Write Your Name in Elvish in Ten Minutes

You want to write your name in Elvish, but every place you go seems to make it harder than it ought to be. Elvish writing looks beautiful and mysterious, but does it really have to be impossible to understand? Why doesn't somebody just spell out the alphabet so you can simply substitute the letters and get straight to the result? That's exactly what I've done here. Learn to write your name in Elvish in ten minutes. It's not very hard.

Here's the alphabet.

That's it. (If you want details about where this all comes from, look at the bottom of this page.) You only need to know a few more things and you're ready to go. The most important thing is that vowels go above (or below) the consonants. That's what the gray arrows signify in the alphabet shown above. You can put the vowels above the letter they follow (Quenya style) or above the letter they precede (Sindarin style). Take your pick. I do the Quenya style. Look at this example.

1. Write the name: ROBERT.

2. Shift the vowels up and to the left, so they are above the letters they follow.

3. Substitute the letters using the alphabet provided above. Notice there are two forms for the letter R. One is for the R sound as in RED. The other is for the R sound as in CAR. The name ROBERT starts with the R-as-in-RED sound and near its end it has the R-as-in-CAR sound.

4. Here's the text notation. I find it useful to use a plain text representation of the characters when I'm explaining things via email. The underscores at the beginning and end show where the baseline is.

         O E
       _ R B R T _

5. All the examples on this page are use the Quenya style, but here's the text notation for Sindarin (not shown in calligraphy) so you can see how the vowel positions shift to the right.

           O E
       _ R B R T _
       

Generally the vowels go above the consonants, but sometimes, in the case of Y and silent E, they go below. Here's another example. This one includes a special symbol, a straight line underneath the consonant, that indicates a doubled consonant. Use this "doubling symbol" with any consonant.

1. Write the name: LYNNE.

2. Shift the vowels down and to the left, so they are below the letters they follow.

3. Make letter combinations. Doubled consonants can be combined into one space.

4. Substitute the letters using the alphabet provided above. Use the bar underneath the N to signify it is doubled.

5. Here's the text notation. Most of the action occurs below the baseline. I'm using square brackets to indicate letter combinations that result in a single letterform.

       _ L [NN] _
         Y  E
      

The straight line underneath is just one way to make one character do the work of two. There are a number of Elvish letters that stand for two letters of our alphabet. Think of this as a supplementary alphabet.

The line above a consonant means that a nasal N or M precedes the consonant in question. In the next example, we use the nasal modifier and we see what to do with vowels when there's no consonant in the right place to put it above.

1. Write the name: ANDY.

2. Shift the vowels. The Y goes down and to the left. Since the letter A has no consonant to slide above, it goes on a carrier, which is just a straight line that fills in for the job a consonant would normally do. Note that the carrier is just a graphical convention and has no bearing on pronunciation.

3. Make letter combinations using the supplementary letters: N + D = ND.

4. Substitute the letters. The vowel placeholder is a short straight line. The nasal N preceding D is denoted by a straight line above the D.

5. Here's the text notation. I'm using the colon symbol : for the vowel carrier symbol.

         A
       _ : [ND] _
            Y
      

Here's one last example with two different letter combinations.

1. Write the name: SHELDON.

2. Shift the vowels.

3. Make letter combinations using the supplementary letters: S + H = SH. L + D = LD.

4. Substitute the letters.

5. Here's the text notation.

           E    0
       _ [SH] [LD] N _
      

I am often asked how to handle double vowel situations. Remember to use the carrier as shown above in the ANDY example. Here are some examples that illustrate some of the situations that come up.

Name: ADRIAN
Text notation:
         A   I A
       _ : D R : N _
      
Name: EILEEN
Text notation:
         E I [EE]
       _ : :  L  N _
      
Comment: This is a dramatic example of doubled up vowels. The name starts with two vowels, leaving us no choice but to use two carriers in a row. We use a little artistic freedom with the double E at the end, since they fit nicely over the L. It would have been, however, perfectly reasonable to spell it like this.
Text notation:
         E I E E
       _ : : L : N _
      
Name: DIETRICH
Text notation:
         I E   I
       _ D : T R [CH] _
      
Name: AMELIE
Text notation:
         A E I
       _ : M L _
             E
      
Comment: Here again we're using a little expressive freedom for compactness. The silent E at the end is placed under the L and assumed to follow the voiced I above the L. You can always spell it like this if you want to be absolutely clear.
Text notation:
         A E I E
       _ : M L : _
      

That's all you need to get started. If you take a real interest in Elvish and want to learn more, there's a lot of good information out there for you.

Please be aware that there are many ways to write English words in Elvish. This is just the one that I use. I have tried to keep it very simple here. There are dozens of sites that can lead you through the nitty-gritty details. The best one I have come across yet is Chris McKay's Tengwar Textbook (PDF). You can learn about all details that I glossed over here.

Good luck!

Ned Gulley

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