According to a legend of the Elves, the first Elves were awakened by Eru Ilúvatar near the bay of Cuiviénen. The first Elf to awake was called Imin ("First"). Next to him lay Iminyë, who would become his wife. Near where Imin woke, awoke Tata ("Second") and Tatië, and Enel ("Third") and Enelyë.
Imin, Tata, and Enel and their wives joined up, and walked through the forests. They first came across six pairs of Elves, and Imin, as eldest, claimed them as his people, and woke them. After a short time Imin and his people, together with Tata and Enel, continued their journey. Next, they came across nine pairs of Elves, and Tata as second eldest, claimed them as his people. After a short time the now thirty-six Elves continued their journey. Then they found twelve pairs of Elves, and Enel, as third eldest, claimed them as his people.
For many days the now sixty Elves dwelt by the rivers, and they began to invent poetry and music.
Finally they set out again, but Imin thought to himself that since each time they had found more Elves and his folk was least in size, he would now choose last.
They came across eighteen pairs of Elves, who were watching the stars, and Tata and Enel waited for Imin to claim them for his people, but Imin told them he would wait, so Tata added them to his folk. They were tall and had dark hair, and they were the fathers of most of the Ñoldor of later times.
The ninety-six Elves now spoke with each other and invented many new words, but then they continued their journey. Next they found twenty-four pairs of Elves, who were singing without language, and again Imin was offered the choice, but refused. Therefore Enel chose them as his people, and from them came most of the Lindar or singers of later times.
And the hundred and forty-four Elves now dwelt long together, until all had learned the same language, and they were glad. But then Imin said it was time to seek more companions for him, but most of the others were content and did not join him. So Imin and Iminyë and their twelve companions set out alone, and they searched long near Cuiviénen, but never found any more companions.
And because all Elves had been found in groups of twelve, twelve became the number they counted with ever after, and 144 was for long their highest number, and in none of their later tongues was there therefore any common name for a greater number.
After the tale of the Awakening of the Elves the Companions of Imin or the Eldest Company (the later Vanyar) numbered fourteen, and they remained the smallest company. The Companions of Tata (half of whom became the Ñoldor) numbered fifty-six, and they remained the second-largest company. The Companions of Enel (the later Lindar or Teleri) were the largest company, numbering seventy-four.
Melkor was the first to learn of the Awakening. He soon began sending evil spirits among the Elves, who planted seeds of doubt against the Valar. It is also rumoured that some of the Elves were being captured by a Rider if they strayed too far, and the Elves later believed these were brought to Utumno and twisted into Orcs.
Oromë one day came across the Elves, and realized who they were. At first the Elves were suspicious of him, fearing he was the Rider who captured the Elves, and because of the lies of Melkor. Nevertheless, three lords of the Elves agreed to come with Oromë to Valinor. These were Ingwë of the Minyar (later Vanyar), Finwë of the Tatyar (later Ñoldor), and Elwë of the Lindar. In due time, Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë returned to Cuivienen, and told the Elves of the glory of Valinor, and there befell the Sundering of the Elves. All the Minyar and half of the Tatyar were persuaded, along with most of the Lindar, and followed Oromë into the west on the Great Journey. These have been known ever since by the name Eldar, or "Star-folk", which Oromë gave to them in their own language. The remainder of the Tatyar and Lindar remained suspicious, or simply refused to depart from their own lands, and spread gradually throughout the wide lands of Middle-earth. They were after known by the name Avari, meaning 'the Unwilling', because they refused the summons, in Quenya, the language of the Eldar that eventually reached Valinor.
The tale of Imin, Tata and Enel, known as Cuivienyarna, was a very late writing by Tolkien, written as part of Quendi and Eldar. They replaced Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë as the eldest Elves, who now merely became the first ambassadors and the Kings of the Elves in exile.