I had a lot of fun playing Supergiant Games's Hades recently, so I put together a run down of word family information for the names in the game, organized according to the in-game Codex! (Minus the Fables section, which is more spoiler-y and generally less etymologically interesting.)
This will include spoilers for the game. And on the other hand, most of the names are not specific to the game, so it should be interesting at the Greek mythology level for people not interested in the game.
I'll also take a moment to suggest if you're into Hades and/or Greek mythology, you may be interested in a couple of great webcomics:
- Punderworld (Hades' and Persephone's love-struck misadventures) by Linda Sejic/Sigeel.
- Theia Mania by Li Österberg. The Orphic connection between Zagreus and Dionysus (touched on in Hades as a practical joke on Orpheus) is explored in Theia Mania in several storylines, including "Destroyer of Light" and "The Family Party". Theia Mania is extraordinarily well-researched, and often includes footnotes and sources. It is sometimes NSFW.
There are some names we can say very little about: "Unknown", "Unclear", "Disputed", or "probably Pre-Greek".
Etymologies of Greek mythological figures are often challenging, as divine names are particularly likely involve confounding factors such as taboo deformation, cross-dialect borrowings, and foreign borrowings. Foreign borrowings are often especially challenging in Greek, since several of the languages Greek borrowed from during the Bronze Age had already gone extinct by the time of Classical Greek, and in many cases there are no written samples or surviving related languages.
- Cthonic Gods
- Others of Note
- Olympian Gods
- The Underworld
- Infernal Arms
Cthonic: to do with the earth (and by extension the underworld). This is from the same root meaning earth as the Latinate human.
- Cthonic: Word Family - Human
Hades most likely means the Unseen. If so, it is the same Proto-Indo-European morphemes *n̥- not and *weyd- sight that form the Latinate in-vis(-ible); becoming *a-wides in Archaic Greek, and then ᾍδης (H)ā́idēs in Classical Greek, with a regular deletion of 'w'.
Compare: his Helm of Darkness fight mechanic.
Νῠ́ξ/Nyx, is simply the Classical Greek word for night. Like the English word night, and many others in Indo-European, it comes from Proto-Indo-European *nókʷts: night. *nókʷts may be from the root *negʷ-: naked, bare, in the sense that the night is "stripped of light".
Possibly attested in the Mycenaean Linear B name 𐀭𐀐𐀩𐀄 sa-ke-re-u (Though 𐀼𐀐𐀩𐀄 za-ke-re-u would be the expected form).
Connected to ἀγρεύς agreús: hunter. Kerényi says it is a word for a hunter who captures live animals, with the z- coming from zo-: live. ἀγρεύς agreús is from *h₂eǵ-: to drive, to cause, to impel and is related to agile, active, ambassador, and pedagogy.
Uncertain. May be a form of the word χαρωπός charopós: sharp-eyes. If so, it would be the same char- as in character (originally engraving, seal, representation, personal style).
The Greek word for sleep, from the same root as Latinate somnolent and soporific. Greek always turns initial *s into *h: super vs hyper, six/sex- vs hex-, etc.
The Greek word for death, highly disputed origin.
Jealous, Grudging from μεγαίρω megaírō: I envy, I grudge, in turn from mega-.
Should not be confused with "Megara", the first wife of Heracles (similarly shortened to "Meg" in the Disney movie Hercules). Megara is likely a Semitic borrowing related to Arabic maḡāra, cave, which includes the Semitic m- prefix for nouns of place also seen in words like minaret and menorah.
Unceasing (anger), from λήγω lígo: I cease, I end, I leave off, probably from Proto-Indo-European *(s)leh₁g-: weak, faint that Latinate lax and English slack come from.
Nota bene: her Rage fight mechanic, which eventually locks in to Perma-Rage.
Tisis: vengeance, payment, penalty. Since in Greek *kʷ splits into 't' before a front vowel and 'p' before a back vowel, this is actually from the same root as poinḗ, with much the same meaning, which is the origin of English words pain and punishment
Phónos: murder, related to bane, defend, and gun.
Uncertain. Has been compared to kháskō: I gape, I yawn, the origin of chasm (compare the similar Norse concept of Ginnungagap: the yawning void)
Alternatively, could be related to khṓrā: location, field, empty space and/or khḗrā: widow, left behind, cognate to heir.
Others of Note
The name is attested in Mycenaean Linear B as 𐀀𐀑𐀩𐀄/a-ki-re-u. Almost certainly not referring to the same mythological figure, but as simply a personal name in inventory records.
