In chapter 13 of Tarzan of the Apes (His Own Kind), the notice posted by Tarzan reads:


However, in chapter 4 of Jungle Tales of Tarzan (The God of Tarzan):

Of course he did not pronounce God as you or I would pronounce His name, for Tarzan knew naught of the spoken language of his English forbears; but he had a name of his own invention for each of the little bugs which constituted the alphabet. Unlike the apes he was not satisfied merely to have a mental picture of the things he knew, he must have a word descriptive of each. In reading he grasped a word in its entirety; but when he spoke the words he had learned from the books of his father, he pronounced each according to the names he had given the various little bugs which occurred in it, usually giving the gender prefix for each.

Thus it was an imposing word which Tarzan made of GOD. The masculine prefix of the apes is BU, the feminine MU; g Tarzan had named LA, o he pronounced TU, and d was MO. So the word God evolved itself into BULAMUTUMUMO, or, in English, he-g-she-o-she-d.

Similarly he had arrived at a strange and wonderful spelling of his own name. Tarzan is derived from the two ape words TAR and ZAN, meaning white skin. It was given him by his foster mother, Kala, the great she-ape. When Tarzan first put it into the written language of his own people he had not yet chanced upon either WHITE or SKIN in the dictionary; but in a primer he had seen the picture of a little white boy and so he wrote his name BUMUDE-MUTOMURO, or he-boy.

To follow Tarzan's strange system of spelling would be laborious as well as futile, and so we shall in the future, as we have in the past, adhere to the more familiar forms of our grammar school copybooks. It would tire you to remember that DO meant b, TU o, and RO y, and that to say he-boy you must prefix the ape masculine gender sound BU before the entire word and the feminine gender sound MU before each of the lower-case letters which go to make up boy—it would tire you and it would bring me to the nineteenth hole several strokes under par.

In-universe, is it ever explained how he came to use Tarzan as the spelling of his name? The paragraph above would indicate that he would have switched to using "White Skin" as his name once he learned those words, but instead, we see that he used Tarzan.

Oddly, Burroughs calls it a "strange system of spelling", whereas it should be a strange system of pronunciation. If he did assign sounds to the various characters, and using (g - LA), (o - TU) as representative examples, he could have wrote down "Tarzan" in about as many characters, using different alphabets of course.

  • 3
    Could we get an explanation for the downvotes here?
    – user111
    Feb 7 '17 at 3:08
  • 1
    @user111: As much as I enjoyed reading Tarzan as a young boy, its racist literature. Edgar Rice Burroughs plays on the notion of the noble savage and the notion of a racial hierarchy with, of course, the whites on top. Except of course his noble savage is the son of a white english lord who happens to have grown up in Africa. Funny how the Waziri of the Waziri didn't become the King of the Jungle like Tarzan did. Nov 14 '18 at 12:58
  • @user111: Personally I got a bit tired of Edgars prose and his limited moves. Tarzan was always smelling the 'spoor' through the jungle. I don't think actual jungle trackers do that. Lots of credit for his imagination who'd have put lost legionairres in the jungle and atlantis too? Nov 14 '18 at 13:09
  • @MoziburUllah - Ultimately it's a product of the audience that's reading it. People want to read about heroes that are like themselves. It's why the most popular "books for girls" have girl protagonist, etc.
    – Valorum
    Feb 16 '20 at 14:16

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