The Aliases of Fëanor

Two Rings
Michael Keegan — October 2003
Analytical ArticleAnalytical Articles: These articles provide a detailed overview of the theme they cover. However, they require some prior knowledge of the main works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many fans of The Lord of the Rings have also read The Silmarillion, which makes them painfully familiar with the great deeds of Fëanor, the greatest of the Elder Children. As important to the story as Fëanor is, Tolkien leaves many more things unsaid about his character and back-story than some fans would have liked.

To the linguists who devote their time to studying the languages of Tolkien's vast mythos, Fëanor's name is quite a curmudgeon etymologically. While it is his common name in all of the histories, it is neither Sindarin [Grey-elven] nor Quenya [High-elven]. Rather, it is an amalgam of the two languages, which seems like a blasphemous occurrence because of the deeds of the founders of The Grey Company, who have shamelessly blended these two largely incompatible languages to form a ridiculous ‘pseudo-Elvish’ they collectively refer to as ‘Grey elven’. But I digress.

Despite the aforementioned bastardization of Tolkienian Linguistics, Tolkien was not attempting to blend Sindarin and Quenya with Fëanor's name. In fact, in attempting to translate his Quenya name, Fëanáro, Tolkien came up with a “Sindarized” form resulting in the name we recognize this elf by today. Many believe this to be his final name and use it freely in translating things into both Sindarin and Quenya. What we must remember is that while it seems a preferred usage in the English versions of the histories, Fëanor may not have been suitable in pure Sindarin or Quenya texts.

Fëanáro » Fëanor » Faenor is often assumed to be the complete etymology of Fëanor's name, mainly because of Tolkien's “Sindarizing” of many Quenya names, but this may be innacurate. What must be remembered about Tolkien is that he was fond of etymological oddities, and this situation may simply be an oddity he chose to include in the story of his most spirited character.

The pure Sindarin form of Fëanor was Faenor, as was shown by the etymological notation, and the name Fëanor ‘probably arose through scribal confusion, especially in documents written in Quenya, in which ea was frequent but ae did not normally occur’1). This quotation leads us to believe two things which are contradictory to the supposed etymology of Fëanor's name:

  1. Scholars were attempting to use the name Faenor even in Quenya texts, which may mean that he was only known in Middle-Earth as Faenor, and never as Fëanor. ‘The tongue of the Grey-elves was most spoken even by the Noldor, for they learned swiftly the speech of Beleriand’2) and it seems that while Quenya was used in the households of the Noldorin Princes, Sindarin became the language most Elves knew, and it makes sense for Fëanor to have a Sindarin name.
  2. The etymology is most likely Fëanáro > Faenor > Fëanor due to scholarly error intranslations. It seems that Faenor was preferred in Beleriand [Even in Quenya texts!], while Fëanáro was strictly used in Valinor [Because it is, of course, pure Quenya]. So it seems language did not matter so much as location. Many argue that this is an odd way of looking at it, but there is no indication in canonical work which indicates that any other arguments are true.

Maglor (©  Jenny Dolfen)

While Tolkien did not provide us with an example of Fëanor's names in translation, we can examine the name of the Maia, Sauron [With whom all readers are familiar]. He is almost always referred to in the histories by his Quenya name, Sauron, and is only referred to as Gorthaur [his Sindarin name] or Annatar [His Quenya name for himself] in the index, and he certainly has no amalgam name as Fëanor did. Consequently, in translations such as ‘the Eye of Sauron’ it seems better that the Sindarin should utilize his Sindarin name, rather than his Quenya name, although he is constantly referred to by the former. Thus, Hen Gorthaur is preferred Sindarin, while Hen Saurondo is preferred Quenya.

Still one could argue that using Fëanor is the most accurate because the histories utilize it, but I believe the evidence of a Sindarin name suggests otherwise. Why would the Sindar give Sauron a name in their tongue and not use it? Why would they give Fëanor one? Can it be decided if Fëanor should remain unused wholly in Elvish translations? We may never know. It seems that the names which became common in the histories depended wholly on who wrote them down. Naturally Fëanor would become common because of ‘scribal error’, while Sauron would become common because most of his Elvish dealings were with the Noldor of Eregion, who used Quenya in writing and ceremony.

This debate is inherently ambiguous, but I hope this article will convince its readers. Though I am sure no rabid members of the Tolkien Society would hunt you down for using the “Sindarized” alias Fëanor in a pure Sindarin or Quenya translation, I would advise against it. After all, would you pick a half-English, half-German word when speaking pure English if there was a perfectly good English one to be used? I think not.

See also on Tolkiendil

1) PM:343
2) S:133
langues/english/i-lam_arth/aliases_feanor.txt · Dernière modification: 06/04/2020 18:47 (modification externe)
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