Classically interpreted as ἄχος áchos + λαός laós : Grief of the Soldiers/People. While grief is a theme of the character of Achilles, the double λ is unexpected and this may represent an ancient folk etymology of a Pre-Greek or Illyrian name.
Achilles' epithets "swift-footed divine Achilles" and "quick-footed Achilles" point to a possible derivation from Proto-Indo-European *h₂eḱ-pṓds: quick-foot, which could become Ἀχιλλεύς through a borrowing through Pre-Greek from Illyrian.
- *h₂eḱ- Word Family - Edge
Unclear. Possibly related to ὀρφανός orphanós: orphan. In which case, cognate to robot
Unclear. Possibly related to σοφός sophós: wise or σίσυς sísus: goat hide.
εὐρῠ́ς eurús: broad + δῐ́κη díkē: justice. Wide-Justice, or possibly Spacious Punishment. δῐ́κη díkē from Proto-Indo-European *deyḱ-: to point out, whence also teach and dictate.
πᾰτήρ patḗr: father + -κλῆς -klês: fame. Same as Cleopatra, but backwards.
From Proto-Indo-European *dʰeh₁-: to put. He puts in place, he rules. Same origin as thesis and deed, and many others.
In Greek, Ἀστερίων Asterion: starry from ᾰ̓στήρ astḗr: star. Proto-Indo-European *h₂stḗr: star, which also gives star and stella Likely From *h₂eh₁s-: to burn, burner
Often considered connected to Proto-Semitic *ʕaṯtar-, the name of a Goddess associated with Venus as the Morning Star. Borrowing in either direction is plausible without being a smoking gun. BTW, *h₂stḗr and *ʕaṯtar- are not as different as they may look. If you standardized the notation system, they might look like PIE *ʕastēr vs. PS *ʕaθtar.
Minotaur is just literally The Bull of Minos: Μίνως Mínōs + ταῦρος taûros: bull. Mínōs in Greek is the mythological king of Crete. Probably from either an actual king of Pre-Greek Crete or the word for king in Pre-Greek Crete. (Pre-Greek Crete is usually called Minoan after this name/word.) Possibly attested in Minoan Linear A name 𐀖𐀝𐀳 mi-nu-te.
Unknown. The best explanation is Mallory and Adams' connection to Sanskrit शर्वर Sharvara: spotted, used in the Vedas as a name or epithet of one of two dogs who guards the underworld.
Obviously this is a reference to Medusa, which means proctectress or she-rules-over, the feminine present participle of μέδω médō: I protect, I rule over.
Taking it at face value for a second though, I think it would have to be from δῠ́ουσᾰ duousa: She plunges, she sinks, she enters, the feminine present participle of δύω dúō: I plunge, I cause to sink, I enter. Possibly relevant to her approach to her work.
Skeleton is from Greek σκελετός skeletós: dried up, withered, desiccated body, mummy. English shallow/shoal from the same PIE meaning dried up. Skelemachus is almost certainly a play on Telemachus (Far-Fighter), the son of Odysseus. But taking it at face value, Skelemachus (Σκελεμαχος) would be Withered-Fighter!
Unclear, possibly Pre-Greek. If not, the second element may be the same as in Tisiphone: murder, bane. The first element is even more unclear. It has been interpreted as grain, giving the sense of thresher, harvester; ... or possibly Cereal Killer.
girl, maiden. Attested in Mycenaean Linear B as 𐀒𐀷 ko-wa. Coordinate with Koros: boy, youth (𐀒𐀺 ko-wo). Derived from the root meaning "to grow" that also gives create, accrue, and cereal.
- Kore: Word Family - Kore
Ὄλῠμπος Ólumpos is Pre-Greek. The association with a specific mountain is probably a late addition; in Homeric Greek it is used as the home of the gods with no apparent earthly manifestation, and also sometimes as a common noun rather than a proper name meaning sky, heaven.
Mycenaean Linear B 𐀄𐀬𐀠𐀊𐀍 u-ru-pi-ja-jo, which is apparently an ethnic description, or possibly some other description of people, has been suggested to be a version of or cognate to Ὀλῠ́μπῐος Olúmpios: Olympian.
Ὄλῠμπος is, of course, the origin of name Olympic Games, the ancient version of which were held in Olympia in honor of Zeus and the other Olympians. (Note: the city of Olympia is not near the mountain of Olympus.)
Mycenaean Linear B: 𐀇𐀺 di-wo. The name of the Indo-European sky god *Dyḗws (Ph₂tḗr), which also gives Jupiter and Tuesday.
