From The Two Towers, chapter 1, "The Departure of Boromir":

Upon their shields [the orcs] bore a strange device: a small white hand in the centre of a black field; on the front of their iron helms was set an S-rune, wrought of some white metal.

'I have not seen these tokens before,' said Aragorn. 'What do they mean?'

'S is for Sauron,' said Gimli. 'That is easy to read.'

'Nay!' said Legolas. 'Sauron does not use the Elf-runes.'

'Neither does he use his right name, nor permit it to be spelt or spoken,' said Aragorn. 'And he does not use white. The Orcs in the service of Barad-dûr use the sign of the Red Eye.' He stood for a moment in thought. 'S is for Saruman, I guess,' he said at length.

Why does Sauron not permit his followers to call him by name? The name "Sauron" itself has a negative meaning, arising from a Quenya word meaning "foul" or "abomination", but there are a lot of other names used for him, including some that he used for himself in the First and Second Ages. But in the time of the War of the Ring, he doesn't seem to use any actual name, nor permit his followers to use one. As far as I recall, we don't see any orcs or other minions using any other word for him either. (There's "Lugburz", but that means Barad-dûr not Sauron. And some envoys refer to him as "Sauron", but only when communicating with his enemies who already use that name.) Why doesn't he have any name which his followers can use among themselves?

Note that I'm asking here about the in-universe explanation. For out of universe, I suspect this is a reincarnation of an older trope in literature, and I've asked that as a separate question.


5 Answers 5


Although I don't believe it's ever explicitly stated, I think it's clear that the purpose is to give Sauron's name an air of mystique among his servants, thus instilling a greater fear of Sauron himself.

Consider the language that the Orcs in the service of Sauron use to describe the people above them in the hierarchy:

'Whose blame's that?' said the soldier. 'Not mine. That comes from Higher Up.

The Return of the King


'I'm not going down those stairs again,' growled Snaga, 'be you captain or no. Nar! Keep your hands off your knife, or I'll put an arrow in your guts. You won't be a captain long when They hear about all these goings-on. I've fought for the Tower against those stinking Morgul-rats, but a nice mess you two precious captains have made of things, fighting over the swag.'

The Return of the King

"Higher Up," "They," "The Tower." By forcing his servants to use this vague language, Sauron is positioned as being so far above them that to challenge him would be unthinkable. If they were using his name constantly, they'd think of him as a person who could be challenged, not as a fixed, unchangeable System.

Note that this is common in fiction: for instance, in Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort intentionally sought to have his chosen name be feared, and certainly didn't permit his followers to use it. Arguably, this is the actual reason one is not permitted to say the name of God in various traditions, too: it would make God seem less divine and more mundane. This is another advantage of forbidding the use of his name: Sauron positions himself as a god. Only his expressly permitted emissary, or metaphorically his priest, can use his name. Indeed, if we consider Tolkien's Catholicism, Eru is perhaps literally the Christian God, and as such Eru's name is supposed to be treated with respect. By adopting this strategy for himself, Sauron mocks the power of Eru and the Valar.

In any case, Sauron wanted his name to be feared by the people of Middle Earth. I think he would have found a wicked-sounding name pleasing for this reason; indeed, it's very much in keeping with Tolkien's view of evil and corruption that someone would start off doing evil for good reasons, and end up embracing their evil reputation.

I think we can discard the alternative notion that Sauron objected to his name, and forbade its use for that reason. If that had been the case, he certainly wouldn't have ordered or even permitted his official spokesperson, the Mouth of Sauron, to use his name when addressing his enemies, and morever call him "Sauron the Great."

'These are the terms,' said the Messenger, and smiled as he eyed them one by one. 'The rabble of Gondor and its deluded allies shall withdraw at once beyond the Anduin, first taking oaths never again to assail Sauron the Great in arms, open or secret. All lands east of Anduin shall be Sauron's for ever, solely.

The Return of the King

Surely the Mouth could have referred to Sauron obliquely, as "My Lord" (or "The Lord of the Rings") or "The Master of the Tower" or something along those lines, if Sauron had so desired. Moreover, had Sauron hated his originally derogatory name, he would surely have encouraged his servants to use one of his previous preferred names, such as Mairon, his name as a Maia, or Annatar, the Lord of Gifts. There's no evidence that he did so.

