- "Not a Queen, a Khaleesi."
- ―Daenerys Targaryen
Khaleesi is a Dothraki title referring to the wife of the khal. A khaleesi's status varies greatly from khalasar to khalasar. She could be very influential, riding beside her husband as he leads, or she could be worth practically less than the khal's horse- the khal's bloodriders will sometimes share the khaleesi, but would never be allowed to ride the khal's horse.
It is Dothraki tradition that when a khal dies, his surviving khaleesi must retire to join the crones that rule Vaes Dothrak, known as the dosh khaleen. Daenerys Targaryen, however refused this and instead declared herself a Khaleesi in her own right, forming her own khalasar from what few of Drogo's people hadn't abandoned her.
As she continued on her journey, Daenerys more formally pressed her claim to the Iron Throne and thus emphasized the title she felt she had a birthright to, Queen of the Andals and the First Men. She nonetheless continued to claim her Dothraki title, and made sure that "Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea" was included amongst her titles when she was formally announced. It's not clear where the territorial designation "of the Great Grass Sea" comes from; it may originate from Dothraki tradition, but could simply be Daenerys's own attempt to make the title seem more formal.
Daenerys's claim to the khaleesi title was challenged by Khal Moro upon her capture. Since the widow of a khal is by definition a khaleen and not a khaleesi, Moro felt honor-bound to bring her back to Vaes Dothrak. Since she had not returned to immediately join their ranks, the dosh khaleen decided to have the khals decide what to do with her during the Khalar vezhven. Although Moro tried to convince the assembled horse lords to let her join the dosh khaleen, Daenerys decried all the khals as weak and killed them in a great conflagration, declaring herself the sole leader of the Dothraki. It is not clear if she is now the only holder of the title, as she had previously indicated that she thought dosh khaleen such as Ornela should still hold the title of khaleesi.
- Daenerys Targaryen, called "Daenerys Stormborn" and "Mother of Dragons", self-styled "Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea". Widow of Khal Drogo, the Great Khal of his generation. She currently leads a khalasar of 100,000, the bulk of the Dothraki's fighting population.
- Dothraki crone, a former khaleesi who presided over the Stallion heart ceremony.
- High Priestess of the Dosh Khaleen, a former khaleesi who led the dosh khaleen when Daenerys returned to Vaes Dothrak. She is the widow of Khal Savo, the Great Khal of his generation.
- Ornela, a former khaleesi of Lhazareen origin who was married to a khal at twelve and widowed at sixteen.
Additionally, Khal Moro had two wives; it is unclear which of them bore the title of khaleesi.
In the books
According to the TV series official pronunciation guide developed for the cast and crew, "khaleesi" is pronounced "khal-EE-see". However, professional linguist David J. Peterson, who developed the Dothraki language for the TV series, states that the word's proper pronunciation is "KHAH-lay-see". The supports the "KHAH-lay-see" pronunciation.