he was punished by being turned into a monstrous rat that ate its own young. Yet the punishment was incurred not for killing the king’s son, or for feeding him to the king, but for the breaking of guest right.

But the Northmen still retain something of the old ways in their customs and their manner. Their life is harder, and so they are hardened by it, and the pleasures that in the south are considered noble are thought childish and less worthy than the hunting and brawling that the Northmen love best.

Even their house names mark them out, for the First Men bore names that were short and blunt and to the point; names like Stark, Wull, Umber, and Stout all stem from the days when the Andals had no influence on the North.

Using the names of nature could possibly be how the first men honored their dead. GRRM has said in some interviews that Native Americans are one aspect of characterizations he draws from, and the Dothraki are the inverse parallels to the free folk- fire and ice. The free folk are a combination of Norse myth and culture, mixed with Native American, just as he did with the Jaenshi in his story And Seven Times Never Kill Man.

It seems George wrote the first men (also here) to believe something similar to some Native Americans beliefs, that spirits of the dead went into nature, and therefore their ancestors are always present. The acorn and the oak, circle of life.

And another place in Westerosi world we see the idea of bastards being not so negatively kept is in Dorne, the only other place where the Andal influence was not so intense. And what do we know about Dorne?

  • The World of Ice and Fire – Dorne

There are no cities in Dorne, though the socalled shadow city that clings to the walls of Sunspear is large enough to be counted as a town (a town built of mud and straw, it must be admitted). Larger and more populous, the Planky Town at the mouth of the river Greenblood is mayhaps the nearest thing the Dornish have to a true city, though a city with planks instead of streets, where the houses and halls and shops are made from poleboats, barges, and merchant ships, lashed together with hempen rope and floating on the tide.

Archmaester Brude, who was born and raised in the shadow city that huddles beneath the crumbling walls of Sunspear, once famously observed that Dorne has more in common with the distant North than either does with the realms that lie between them. “One is hot and one is cold, yet these ancient kingdoms of sand and snow are set apart from the rest of Westeros by history, culture, and tradition. Both are thinly peopled, compared to the lands betwixt. Both cling stubbornly to their own laws and their own traditions. Neither was ever truly conquered by the dragons. The King in the North accepted Aegon Targaryen as his overlord peaceably, whilst Dorne resisted the might of the Targaryens valiantly for almost two hundred years, before finally submitting to the Iron Throne through marriage. Dornishmen and Northmen alike are derided as savages by the ignorant of the five ‘civilized’ kingdoms, and celebrated for their valor by those who have crossed swords with them.”

The Dornishmen boast that theirs is the oldest of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. This is true, after a fashion. Unlike the Andals, who came later, the First Men were not seafarers. They came to Westeros not on longships but afoot, over the land bridge from Essos—the remnants of which exist today only as the Stepstones and the Broken Arm of Dorne. Walking or riding, the eastern shores of Dorne would inevitably have been where they first set foot upon Westerosi soil.