By Michael Keegan
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 Noldo of Valinor and 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 ofThe 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 'Sindarinized' 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.
The pure Sindarin form of Fëanor was Faenor, 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’ [PoME 343]. Thus it is merely a question of which of the three versions should or can be used for complete accuracy in translation, scholarly study, etc. Fëanáro >> Fëanor >> Faenor is the basic etymology we are given to work with here, and it is complete, so in this respect it is possible to decide [though we really have no indication of Tolkien's preferences] which form should be used and in what situation. From the aforementioned quotation we can be led to believe two things: 1) Scholars were attempting to use the name Faenor in even Quenya texts, which may mean that he was known in Middle-Earth as Faenor. ‘The tongue of the Grey-elves was most spoken even by the Noldor, for they learned swiftly the speech of Beleriand’ 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 could in fact be Fëanáro >> Faenor >> Fëanor because of scholarly error in translations.
Whether Sindarin and Quenya names should be limited to Sindarin and Quenya translations respectively cannot be determined with any great accuracy, though it seems that Faenor was used even in Quenya texts in Beleriand. Perhaps it was that those in Valinor recognized him as Fëanáro, and those of Beleriand as Faenor; and so, language did not matter as much as the 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. It has often been observed that many of the sons of Fëanor also had mere 'Sindarinized' names in Middle-Earth, as Tolkien often could not find suitable equivalents in Sindarin. However, I have seen no translations concerning the usage of the name 'Fëanor,' and in light of this fact, my article is limited to educated conjecture resulting from extensive research.
While Tolkien did not provide us with an example of Fëanor's names in translation, we can examine the name of the Maia, Sauron. He is known in the histories as Sauron, and is never commonly referred to as Gorthaur [his Sindarin name], save in the index, and he certainly has no amalgam name as Fëanor did. So 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 Saurono is preferred Quenya. Still one could argue that using Faenor for every translation in Middle-Earth [who Fëanor was apparently known as] would mean using Sauron in the same sense [in both Quenya and Sindarin], 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.
Due to this ambiguity, which Prof. Tolkien is famous for, it basically comes to a matter of personal preference. It seems to me that Fëanor is best when speaking/reading English, while the authenticity of using his pure Sindarin/Quenya names when they are included in translations, as determined with the Sauron example, is better than the use of mixed names any day. In light of all of these arguments, I think that while it is safe to conclude that Fëanor could be used in both Quenya and Sindarin translations, because Tolkien never really promoted either of his pure names, and because of the errors of scholars, it largely remains a matter of personal judgment.
Questions or Comments? Contact me.