c. 1200, nearewe "narrow part, place, or thing," from narrow (adj.). Old English nearu (n.) meant "danger, distress, difficulty," also "prison, hiding place."
Old English walu "ridge, bank" of earth or stone, later "ridge made on flesh by a lash" (related to weal (n.2)); from Proto-Germanic *walu- (source also of Low German wale "weal," Old Frisian walu "rod," Old Norse völr "round piece of wood," Gothic walus "a staff, stick," Dutch wortel, German wurzel "root"), from PIE root *wel- (3) "to turn, revolve." The common notion perhaps is "raised line." Used in reference to the ridges of textile fabric from 1580s. Wales "horizontal planks which extend along a ship's sides" is attested from late 13c.
Middle English narwe, from Old English nearu "of little width, not wide or broad; constricted, limited; petty; causing difficulty, oppressive; strict, severe," from West Germanic *narwaz "narrowness" (source also of Frisian nar, Old Saxon naru, Middle Dutch nare, Dutch naar) which is not found in other Germanic languages and is of unknown origin.
In reference to railroads, narrow-gauge (also narrow-gage) is by 1841, originally of those less than the standard of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches. The narrow seas (mid-15c.) were the waters between Great Britain and the continent and Ireland, but specifically the Strait of Dover.
Middle English narwen, from narrow (adj.) and in part from Old English nearwian "to force in, cramp, confine; become smaller, shrink." Related: Narrowed; narrowing.
"beat, whip severely," 1790, possibly a variant of wale (v.) "to mark with 'wales' or stripes" (early 15c.), from wale (n.). Related: Whaled; whaling.
before vowels sten-, word-forming element meaning "narrow," from Greek stenos "narrow, strait," as a noun "straits of the sea, narrow strip of land," also metaphorically, "close, confined; scanty, petty," from PIE *sten- "narrow."
"narrow channel of water" in a river, etc., 1630s, plural of narrow (n.). Meaning "narrow passage through a mountain" is from 1716.