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WĒ/EWE root. “person, being, individual”

WĒ/EWE root. “person, being, individual”

A root mentioned in notes from the late 1950s having to do with “persons” serving as the basis for the suffix Q. -wë common in ancient Quenya names (PE17/189-90). In The Etymologies of the 1930s this suffix had two variants: masculine ᴹQ. -we¹ derived from root ᴹ√WEG “(manly) vigour”, but also abstract ᴹQ. -we² derived from unrelated ᴹ✶-wē (Ety/WEG). The suffix was masculine in some later notes as well, where Tolkien said “√WEG, WEƷ, √NES, NETH- referred to masculinity and femininity apart from sex and so could refer to the Valar and Maiar” (PE17/190), but this etymology was rejected and in its place Tolkien wrote: “√WE ? WEƷ ‘person’, individual (only used of Elves and Men), thus origin of -we in Quenya names as Manwe, Voronwe” (PE17/189). In Quenya Notes (QN) from 1957 Tolkien wrote:

-we in Quenya names (Manwe, etc.). This is in origin a separate word √WĒ (WE’E ?), from its form an ancient element of Eldarin vocabulary. Probably related to Q ve “as, like”; vëa “seeming, apparent”; vávea, ovéa “(con)similar, alike”. In Sindarin adoption of Quenya names (as Voronwe > Bronweg) -we was sometimes used to represent -we, which historically had become w or u (as in Elu = Elwe). But this S -we is of distinct origin, √WEG- “live, be active”. Hence *wego(n) “living creature”: Q weo, vëo, S gwê (PE17/189).

In these Quenya Notes, √ as a name element was distinct from √WEG “active”, and neither were distinctly masculine. The initial version of this note glossed √WE as “a person or being” (PE17/190), but in revision Tolkien connected it to Q. ve “as, like” (PE17/189). The interpretation of the suffix -we as gender-neutral was mentioned again in The Shibboleth of Fëanor from 1968 where Tolkien said it was derived from √EWE “person” (PM/340). However, the only feminine name where this element appeared was Q. Elenwë the wife of Turgon (S/90, PM/345), and most of the names with this element were both masculine and ancient.

See the entry on √WEG for more on the evolution of earlier, largely masculine, forms.

References ✧ PE17/189-190; PM/340