As a side note, out-of-universe, Tolkien's conception of his universe was always evolving. It's possible that at the point in time he wrote The Lord of the Rings, Sauron was never supposed to have had any other name. In the Silmarillion, for instance, there's no mention of Mairon; Sauron is used throughout, and Annatar is only mentioned as a pseudonym he used to disguise himself.

  • I think the messenger to the Lonely Mountain also used the name. (My books are in boxes.) Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 18:43
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    "'Whose blame's that?' said the soldier. 'Not mine. That comes from Higher Up" This means that the orc didn't even know where the order came from, because the chain of command between Sauron and some random orc would be quite long.
    – Amarth
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 16:03
  • "I think he would have found a wicked-sounding name pleasing for this reason" Not at all because "Sauron" was not a name he had picked himself, it is elven Quenya and was given to him by his enemies in the First Age.
    – Amarth
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 16:03
  • "if Sauron had so desired. Moreover, had Sauron hated his originally derogatory name, he would surely have encouraged his servants to use one of his previous preferred names, such as Mairon" Unless this name was a painful reminder of his past glories and previous charismatic incarnations - the meaning is "the admirable", which fits poorly with a ghastly, burning eye.
    – Amarth
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 16:06
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    @Adamant Yes, so he didn't want to be called Morgoth because it was a name given to him by Feanor. Sauron starts a cult of Melkor in Numenor etc.
    – Amarth
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 16:40

I believe @Adamant's answer is part of the reason, but it leaves out a more important factor.

Sauron was pretending to be dead.

At the end of the Second Age, Sauron was in fact mostly dead, with his body broken and his spirit dispersed. The hosts of Men believed he was all dead, and Sauron was in no position to dispute the matter.

It took over 1000 years before Sauron could exercise his will at all, another 1400 before he manifested at Dol Guldur, and still centuries more spent lurking there under the guise of "The Necromancer". ("Nothing to see here, just an old fortune teller casting bones and talking to ghosts...")

If Sauron had announced himself during that time, the kingdoms of Men might have reunited against him under the Oath of Elendil. Men and/or Elves could destroy what little he had built, possibly driving him back to the shadows for millennia. Using pseudonyms wasn't just an air of grandeur, it was a necessary defense.

By the time he had rebuilt his forces in Mordor sufficiently to withstand his enemies, he had already been following this principle for many centuries. There was no reason to change it and plenty of reason to continue.

  • 23
    "There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do."
    – Rob
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 22:42
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    @einpoklum But he does not pretend to be gone. He is gone, but pretends to be dead (and quite successfully, even the Wise didn't know for sure whether he'd be able to come back after losing the Ring).
    – Annatar
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 12:01
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    I guess you'd know, @Annatar.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 12:28
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    But Sauron stopped pretending to be dead long before the events in LotR. He was openly the ruler of Barad Dur since many years back. It wouldn't make sense to forbid the use of the name to stay in hiding, since he was no longer in hiding.
    – Amarth
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 15:59
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    It is interesting to re-read The Hobbit in the light of this answer. In that earlier history, the White Council did not have any knowledge that the Necromancer was their ancient enemy, Sauron, at length taking form and shape again, until Gandalf penetrated the Necromancer's stronghold of Dol Guldur in search of one of the Seven Rings of the dwarf lords; and only then did the Council put forth its power and drive him from his fastness. By that time it was too late: he was already strong enough to secretly re-occupy the Dark Tower. His annonymity up until then had proven crucial to him.
    – Ed999
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 15:04

'Neither does he use his right name, nor permit it to be spelt or spoken,'

Perhaps it's too painful for him, after all that he has lost: His place among the Ainur; his stature as a second to Melkor, the integrity and beauty (such as it was) of his physical form - all gone. To now be referred to as "The Admirable" (Mairon) - must cut like a knife, even if that's said in reverence.

