- This article is about lore about the first type of night elves. For general info, see night elf.
The Kal'dorei; (from Darnassian or Thalassian: Kal - star and Dorei - children), which means "children of the stars" in their main tongue of Darnassian, were a race of nocturnal, feral nomadic humanoids that once lived in the jungles of the former continent of Kalimdor, ( at the time the sole continent of )Azeroth. They were considered the greatest tribe in the land. ( They journeyed around the continent eager to uncover secrets hidden in dark places. ) ( At some point, they were drawn to the shimmering power of the )Well of Eternity. They named the continent Kalimdor and settled near the vortex of cosmic energy. ( They adopted the name Kal'dorei meaning "children of the stars" in their native tongue. ) ( After several ages spent in peace and learning, the Kal'dorei grew in power and wisdom so that they soon outstripped the other humanoid races of Azeroth. Their )kingdom ( had now become an empire. ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
After the War of the Ancients and the Great Sundering, those trapped in the Eternal Palace were cursed and transformed into the Naga. Xavius was transformed by Sargeras into a Satyr, and became the progenitor of that race. Most of the remaining Highborne caste of Kal'dorei broke off from their surviving brethren and would become to be known as the High Elves. Those Kal'dorei (Night Elves, as they would come to be known as) who remained would live a much changed life they would dedicate to a 10,000 year long vigil, abstaining from the use of arcane magic in an attempt to prevent the return of that war. Unknown to them, at least 2 other groups of Kal'dorei endured, the Highborne in the city of Eldre'thalas (now Dire Maul) who would come to be known as the Shen'drelar and the Highborne led city of Suramar (the original home city of the Night Elf leadership and many of the survivors), who would later come to be known as the Nightborne.
The Kal'dorei venerated the moon goddess, Elune, even before they settled around the Well of Eternity. ( They believed she dwelled within it during the day and would arise from it at night. ) ( )
Kal'dorei is a Darnassian word meaning "children of the stars". It can also be interpreted as "people of the stars". It can refer to the tribe which existed before the night elves, to the night elves themselves, and to the Highborne.
Unlike most Highborne who aided the Burning Legion simply to gain access to more magic, those who embraced demonic power for its own sake and swore their allegiance to Xavius, became Satyr. Xavius had been corrupted by Sargeras himself and had the power to turn other willing night elves into Satyrs.
The Great Sundering blasted most of Suramar to the bottom of the Great Sea, although some of it remained due to the efforts of the resident Highborne, who crafted a magical shield that kept the center of their city together. The Highborne led group believed the world outside of Suramar had been destroyed. Under their shield, they would evolve over millennia through the energies of the Nightwell, becoming the Nightborne (or shal'dorei) also night elves in the sense of "nocturnal elves", and like their Highborne counterparts, still in the pre-sundering arcane night elf culture, 
- Some sources state that the race was called the Kal'dorei before finding the Well of Eternity. Other sources state they adopted the name after finding the Well of Eternity.
- The term "night" elf came in play in the common tongue upon discovering Kalimdor as a means of distinguishing between the well known and familiar group of Elves, the High Elves, and the newly emerged (from isolation) Kalimdor Elves who were characterised by their nocturnal nature and darker skin. Although most in the common tongue synonymously exchange Kal'dorei with night elf, the former actually means Children of the Stars whiles the latter merely means Elf of the night or nocturnal elf.
It isn't known exactly whether it was the humans in the Kalimdor jungles or the high elves who started referring to the Kal'dorei as night elves, but it must be noted, that it makes no sense for night elves to have initially referred to themselves as night elves. One does not call yourself a day human to start with. Just human, and if you discover a group of nocturnal humans you might say "night" human. Most of the warcraft story is told from the perspective of the Humans and Eastern Kingdom group, so it stands to reason whiles the Kal'dorei are the original group of elves, they are actually the second group of Elves known after the high elves to our human/orc perspective, and therefore were given the tag "night" Elf.
It is also worth noting, that night elf therefore is the term commonly used to refer to all nocturnal elves, this includes the Kal'dorei, the Highborne groups (incl the Shen'drelar and the newly acquainted Nightborne elves), all being Elves of the night from that original Kal'dorei empire. Whiles Kal'dorei, Quel'dorei and Shal'dorei are the official names of the ordinary night elves of northwestern Kalimdor, the Highborne and Nightborne respectively, most humans. orcs and races of Azeroth would refer to them all as simply night elves. Either way, to fully appreciate what is going on, language, culture and history must be factored in.
What is unknown is what the relation between Quel'dorei, Shal'dorei and Kal'dorei is. Do the highborne and nightborne still consider themselves Kal'dorei? or no longer children of the stars. I feel that the Quel'dorei (high elves and Quel'dorei (naga) do consider themselves something different as they are no longer nocturnal elves, i.e. they are not characterised by the night, naga aren't even Elves any longer. However like it was in pre-sundering night elven society, it is likely todays surviving night elven quel'dorei and shal'dorei still also consider themselves Kal'dorei, afterall both groups were in isolation till recently and likely thought they were all that was left of the Kal'dorei race. It could be a language thing, perhaps in Darnassian, Quel replaces Kal if you are of the caste but you are still Kal'dorei just now called Quel'dorei. The same could have been adopted by the Shal'dorei as a way of distinguishing their new group from Quel or Kal, but still considering themselves Kal'dorei, just a new form. The answer may be found in what it means to be a Child of the Stars, this is the name given to all elves of the night who emerged highly intelligent and virtually immortal from the Well of Eternity, it is what marks all of them as who they are. Their focus is star ward bound as was evidenced by their arcane magic focus. In fact this is quite evident amongst the highborne and nightborne in their arcane usage. You could say they are even more Kal'dorei than the ordinary night elves.
Whatever the conclusion is, it is perhaps safe to say that all of the 3 nocturnal elven groups are viewed as night elves, but for distinctive purposes, the vanilla ones are simply Kal'dorei, the highborne are Quel'dorei and the nightborne are Shal'dorei.
The Kal'dorei of Warcraft are roughly analogous to the quendi of Tolkien's works; a progenitor race of the elves. In Tolkien's works, the quendi are sundered into the calaquendi (elves of the light, or those who made the journey to Aman and saw the true light of the silver tree, Telperion, and the golden tree, Laurelin), and the moriquendi (those who didn't). The analogy breaks down with Warcraft, because the calaquendi cannot be equated to the quel'dorei (high elves), and the moriquendi are not really the night elves (who still call themselves Kal'dorei). In Warcraft, the high elves are ironically considered a lesser type with reduced stature and shorter lifespan. In Tolkien's works, the calaquendi have greater stature and are essentially immortal (like the night elves for most of Warcraft's history).