Elven Naming Traditions of Middle-earth

If you haven’t read the essay on the Elven naming traditions of Valinor, go back and read it, then read this essay. The conclusions and terminology used in this essay will make more sense if you do so.

Of the naming traditions of the Eldar who lived in Valinor, we know much. However, the naming traditions of the Úmanyar (those who didn’t go to Valinor and stayed in Middle-earth) are largely undocumented. Though Tolkien never explicitly described them, we can guess by looking at their names.

The Elves of Beleriand are the ones most likely to have naming traditions echoing the traditions in Valinor, seeing as they were the closest to Valinor and they had trade and communication going between them. Therefore, when Doriath was conquered and the Sindar fled deeper into Middle-earth to live in the lands of other Telerin Elves, they brought these strong traditions and their language with them. Since the language was adopted, it doesn’t seem too strange that the naming traditions would come along too.

But would there be any naming traditions that they didn’t already have?

From a linguistic point of view, there is a striking similarity to the Sindarin word “eneth” and the Quenya word “anesse“, suggesting that the Úmanyar also have Given-names.

Denethor (which originally was a Common Eldarin name, “Denitháró – Lithe and Lank”) is obviously an Epesse, given to the hero who saved the Nandor. Another example of an Epesse given before the languages had truly split is Elwê’s name, “Thindikollo – Grey Cloak.” It refers to his silver hair.

The Parentless Elves (the Elves who first awoke on the shores of Cuiviénen and who therefore have neither parents nor a birth at all) all have Chosen-Names. While the Noldor glorified and enshrined this quite a bit, we don’t know to what extent the other cultures developed this; we can guess that they also could choose their own names, like their fore-fathers did. Also, there may be the odd occasion wherein an Elf decides to leave their old names behind, and go by an Alias, so that type of Chosen-name we can’t rule out either.

There is little in the way of evidence of Mother-Names, but it seems unlikely that they wouldn’t also exist, as any Elven woman is capable of having insight in the hour of birth into her child’s future life and personality. Therefore, I contend that Mother-names are also possible.

Finally, the Father-Name. We know that in an earlier version, of his Elven language history, Tolkien made a way to have Father-names for the Ilkorin Elves (uncivilized Elves outside the Elven cities) from a note in the Etymologies. They have a different sort of Fathername, which is completely unlike the Quenya or Sindarin Fathernames, wherein “go-” is prefixed onto a parent’s name. Also, this sort of name is just convenient.

In conclusion, I believe that the naming traditions of the Eldar come from the shores of Cuiviénen, and therefore aren’t completely different amongst the sundered Elves. That being said, I believe that the Úmanyar’s names are structured like this:

  1. The first name is a Father name, with some portion of the father or mother’s name in it, and probably ending in -ien, -iel, or -ion. There probably would be some sort of ceremony or celebration for the parents to show off their new child, and let everyone know of its existence, wherein they would also tell everyone their new baby’s name. This name probably had very little personal significance, and could be used by outsiders.
  2. The second name describes the Elf’s personality. It is chosen later in life, when the Elf’s personality has taken form. For the Úmanyar, gaining linguistic ability and intelligence isn’t as highly prized as it is for the Noldor, so there probably isn’t a Name-Choosing ceremony amongst the Úmanyar. I do think that there can be more than one of these names, possibly one given by the mother, using her unique insight into her child’s personality and future. This name probably was much more intimate and personal for the Elf who had it, so using it would require a personal relationship. It would be rude for outsiders to use this name.
  3. The third name is an Epesse of some sort, or a professional’s title. It can be descriptive of some event the Elf is well known for, the place that such an event took place, or some outstanding physical or mental feature that the Elf is well known for. Other than titles of nobility, Tolkien wrote about two professional titles: Celebrimbor for silver smiths and Tegilbor for scribes. So we can infer that people were sometimes referred to by their occupation instead of their name.

General Facts About Elven Names in Middle-earth

  • Since the Elves of Middle-earth are so spread out, it’s unlikely that everyone could know what everyone’s names are, and if they ended up with the same name, they wouldn’t know it. Even so, they don’t take names they know are being used by someone else. To do so would create confusion. So, the names of famous historical figures wouldn’t be taken as chosen names, and I doubt an Elven mother would give their child the name of someone famous. Using someone else’s name is considered trying to impersonate them. There is no Elven equivalent to “John Smith”.
  • Elves don’t share their Father-names when they marry. Their names are unchanged, except for the romantic nicknames they call eachother.
  • Elves’ names change as the language around them changes. This is also why Legolas is sometimes called “Greenleaf.” It is simply the translation of his name into Westron, not a surname.
  • Elves never use the names of Eru, the Valar, or Maiar as their own. It’s considered trying to become or impersonate a god. Similarly, they aren’t named abstract concepts like “Justice, Mercy, Love, Victory, Life, Death” or the names of countries or natural things like “Star, River, Fire, Earth, Sea”. Names referencing these things usually indicate the person’s relationship with them, like Gaerdil (sea-lover) or Edennil (human-lover). Names about one’s ethnicity or homeland are usually indirect references, like Legolas (green-leaf), which references his homeland (Mirkwood is called the “forest of green-leaf” in Sindarin) and his ethnicity as a Legel (green-elf). A name referencing something like stars or rivers and so on wouldn’t just be “Star” or “River”, but would be compound name, showing in what way the character is like the thing, like “Thranduil” (vigorous-river) who has a river running through his home. The name is suggesting that he’s energetic and strong as this river. Barring Ataressi, names are usually descriptive of the elf, often just an adjective with a name suffix added or a description of a specific characteristic. So, names like Arwen (noble maiden) or Glorfindel (golden-hair) are the most common.

Where to go for the Úmanyar’s names:

Sources

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien collected by Christopher Tolkien, Letter #211
The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, Appendix F – The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age-Of the Elves
Morgoth’s Ring by Tolkien, Laws and Customs of the Eldar – Of Names
Parma Eldalamberon #17 & #21
The Peoples of Middle-earth by Tolkien, Of Dwarves and Men – Note #7
Unfinished Tales by Tolkien, Appendix E – The Names of Celeborn and Galadriel
Vinyar Tengwar ed. 44, by the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship, Ae Adar Nín

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