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Tintin: His real name, or a nickname?

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Stanley Cubic
#91 · Posted: 5 Jan 2015 13:41 · Edited by: Moderator
Hello fellow Tintinologists.

I have just applied for membership, and before anything else, I request your leniency: as a francophone, and although I truly enjoy communication in English, I must be excused for possible language imperfections or even mistakes. Please do not spare any remark in that respect, especially if I could not make myself clear. By the way, I have just used the word "tintinologist" with its Greek origin in mind (not its technical meaning: people who like to talk seriously about Tintin – which does not exclude humor and fun, of course!

Now, about that name, Tintin.
I do not remember reading anything about Hergé commenting his choice, but I remember that when I discovered the character – I was five (that was sixty years ago) –, it was a friendly nickname which could still be heard in real life, at least in northern France where I lived (Belgium was only a few minutes away), and that made me perceive the character as the friend next door, whom you don't always know by his complete name. Later I realized, from travels, readings and films, that the nickname has been used by francophones rather widely, even in southern France. There might be a linguistic explanation, if I am not too technical or pedantic: in French, there is none or little tonic accent, and when there is one, it is on the last syllable (with the exception of those based on a silent "e", in most parts). When coining nicknames, one of the tricks (among others) would be picking that last stressed syllable, and doubling it for both sonority and fun: so Bernard generated Nanar, Henri Riri, Victor Totor (a Hergean prototype), Albert or Robert Béber (by the way, this one was Arabized by Hergé in Cigars as Beh-Behr, very well redone in English as Ali-Bhai, an occurrence of Tintin having to rename himself), Émile Mimile, etc. As for "-tin" endings (many of them diminutives), Martin has already been mentioned, but there were also Albertin, Aubertin, Augustin, Baptistin, Célestin, Christin, Clémentin, Constantin, Corentin, Fantin, Faustin, Florentin, Justin, Léontin, Quentin, Valentin (most common ones in bold). Almost all of those first names are too old fashioned, nowadays, and the context of rural or working-class communities which would favor such nicknaming has changed too much and switched to other sources of inspiration: the consequence is that, over the past fifty years, as Tintin became at least as famous as De Gaulle (according to the latter himself), the name became the sole property of the paper hero. The former nickname has disappeared, and strangely enough, the hero's fame generated it back with new meanings, some of them almost derogatory: calling somebody "Tintin" is pointing him out as dynamic and adventurous, but sometimes in a simplistic and naïve way (for instance, Pierre Assouline, who once wrote a very good biography of Hergé, recently mocked Alexandre Jardin, another writer who had denounced the collaborationist past of his own family, by calling him "Tintin au pays des collabos". Whatever its relevance, this attack literally gives Tintin a bad name.
The possible influence of Benjamin Rabier's earlier character Tintin Lutin has already been mentioned. What can be added at this point is that Rabier had used the popular nickname rather as a mock first name, with a rhyming last name and/or nickname (implying small size, swiftness and... malice, which does not suit Hergé's Tintin).

Another language aspect has to be mentioned: apart from being a nickname, "tintin" was a French colloquial word which spoke for itself, an onomatopoeic transcription of a tinkling bell. The funny side of it may have had a part in the use of the nickname, although it could also make it less friendly: a "cloche" (French for bell) is, figuratively, a hollow skull, just good enough to make noise with its clapper (that would be the tongue, or maybe a nutlike brain). The word survived until the XXth century in such expressions as "Tintin!" or "faire tintin", which meant being deprived of something expected, getting nothing (One can only guess a connection with a tinkling sound: was it linked to the loss of a stray cow?). Some "tintinologues" have hinted that Hergé might have had that in mind, consciously or not, to name his character, not in a negative way, but to create a face, mainly, which was made from almost nothing (a circle, two dots, four lines), and so would welcome identification from the readers, especially young ones. A bit far-fetched, isn't it? Thompson would say; or to be precise, Thomson would add: a bat fir-perched!
More significantly, I suppose, the character's name remained reduced to a nickname for the same reasons. No first name, no last name, no family, no lineage, the boy from nowhere and everywhere: the reader again. Besides, I was extremely disappointed when Haddock's first name was revealed (?) in Picaros: I felt that the addition brutally shrank the character, and I was glad he rejected it (after all, strangely, Tintin did not sound so sure himself!). Tryphon Tournesol's case is more complex.

