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Sauron sounds and looks so similar to the Greek word σαῦρος, or Latin corresponding word saurus, which means lizard.

Is this just a coincidence, or there is a (known or speculated) reason behind Tolkien's choice of this name?

  • 4
    He changes color! – Umbrella Corporation Oct 12 at 4:44
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    He's called Sauron because he has soured on the Valar following their treatment of Melkor. :-( – einpoklum Oct 12 at 8:10
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    My question was always why his name was so similar to that of the second-biggest villain in the series, Saruman. I remember being confused by that when I first read them as a kid. – Darrel Hoffman Oct 14 at 15:47
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Interestingly this exact situation is covered in a draft letter Tolkien wrote dated August 1967. Tolkien notes that there is no connection merely "chance" or as suggested, a coincidence.

It is [..] idle to compare chance-similarities between names made from 'Elvish tongues' and words in exterior 'real' languages, especially if this is supposed to have any bearing on the meaning or ideas in my story. To take a frequent case: there is no linguistic connexion, and therefore no connexion in significance, between Sauron a contemporary form of an older *θaurond- derivative of an adjectival *θaurā (from a base √THAW) 'detestable', and the Greek σαύρα 'a lizard'.
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 297 Drafts for a Letter to 'Mr Rang', Aug 1967

Other etymologies for the name are given in other posthumously published works, including The Lost Road and The Silmarillion. The first, from the Lost Road suggests the root for 'foul' being it's origin.

THUS- (related to THŪ?) *thausā: Q saura foul, evil-smelling, putrid. N thaw corrupt, rotten; thû stench, as proper name Thû chief servant of Morgoth, also called Mor-thu, Q Sauro or Sauron or Súro = Thû.
The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: The Etymologies

In The Silmarillion, the name is suggested to derive from the element thaur:

thaur   ‘abominable, abhorrent’ in Sauron (from Thauron).
The Silmarillion, Appendix

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  • 7
    Can't really argue with that! – tardigrade Oct 11 at 20:54
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    Though interesting to note that both roots happen to echo IE words for beasts and monsters: sauros (lizard) and PIE dheus- > Gaulish dusios, monster, incubus. I don't doubt his claim, though I'd be surprised if there were no deep subconscious aesthesis-sound-symbolism thing going on. Also PrimGmc deuz > PIE dhewsóm. – elemtilas Oct 11 at 22:35
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    Tolkien often used cross-language humor. Taking examples just from the family trees in Appendix C of The Lord of the Rings, there are the Sackville-Baggins (joking on sack = bag, but also on fictional Sackville-Baggins and real Sackville-West); Dora, Drogo, and Dudo Baggins; Bungo, Belba, Longo, Linda, and Bingo Baggins. And then there is his elaborate explanation of how the Hobbits derived Brandywine from older Baranduin. You can tell he had a lot of fun with this. – Invisible Trihedron Oct 12 at 0:20
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    You Braldagamba, you! :) – Aaron left Stack Overflow Oct 12 at 19:02
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    @InvisibleTrihedron It's not something I've really explored, but do we "know", for instance, that Tolkien deliberately alluded to Sackville-West, or have people just assumed there was an allusion? As far as I can see, Sackville-West isn't mentioned in either LotR's appendices or the letters of Tolkien. – TripeHound Oct 13 at 16:47

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