  • 2
    That would make sense, but the problem is that the conversation was prompted by seeing an "S" rune, which I suppose couldn't stand for Mairon.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 20:42
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    What's really interesting is that the general portrayal is that Sauron is more moderate and less fallen from his original personality than Morgoth. Sauron wants to set himself up as the undisputed power in Middle Earth, because he hates disorder. Morgoth wants to destroy Arda because he knows that he can't ever entirely control it. He shouldn't care what anyone thinks of him. Yet Sauron seems to have embraced his image as hated, whereas Melkor still clings to his original self.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 21:37
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    I think you're imposing what's basically a fan-fiction on what was actually written. The conceit of the Silmarillion is that it's an accurate account of the creation, etc. Discard that, and you're free to assert essentially whatever you like about Middle Earth (after all, the Lord of the Rings is also supposed to be a translation). What's more, in this particular case you're doing it to justify a character who (as written by the author) is basically pure evil, which, while admittedly addressing a fictional person, is uncomfortably close to less harmless real-world revisionism.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 23:37
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    Tolkien's legendarium is a stark tale of good and evil written by an elderly Englishman who was conservative even for his time, and passively nationalistic and ethnocentric. Trying to turn it into a nuanced tale of conflict between two factions that both have a point is kind of a waste of time, and comes of as trying to justify evil, because while we might not identify with the writer's heroes, his villains still remain despicable.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 23:49
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    Tolkien was not an "elderly Englishman". He began writing the Silmarillion in 1917, according to his son in The History of Middle Earth, at a point when he was only in his twenties.
    – Ed999
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 15:15

It is highly unlikely that anyone of Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn knows that Sauron's true/original name as one of the Ainur was actually Mairon. They believe that his true name is Sauron.

While in truth Sauron was a moniker given to him by his enemies in the First Age, meaning "The abhorred"/"The hated". It would make perfect sense to forbid the use of that name for this reason - he did not wish to be called the name given to him by his enemies.

Sauron kept referring to himself as Mairon or Tar-mairon throughout the First and Second age, and also took the name Annatar when living among Gwaith-i-Mírdain and forging the rings of power.

However, during the Fall of Numenor, Sauron was weakened and lost the ability to wear a fair face again (and perhaps the ability to at all shapeshift). Perhaps it would be painful for him to keep using the name he had during his previous charismatic incarnations, instead preferring not to be referred to directly at all by his minions. Who in turn didn't know what else to call him except Sauron or perhaps "the Dark Lord" or similar. He used The Necromancer as an alias while he was still recovering his powers.

For sources see http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Sauron.

  • Hmmm. Aragorn didn't say his "true name" or his "original name", he said his "right name". Perhaps the premise here is that "Sauron" is the name that accurately represents his true nature, and is therefore the right name to use for him? Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 20:29
  • @HarryJohnston ...and therefore Sauron forbid them to use it? You aren't making any sense.
    – Amarth
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 20:45
  • 1
    Huh? You already explained perfectly well why Sauron wouldn't like his name. I'm just not convinced that Aragorn doesn't know Sauron's history well enough to realize that the name was given to him by his enemies. Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 23:10

There's the old concept of the true name: If you know the true name of a person or a thing, that knowledge gives you power over them or it. For example, the Egyption goddess Isis manages to find out Ra's true name. That enables her to secure Ra's throne for her son Horus. In the Hebrew bible, next to all mentions of God have been redacted centuries ago with "pseudonyms" like "adonai" (meaning "Lord"). Because it would not only be blasphemous to speak God's (true) name, it would also give power over basically all of creation. And most of you have probably heard of the little imp in the fairy tale who could be defeated if you guessed his name correctly.

Many authors incorporated this idea into their works. In Ursula K. LeGuin's "Earthsea", a person's true name is revealed to them when they reach puberty. Telling somebody your true name is a tremendous sign of confidence, because that knowledge gives the other person magical power over you. In Christopher Paolini's "Eragon", everybody and every thing has a true name in the "old language". Knowing those names also entails enourmous power. And when the last of of the "Nine Billion Names of God" is discovered in the eponymous short story by Arthur C. Clarke, the universe ends.

In Tolkien's works, Bilbo Baggins is very careful not to let Smaug learn his name. Because even he knows that it would be a very bad idea.

I don't know if Tolkien ever spelled it out with regard to Sauron, but we can probably assume that Sauron didn't want anybody to gain power over him by knowing his true name. So he didn't permit his underlings to use it.

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    Names having power is not a major theme in LotR, and Sauron's names (all of them) are well-known to his opponents.
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 21:18
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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I didn't think Bilbo was afraid of Smaug having magical power over him.
    – user45266
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 23:07
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    @Mark: Sauron is a pejorative nickname he was given by some of the Elves. It's not his actual name.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 23:08
  • 1
    Well certainly his underlings wouldn't also know his true name, lest they might ursurp him.
    – Kami Kaze
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 10:24
  • 4
    And the same Bilbo says his name and home address to some shady twitching meth addict Gollum.
    – user28434
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 13:34

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