- *Dyḗws: Word Family - Diurnal
Possibly Lord of Waters, with the first element potis as in despot / dámpati, and the second element as in (River) Don, (River) Danube, and fountain. Attested as 𐀡𐀮𐀆𐀃 po-se-da-o and 𐀡𐀮𐀆𐀺𐀚 po-se-da-wo-ne in Mycenaean Linear B.
Generally agreed to be named after the city of Athens. Attested in Mycenaean Linear B as 𐀀𐀲𐀙𐀡𐀴𐀛𐀊 a-ta-na po-ti-ni-ja: Lady Athena or Lady of Athens (potnia, the feminine of potis, mentioned in Poseidon).
The city name Athens is probably Pre-Greek. All previous etymologies deriving it from Greek or Indo-European origins are now rejected.
-dite may possibly mean shining, visible. If so, it is related to Zeus/*Dyḗws, and probably connected to Aphrodite/Venus as the Morning Star and/or an epithet of Eos the Dawn. There are a number of reasons to believe Aphrodite and Eos are both faces of the same Indo-European Dawn Maiden goddess (*H₂éwsōs: Greek Eos, Latin Aurora, Sanskrit Ushas). Helen of Troy is probably also a reflex of the same goddess.
- *H₂éwsōs: Word Family - Easter
Extremely unclear. Possibly related to arktos: bear, from from Proto-Indo-European *h₂ŕ̥tḱos. Bears appear suspiciously often in the myths and cults around Artemis.
Attested in Mycenaean Linear B in the genitive 𐀀𐀳𐀖𐀵 a-te-mi-to and dative 𐀀𐀴𐀖𐀳 a-ti-mi-te.
Unclear. A Proto-Indo-European form of *M̥rēs could possibly derive both Ares in Greek and Mars in Latin, but this is very speculative. Attested as 𐀀𐀩 a-re in Mycenaean Linear B.
The first part, Dio- is almost certainly a form of Zeus, probably a combining form of the genitive Δῐός Diós: of Zeus. The second element is obscure. It could be from Dionysus's mythical birth place of Nysa, but it is just as likely that Nysa was invented to try to explain the name. Mycenaean Linear B 𐀇𐀺𐀝𐀰 di-wo-nu-so
Dionysius / Dennis is a theophoric name base on Dionysus.
Unknown. Attested as 𐀁𐀔𐁀 e-ma-ha in Mycenaean Linear B. Connected to ἕρμα herma: stone heap, which could be from *ser: to bind.
On the other hand, the name is suspiciously similar to the Vedic deity सरमा Saramā, whose name is sometimes thought to mean "the swift one", and who first appears in a story involving theft of divine cows.
Hermione is a theophoric name based on Hermes
The second part is almost certainly mother. De may be a variant of Gaea, giving Earth Mother.
Demetrius / Dmitry is a theophoric name based on Demeter.
House of Hades
Probably a variant on the legendary port city of Tartessos, which was in southwestern Iberia, just beyond the pillars of Heracles (the Straight of Gibraltar). This may be linked to Biblical Tarshish, a metal-rich Pheonician colony.
The Asphodel Meadows are named for the flower that grew there, the asphodel. Asphodel is a Pre-Greek borrowing, so there's not much to say about where it came from. There is an interesting place it went to, though: daffodil comes from asphodel, with a re-bracketing, probably incorporating the Dutch definite article: de affodil -> daffodil
φλέγω phlégō: I burn, I set aflame. Related to flame, black, blitz.
Disputed, possibly Pre-Greek.
λήθω lḗthō: I forget from Proto-Indo-European *leh₂: to hide. Directly related to lethargy and more distantly to latent.
στυγνός stugnós: hateful, hostile, gloomy. Possibly from *(s)tew-: to hit. If so, connected to stitch, stupid, and step-.
Disputed, but likely from *h₁régʷos: darkness. I would argue *h₁régʷos is a borrowing from Semitic word meaning west, sunset, evening, and that Europe and Arabia are as also derived from the same.
Greece is a back-formation from Greek or rather the Latin Graecus: Greek; which is from Greek Γραικός Graikos: of the city of Graia. Latin generalized from the Graian colonists in Southern Italy to refer to all Greeks (Hellenes) as Graians. The city name of Graia may be from graia: old woman. If so, it is related to geriatric, carl, corn, and grain (and pomegranate, see Pom(egranate) below).
Other than Aegis, the Infernal Arms are mostly names original to the game, and come from a wide variety of sources, so not all have easy answers to the etymologies. Courtney Ehrenhofler on TechRaptor has also written about the mythology and meaning of the weapons in Hades.
