The word Quenya, in the Vanyarin dialect Quendya, is an adjective formed upon the same stem as Quendi "Elves"; the basic meaning is thus "Elvish, Quendian". But the word Quenya was also associated with the stem quet- "speak", and indeed the stems quet- and quen- may be related: Tolkien speculated that "the oldest form of this stem referring to vocal speech was *KWE, of which *KWENE and *KWETE were elaborations" (WJ:392). The Elvish loremasters held that Quendi meant "those who speak with voices", and according to Pengolodh, Quenya meant properly "language, speech" (WJ:393). However, this may simply reflect the fact that Quenya was the only known language when the adjective Quen(d)ya "Quendian" was first applied to Elvish speech (elliptically for Quenya lambë "Quendian tongue"). Later the word Quenya was used exclusively as a name of this language, not as a general adjective meaning "Elvish, Quendian". The Noldor, however, "did not forget its connection with the old word Quendi, and still regarded the name as implying 'Elvish', that is the chief Elvish tongue, the noblest, and the one most nearly preserving the ancient character of Elvish speech" (WJ:374).

Quenya is also called parmalambë "the book-tongue" and tarquesta "high-speech" (LR:172; cf. "the High Speech of the Noldor" in UT:44). As Quenya originated in Valinor, it could also be termed Valinorean (LotR3/V ch. 8) or "the speech of the Elves of Valinor" (Silm. ch. 15). After the end of the First Age, many Noldor dwelt on the isle of Tol Eressëa, near to the coast of Aman. Therefore, Quenya is also known as Eressëan, or Avallonian after the Eresseän city of Avallónë (LR:41, SD:241). To the Amanian Teleri, Quenya was Goldórin or Goldolambe, evidently meaning "Noldoic" and "Noldo-tongue", respectively (WJ:375). In Gnomish, Tolkien's first attempt to reconstruct the language that much later turned out to be Sindarin, the word for Quenya ("Qenya") was Cwedeglin or Cwedhrin, but these words are certainly not valid in mature Sindarin (Parma Eldalamberon No. 11 p. 28).The Elf Glorfindel referred to Quenya as "the Ancient Tongue" (LotR1/I ch. 3), and being the most prestigious language in the world, it is also called "the High Speech of the West", "the high Eldarin tongue" (Silm. ch. 15, Akallabêth) or "High Ancient Elven" (WR:160). By the Númenóreans, Quenya was called Nimriyê or "Nimrian tongue", as the Dúnedain called the Elves Nimîr, the Beautiful. (SD:414, cf. WJ:386). Later, Frodo referred to Quenya as "the ancient tongue of the Elves beyond the Sea" and "the language...of Elven-song". (LotR1/II ch. 8) In English, Tolkien also used designations like "High-elven" (occasionally in Letters: "High-elvish") and "Elf-Latin, Elven-Latin" (Letters p. 176). In Middle-earth, Quenya eventually became a language of ceremony and lore, so Tolkien deemed it comparable to Latin in Europe.

©Helge Fauskanger