The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
First seen c. II 2250; went 'into the shadows' II 3441; reappeared in Middle-earth c. III 1300; finally destroyed in III 3019
Various, including some Númenóreans
Other names


About this entry:

  • Updated 11 April 2008
  • This entry is complete


A name for the Ringwraiths

Sauron's Ringwraiths were unusual in that they were normally referred to by their name in Sauron's Black Speech - Nazgûl - rather than being given an Elvish name. In fact they are given no Elvish name at all in the published Lord of the Rings2. Perhaps the people of Middle-earth were unwilling to use the Elven-tongue to name these monsters, but though it was rarely used, an Elvish name did indeed exist: Úlairi.



No explanation of the name Úlairi is ever given, and its intended meaning is very uncertain. One possibility derives from the use of ul- as meaning 'monstrous, horrible' (as for example in the name Uldor). On this model, the final element -airi is perhaps related to Quenya aira, 'eternal, unending', so that Úlairi would mean something like 'undying monsters' (a fair description of the Nazgûl).

This is far from a sure interpretation, and others could be invented. Another possibility would be based on ú- 'not' and lairë 'summer', suggesting that these were creatures of darkness and misery, but that interpretation seems a little too contrived to be very plausible.


In fact the name Úlairi does appear in various drafts for the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, but these references were removed before publication.


About this entry:

  • Updated 11 April 2008
  • This entry is complete

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