The Latin īnferus: low, relating to the underworld or dead souls is simply the Latin version of Proto-Indo-European *h₁n̥dʰér that also gives English under, as well as in the Latinate prefix infra-.
Proto-Indo-European *dʰ would normally only become Latin f at the beginning of a word. The irregularity could be caused by re-interpreting īnferus as containing the in- prefix, leaving the f at the beginning of the steam; or possibly from an interdialect borrowing.
Arthur is most likely either Brythonic (Pre-Welsh) or Greek, in either case meaning bear-something. Either Brythonic *Arthriɣ: Bear-King or Greek Arktouros: Bear-Guardian, each from Proto-Indo-European *h₂ŕ̥tḱos: bear
I haven't been able to determine what the devs were getting at with this one. The phonotactics seem Indian.
varatha is Pali for you wish (second person plural imperative), related to Sanskrit वृणोति vṛṇóti, from the same root as English will.
varatha/varattan also appears in South Indian/Dravidic languages meaning "foreigner, exile", which could refer to Hades' relation to the Olympians. It still seems like that Dravidian word would be a Sanskrit borrowing, but I haven't been able to track it down in an Indo-Aryan language yet.
A Chinese name:
- Family name: 關 Guan: to close, to lock, frontier pass
- Personal name: 羽 Yu: feather, wing
A version of the Irish cor(r)anach : dirge, funeral song. I do not know the origin of the Irish word, possibly related to corra- in the names of birds?
goatskin, from aix: goat
Old English Bee-wolf, an epithet for bear
Another where I'm not sure what they were going for. Possibly a Latin/Greek hybrid ill-spoken?
If so, from Proto-Indo-European root *(s)mel-: false, deceptive, bad, evil and *bʰeh₂-: to speak, the same two roots as form the word blasphemy.
Akkadian 𒄑𒂆𒈦 Gilgameš, from Sumerian 𒄑𒉈𒂵𒈩 Bilgameš, which is interpreted as something like Ancestor-Hero or Old-Man - Young-Man (Ageless, Immortal?).
six-griffins. Courtney Ehrenhofler on TechRaptor suggests that griffins/eagles could be understood as a poetic word for bullets.
γρῡ́ψ grū́ps: gryph(on) may be a borrowing from a Semitic language cognate of Hebrew כְּרוּב k'rúv, the source of cherub, probably meaning blesser, one who blesses.
ὀβολός obolós: a small coin used in Athens. The name means nail or spit; the currency was originally small metal rods. Possibly related to bélos: arrow, dart (from *gʷelH-: to throw, to pierce, to hit with a throw), but more likely Pre-Greek.
Κένταυρος Kéntauros: centaur. Obscure origin. Possibly κεντέω kentéō: I prick, I stab, I pierce + ταῦρος taûros: bull, meaning either bull-goader or bull-slayer.
Latin pōmum: fruit, fruit tree, probably borrowed from an unknown substrate language. Pomegranate is from pōmum grānātum: seed-filled fruit.
- -granate: Word Family - Greek
Daedalus: craftsman, from daidállō I do fine work, I embellish
- Hammer: Word Family - Edge
See Cthonic Gods.
Diamond is another form of the same word as Adamant, meaning incoquerable, or rather untamable. Proto-Indo-European *n̥-demh₂-os: not-tamed becoming adamos in Greek and *untamaz in Germanic. Though Adamant may be a modification to fit a folk etymology of a borrowing from Akkadian.
Beyond death, connected to necro- and trans-.
Not-mortal. Exactly equivalent to Sanskrit amrta, and almost exactly to Latin immortalis.
A couple of notes on etymologies not in the Codex
The Cthonic Companion from Achilles and Patroclus is an ant. Achilles' troops in the Trojan War were the Myrmidons, which comes from a word meaning ant's nest, from μύρμηξ múrmēx: ant.
Greek murmex has a common root with many other Indo-European words for ant, including Latin formica, Persian مورچه môrča, Russian мураве́й muravéj, Welsh mŷr, and the obsolete English mire.
There is at least one mention of Hephaestus by name. I have many thoughts about Hephaestus, specifically I think it's likely he is the same as the Egyptian god Ptah. The place name Egypt comes from Ptah also, originally being a name for the temple of Ptah at Memphis: ḥwt-kȝ-ptḥ: House of the Soul (Ka) of Ptah, later extended to refer to the entire city of Memphis, and then extended again to the entire country.