Systematic approach to Elvish name translations

Roman Rausch

Apr. 3rd 2007

To me a name comes first and the story follows.




Translations of personal names into Elvish are very popular all over the Tolkien-interested Internet and they also have a foundation. In his letter to Sam, Aragorn translates the names of Sam’s children to make them fit into the Sindarin text and Sam proudly reads them aloud. ’Well that’s splendid,’ said Frodo, ’now we all have Elvish names (SD:117-118,126).

The aim of this article is to give an overview about attested translations of names from natural languages by Tolkien and to propose a systematic approach on this basis. This should serve as a guide rather than as an exhaustive analysis.

1  Attested translations




From this one can actually suppose that some other names are in fact also translated:



Some names did not exist, but their translations appear authentic:

On the other hand we sometimes meet phonetic adaptations rather than translations:

2  Elements

One can see now that Germanic names dominate in the list above, especially in the later sources; and that these names are translated just by converting the respective elements into Elvish. Many names from other languages work just the same way, i.e. consist out of two significant elements (e.g. Greek, Slavonic). Here one has the best chances of a sound translation. Thus it appears sensible to extrapolate:

For S. -nnil/-nnel, -dil, -dil(i)on, -dilnir see Edennil ’Friend of Men’ (MR:306), gaerennil, gaerdilon, gaerdilnir, Gaerdil, Gaerdilion (PE17:19,27), although these seem to be a phonetic adaptations of Q. Atandil and Eärendil respectively. See also Enerdhil (UT:248), probably being an adaptation of Q. Anardil *’sun-lover’. Later we learn that Q. Eärendil was among names not given Sindarin forms in legend, but was explained to mean Seron Aearon (PM:348). However, causal and accidental forms Aerendil, Aerennel were also found (PM:364).

Note that Tolkien gives the Noldorin/Sindarin elements as lenited, e.g. -gon instead of -con. One may suppose that this is an analogical development, i.e. the lenited forms are generalized to remain recognizable.

Note also that KAN- ’dare’ is associated with boldness, valour, courage in The Etymologies, but was later reinterpreted to KAN- ’cry, call aloud’ with Q. káno ’commander’ (Silm.index, PM:361-362). If a decision for a translation has to be made, The Silmarillion will be rather regarded as a canonical source. Luckily, BER- ’valiant’ still remains.

Note that Tolkien uses Vala instead of Eru to translate ’God’. Indeed, it is highly doubtful that Eru could have appeared in Middle-earth names, as it was a word left for the most exceptional occasions, compare the description of Elvish weddings:
For this blessing there was a solemn form, but no mortal has heard it; though the Eldar say that Varda was named in witness by the mother and Manwë by the father; and moreover that the name of Eru was spoken (as was seldom done at any other time). (MR:211)
When Cirion called upon Eru in his oath the words filled those who heard them with awe (UT:305) and Tolkien comments: It had been held lawful only for the king of Númenor to call Eru to witness, and then only on the most grave and solemn occasions. (UT:317)

And finally note that Tolkien usually does not append an agentive suffix to his translations. Thus we do not meet **Iorhaelon, **Eldaveldo. In fact, it appears that such suffixes are used whenever a name is derived from a single adjective, element or root, as Ancalim-e, Ancalim-on, Cal-iondo, Voron-we, Saur-on and so on …
Note also that Tolkien does not always use full nouns either, e.g. Eldakan has just the suffixed root KAN- ’dare’ rather than the full noun káne ’valour’ (PM:260).

3  Approach

Going further, one can try to translate more elements and use them as a basis:

Germanic gods sometimes also appear in names. But even then a translation is not impossible. When Eriol (Ælfwine) arrives at Tol Eressea in the Lost Tales, he tells the Elves of his gods and these identify Odin with Manwe and Thor with Tulkas. Some theophoric (or rather *valaphoric?) personal names are attested in Quenya: Aulendil, Manwendil, Oromendil (UT:210).

And now the task would be to combine the elements fittingly. The following list contains some propositions:

update: Oct. 8th 2007


This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.