Names in ASOIAF are often intended to give you insights into who a character is. For instance, House Stark are named for the famous House York of real English history. House Lannister are similarly analogous to the real life House Lancaster who famously opposed the Yorks in the War of the Roses. From the outset of the story this should tell you how these houses will interact based on the reference. And they do not disappoint, members of the houses have been at war since the first book. Or in other examples names are funny plays on words that tell you literally who they are. For instance Bronn, Tyrion’s humorous sellsword companion. Why his name is a misspelling of the word Brawn meaning muscular, and as he is hired by Tyrion that makes Bronn literally “hired muscle”. As a habit I tend to try and figure out what characters names can mean in similar ways, and I thought I would share one. Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.
The easiest connection to see is Arthur Dayne to the legendary King Arthur. Arthur Dayne and his magic sword Dawn is a simple connection with King Arthur and his magic sword Excalibur. But the comparison breaks down in the details. Arthur Dayne was a knight of the Kingsguard, sworn to protect the royal family and have no family. He also didn’t receive Dawn via lake women hurling swords or by pulling it from stone. While a good starting point, it doesn’t quite give us much about Arthur Dayne.
Mystery from the Past
His first name offers further characterization. Arthur is an ancient name with no known origin or meaning. Most seems to agree it comes from Europe but the time and place are anyone’s guess. The name could mean anything from king to bear king to even possibly being a name of an ancient Roman house. That last one is the most intriguing for me. The world of ice and fire has no answers for the history of house Dayne. Unlike other families like the Starks who descend from First Men or the Targaryens who came from Valyria, the Daynes have no known history. Despite appearing Valyrian in features they aren’t from that part of that world. Nobody knows where they came from, and the name Arthur sort of builds that into the character.
We also know next to nothing about Arthur Dayne other than he was a great swordsman, Rhaegar’s closest friend, he liked neat and orderly camps, and was an honorable opponent in battle. Where did he squire? How did he earn Dawn? Did Arthur ever love a girl? Nothing, a nearly blank slate of a character aside from his job and his one known friend.
Dayne of Denmark
As for Dayne, there is a real life equivalent, the Danes of Denmark. In their past, the Danes were seafaring Viking conquerors of mostly blonde complexion who settled themselves all across the European world leaving behind settlements. This could very easily be the origins of House Dayne in Westeros, a small part of a larger family or civilization that collapsed long ago. Possibly a part of the Great Empire of The Dawn and/or Asshai at its height. A lone colony that survived the destruction of the whole in a small corner of the known world, holding onto their relics and customs long after their home has broken into pieces.
The Last Sons of Arnor
My personal favorite connection I found was, in all places, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. While researching the Naz’gul for another idea I’m working on, came across some of the deeper history of Middle Earth and specifically the geography. The Kingdom of Gondor used to be part of a much larger united kingdom known as Arnor. The people of Arnor were the last descendants of the Númenóreans or Dunedains, the mythical group of men who aided in the defeat of Morgoth. They slowly splintered over time, hastened along by Sauron and his Ring Wraiths who invaded from Angmar, until finally Arnor split into three Kingdoms by the three sons of Eärendur. The three kingdoms were Cardolan, Rhudaur
, and Arthedain. Arthedain, Arthur Dayne. Arthedain was the last of the kingdoms to fall. The royal family became instead known as the Chieftains of the Dúnedain, a small group of rangers who also happened to be the heirs of Isildur. The most famous of these chieftains of Dunedain and Rangers is, of course, Aragorn II who reunited Arnor as King and saw the fall of Sauron.
What does this mean for Arthur Dayne the character? By giving him the name of one of the fallen Kingdoms of an ancient and much more powerful civilization than those that currently exist the meaning is clear. The Daynes are, like Aragorn and the Dunedain, the last heirs of a vast fallen empire just hanging on by a thread. Even the Dayne sigil of a fallen star is reminiscent of the ancient Edains who the Dunedains came from. The Edains found the island of Numenor by following a brilliant falling star, the Star of Eärendil. After finding the island they discovered it was shaped like a five pointed star as well. The Daynes of Starfall followed a falling star and built their home on the site where it landed. In typical GRRM fashion, once you understand the reference is all falls into place. Even the name “Dayne” is a mixed up version of “Edain” with one letter changed.
A Character as mysterious as his name
With all these references, it appears that Ser Arthur Dayne was named specifically by George to communicate a few things about his character and history. The Daynes, based on the references from Lord of the Rings, are the last of an ancient and powerful people whose powerful civilization slowly ground in nearly nothing. All that’s left of them are handfuls of old colonies and bits and pieces of their greatness, like the magic sword Dawn that is incredibly light and never needs sharpening. They are supposed to be out of place and mysterious, they are the last holdouts of the Great Empire of the Dawn in a world that has almost entirely forgotten it ever existed.
Also from their small house the salvation of Westeros may be found. And it’s an often overlooked detail that the Daynes are one of the few families that married into the Targaryen royal line. Lady Dyanna Dayne married King Maekar I making all Targaryens who came after, including Rhaegar and Daenerys, related by blood to House Dayne. If Jon Snow is truly Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark’s child he could be the heir to Dawn and an ancient royal line stretching back to the Dawn of man. As well he’s commander of the Night’s Watch and its rangers, and, if the show is to be believed, will one day become a King too. In Jon’s home of Winterfell there is even a large white tree like the White Tree of Minas Tirith. While it is not a unique idea to show how Jon Snow is similar to Aragorn finding the same conclusion from a totally different source of information I feel strengthens the idea and supports it.