As many major characters in Tolkien’s work, the greatest villain of Middle-earth Morgoth had a lot of different names and titles among Elves and Men that reflected his character and personality. 

The Ainu’s original Quenya name was Melkor meaning «He Who Arises In Might». This name referred to the unsurpassable greatness and might he possessed as compared with the other Ainur. In earlier drafts Tolkien used the form Melko which meant simply «the Mighty One». An ancient version of this name, as mentioned in Morgoth’s Ring, was Melkórë.

The Sindarin translation of the name Melkor was Belegûr, but the Sindar of Middle-earth referred to him by the altered form of this name Belegurth – «the Great Death».  They simply did not wish to acknowledge the Ainu’s power in their speech and the name Belegûr fell out of use just like Melkor did:

But that name he has forfeited; and the Noldor, who among the Elves suffered most from his malice, will not utter it, and they name him Morgoth, the Dark Enemy of the World.

(Silmarillion, p. 23)

After stealing the Silmarils and killing  Finwë the greatest Ainu acquired his new name Morgoth – «the Dark Enemy of the World». This meaning evolved from the earlier versions «Dark Power» and «Black God». It was Fëanor who coined the Dark Lord’s name which Elves used ever after. However, Morgoth is a Sindarin word – the language which Fëanor could not possibly speak or know of. It is stated in several drafts that the Noldo pronounced this name in Quenya and it was (according to different versions) Moringotto or Moriñgotho, and Morgoth was simply a Sindarin translation used in The Silmarillion. Moreover, Morgoth’s return to Angband earned him yet another title in Sindarin – Bauglir, meaning «the Constrainer». Very often the two names were used together to form a full title Morgoth Bauglir. 

In his acquiring Sindarin names Morgoth was different from many other Valar. In the Sindarin culture the names of «foreign persons», who did not dwell in Beleriand, were not as a rule changed whether they suited the Sindarin fashion or not. Thus the Sindar never altered most Valar’s names as the Grey Elves had never encountered them in person. The only exceptions were Oromë, Manwë, Varda and Melkor, who all got their own names to fit the Sindarin style.

Interestingly, Men tried to avoid any proper names while referring to Morgoth. Instead they used various impersonal words and word combinations which sounded more like titles or euphemisms as if they were afraid that calling the Dark Lord directly might accidentally invoke him or some trouble. One of such titles among Men was Dark King. In Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth Andreth also refers to Morgoth as to the Shadow and the Lord of the Darkness.

At the early stages of The Silmarillion creation Tolkien also provided several Old English versions of names for Morgoth. They were Mánfréa, Bolgen and MalacorMánfréa is derived from the O.E. mán – «evil, wickedness»; Bolgen means «wrathful» and Malacor seems to come from the verbal noun malscrung meaning «bewildering, bewitching». The O.E. form of Bauglir was Bróga – «terror».

The titles Morgoth chose for himself were far more flattering that the ones used by Elves and Men, but if we remember what kind of personality he had, it becomes clear why humility was not amongst his virtues:

From splendour he fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless.

(Silmarillion, p. 23)

Among his self-chosen titles were King of the World, which Morgoth claimed after the theft of the Silmarils and setting them in his iron crown; in a conversation with Húrin he called himself Master of the fates of Arda and even the Elder King. The latter title rightfully belonged to Manwë and referred to his being the King of the Valar and the whole of Arda. In claiming such big titles Morgoth showed both – extreme arrogance and pride, as well as his purpose: he wanted dominance all over the world and aimed to be its master, wishing to usurp even Ilúvatar’s place. In fact, Sauron, when weaving nets of deceit around Ar-Pharazôn, echoed his master, referring to him as to Lord of All. Morgoth could have no claim for this title whatsoever as the rightful Father of All (and thus Lord of All) is Eru Ilúvatar.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Peoples of Middle-earth; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Shaping of Middle-earth; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.

Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.

7 thoughts on “Language notes /// On Morgoth. 

  1. Once again, thank you for your informative piece. I often wonder to what degree Sauron truly believed in the almightyness of his master. It seems that his hope lies in the apparent detachment of the Valar from the affairs of Middle-earth. He hopes that there will never be another intervention such as the one at the end of the First Age. In that respect there has indeed been a fall from splendour from the first challenge of Melkor for lordship. Is that always the case with the dark? I hope so.

    1. And once again, thank you for your kind words, sir! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this piece 🙂
      Sauron did believe in Morgoth’s great power a lot. There are some thought-provoking statements in “Morgoth’s Ring” about both of these gentlemen. Unlike Melkor, Sauron could admire something or someone better than himself and he was able to admit someone’s superiority, as in case with Melkor. It showed in his abode in Númenor when he spoke of Melkor as of God, which might have arisen out of this very ability to admire something. Besides, Sauron “ceased to fear God’s action in Arda”, which, I think, backs up your assumption about his hope lying in the Valar’s detachment from the affairs of Middle-earth. Still, I believe that even in his admiration for Melkor Sauron was too wise to consider him almighty. In comparison with Melkor he seems more reasonable and sensible in many aspects.

  2. I love the Old English etymological notes you have here; thank you for those. My favorite point you make, though, is the statement that the Sindar “did not wish to acknowledge” Melkor’s power. They may have been more intuitive in regards to Melkor’s nature than they realized.

    Melkor *was* “He Who Arises In Might”, but I can’t help thinking of the old adage “what goes up must come down.” If he arose in might, he certainly fell in weakness: (moral) weakness being the reason for his initial Fall, and then (physical) weakness being the state he was in by the time he was finally brought to justice, after spending so much of his might on the corruption of Arda and the dominaton of his slaves. So perhaps the Sindarin refusal to acknowledge Melkor’s power reflected an awareness that he who arose in might was not so mighty anymore. He was truly just a Dark Enemy.

    1. I enjoyed researching these Old English names and I simply love the fact that they even exist!
      You’ve got a great point here! I think it was Professor Corey Olsen who said that in Tolkien “the mightier they are the harder they fall” and it’s very true about Melkor. Reducing himself to such a pitiful and miserable state from his original might is such a waste! At times it seems to me that the Sindar might have a bit more realistic view of Melkor-turned-Morgoth than the Noldor. Hence a variety of those hardly flattering titles.

      1. Could be that the Noldor were just too Melkor-like? Or that the Sindar as the “Grey Elves” possessed some clarity of vision that true Calaquendi did not? I may be stretching with that second statement, but it’s intriguing.

      2. I guess they were. Desire for knowledge and power, ability and skill in creating things. Weren’t they a bit too tied to the material? Take the Vanyar or the Teleri who couldn’t be corrupted by Melkor and his lies. They needed no power and delighted in what they had. But the Noldor in their restlessness became an easy target. I think your second statement arises out of the first. Might it be that this similarity somehow clouded the Noldor’s vision? I believe the Sindar were more down-to-earth than the true Calaquendi, so their perception of the Enemy reflected that.

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