Mairon: The Actual Source for the Blasted Name
Long-time Tolkien geeks – or those fated to run across a certain internet phenomenon – might know that ‘Sauron’ is not actually the real name of the Lord of the Ring. ‘Sauron’ is just an abusive Elvish nickname, meaning ‘the Abhorred.’ Sauron’s actual name, at least originally, was ‘Mairon.’
Well and good. But there’s a problem with that. Some people, myself included, like to have the actual source and context for the name, and this particular source is not even found in The History of Middle-earth, much less The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales.
It’s buried deep in issue 17 (2007) of the meaty linguistic journal Parma Eldalamberon:
Alas, there is no easy way of reading this material online. One must find… workarounds… in a manner that would probably please Sauron himself. So to save everybody time, here is the relevant section, from pp.183-184. of the journal issue:
SAWA-, disgusting, foul, vile: [Q saura, foul, vile, whence name Sauron.]* prefix sau- as in: saucare, doing or making a thing very badly. Not used in Sindarin as a prefix; but the adjective saur occurs in sense ‘bad’ of food etc., putrid, also substantive saw, filth, putrescence.
also Q söa, filth (sawa). [Added in left margin.]
*This name is also used in late 3[rd] Age Sindarin and could be a genuine Sindarin formation from saur; but is probably from Quenya. The ancient Sindarin name for Sauron was Gorthaur, of quite distinct origin: from NGOR ‘terror’ and THUS, evil mist, fog, Darkness: ngor(o)-thuso > Gorthu ‘Mist of Fear’; c.f. thû, horrible darkness, black mist < thuse.
Sauron’s original name was Mairon, but this was altered after he was suborned by Melkor. But he continued to call himself Mairon the Admirable, or Tar-mairon ‘King Excellent’ until after the downfall of Númenor. The Quenya form equivalent to Gorthu was northus, norsus, stem norsur-.
No. THAW- , cruel. Saura, cruel. Gorthaur.
[DLN under the heading Some prefixes, subheading ill. The note on Gorthaur was added in the left margin against the explanation of Sauron, written in pencil with an “X” next to it.]
SAWA ‘bad, unheathy, ill, wretched’.
[See PEN-. C.f. Etym. THUS-. *thausa. Q saura ‘foul, evil-smelling, putrid’.]
So there you have it: a truly obscure bit of lore that has become ‘common knowledge’ within the Tolkien fandom. The only analogy I can think of is Maedhros’ hair colour, but at least that appears in The History of Middle-earth (Volume XII). This material doesn’t. It really is that obscure.