And now, after these few considerations about the status of Tintin's in French, how about exploring Milou's case? It would certainly have more to say than its cute but shallow (except in Tibet, of course) English substitute.

Greetings from France.
Jean-Luc Dewez, retired professor.
#92 · Posted: 10 Jan 2015 00:46 · Edited by: Balthazar
Stanley Cubic

Thank you, Jean-Luc, for your really interesting thoughts and information from your francophone knowledge and perspective, and a warm welcome to our forums.

The delay in replying to your thoughts, and the brevity of this reply now that I have, is only due to early-January business and not to any lack of interest in what you've posted, especially about Tintin once being a reasonably common sort of nickname.
#93 · Posted: 21 Mar 2016 22:34
Stanley Cubic
Professor, it is an honor to meet you. Having studied French myself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about French naming traditions.

I've always thought that "Tintin" was a nickname for something else. For whatever the reason, I always thought Augustin was a really dignified name and made me think of St. Augustine, one of the most notable scholars in church history. In my head, since Hergé was Tintin's "father," I always regard Tintin's real name to be "Augustin Georges Remi," with "Augustin" only having been used whenever Tintin would get into mischief as a child. :)
#94 · Posted: 9 Jun 2016 00:54
In The Blue Lotus, the article titled "Tintin's Own Story" is signed L.G.T. This seems to say that Tintin is probably his last name.
#95 · Posted: 9 Jun 2016 10:17 · Edited by: jock123
the article titled "Tintin's Own Story" is signed L.G.T. This seems to say that Tintin is probably his last name.

I see what you are getting at, but sadly that part of the article isn't written by Tintin, it's written about him - he is clearly being interviewed by a reporter (with the initials L.G.T.) from the Shanghai News.
#96 · Posted: 10 Jan 2019 15:19
I can think of three reasons why Tintin is only Tintin:
1) Superheros, when they act as such, don't have surnames. Just Superman, Batman, Spiderman. And Tintin is a superhero 24/7, so he doesn't really need a surname.
2) Hergé tried to protect Tintin. If he publicly mentioned his real name, gangsters, villains, and the Bordurian secret service would try to harm him. "Tintin" is a form of witness identity protection.
3) At the time, natural children (bastards, love children, illegitimate children, etc.) were very badly regarded, both social and legally. They didn't have rights in family law; they could inherit little to none from their real parents; they were quite marginalized from society. Of course they usually had surnames: either their mom's (mater semper certa est), an adopted, or an invented one. By not giving Tintin a surname at all, maybe Hergé is subtly saying "Hey, look at this fellow Tintin. He doesn't have a paternal surname, even no surname at all, and see everything that he has accomplished!". Maybe it was a sort of empathy, and encouragement towards people born outside marriage.
#97 · Posted: 14 Jan 2019 09:34 · Edited by: jock123
Maybe it was a sort of empathy, and encouragement towards people born outside marriage.

It's a nice idea, but highly improbable in a strict Catholic newspaper of the period, I am afraid.
It also overlooks that, at the time, especially in Francophone countries, many celebrities were only known by a single name. Even Charlie Chaplin was billed as "Charlot" (Little Charlie), and there were also names like Valentino, Garbo, Karloff, Spanelly, Fernandel, Castel...
This continued with people like Cantinflas, Topol, Liberace, etc., and continues to this day - Beyoncé, Madonna, Bono, Sting, Cher, and so on, so it's hard to see that Tintin can be regarded as that unusual, or sending any particular message.
I mean, in the adventures we also have Nestor, Thompson, Thomson, etc., and it doesn't bother anyone to think that they only have "one name"... :-)
#98 · Posted: 14 Jan 2019 13:28 · Edited by: Shivam302001
And Snowy! Don't forget Snowy! He was the best entertainer pre-Haddock period, and I consider in that sense, he is the dog equivalent of Haddock.:-P

Personally, I think Thompson and Thomson can't really be names, jock123, they are more like surnames.So, that is not very strange considering Haddock's situation (last book...whew).And isn't Nestor's surname 'Butler'?;-)

Tintin is certainly his name, real or nick, and that is what is most important to me.
#99 · Posted: 14 Jan 2019 23:02
Thompson and Thomson can't really be names, jock123, they are more like surnames.

Exactly - we don't know if "Tintin" is a forename or a surname, so he's no different from any of the single name characters... "Barnaby" is another example - it could easily be either.

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