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I recently learned about the term arak, which refers to a type of Middle Eastern liquor infused with aniseed. According to the Wikipedia article, the drink is named after the Arabic word araq, meaning "sweat".

The linguistic similarity between this word and "Arrakis" seems quite strong. Both the fact that this is a spice-flavored drink, and that wearing a stillsuit causes one to actually drink sweat, seem to indicate that Herbert had this term in mind when inventing the name of the planet.

I've only read Dune itself, which as far as I remember doesn't identify the origin of the planet's name; do any other books in the series--or Herbert's out-of-universe essays/interviews/etc.--back this up?

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Sweat or Sweet? "...the drink is named after the Arabic word araq, meaning "sweat"...." – Mooz May 15 '14 at 21:21
up vote 10 down vote accepted

According to the Dune Wiki, the name Arrakis comes either from the Arabic الراقص ar-rāqiṣ ("the dancer"1) or أرخص ar-rakhiṣ ("cheapest" or "of least worth"2). It may also be derived from the country Iraq (itself an Arabic name derived from the Sumerian city-state Uruk), which if nothing else is symbolically relevant due to it having large quantities of oil and as a result being involved in many conflicts.

Unfortunately, while well-informed, this all appears to be speculation, as Herbert doesn't seem to have ever stated, nor included in any of the notes his son has subsequently published/shared, the precise means by which he arrived at the name. While I realize this is probably not all that satisfying, it's most likely the best you're going to get (but I'll happily delete this if a more authoritative one does turn up).

1 Dune Wiki notes this was a name for the star Mu Draconis, but what relevance that has to Arrakis per se isn't clear.
2 Certainly applicable to a desert planet! Well, prior to the discovery of the spice, of course.

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It's probably not the Mu Draconis star, because the planet is in orbit around Canopus. This is a good answer, but I'd like to wait and see if anyone is able to dig something up in canon. – sigil May 15 '14 at 23:44
@sigil You're probably right, but as the wiki made mention of it in connection to a very possible root word for the planet's name I included it as well. – Kromey May 16 '14 at 14:34

I'm accepting Kromey's answer, as it shows research and there aren't any competing answers. But since the answer relies on the Dune Wiki rather than canon, I thought I'd also note this non-canon support for my proposed etymology:

There is, however, yet a third and, perhaps, most likely motivation for choosing the name. It seems that in the Far East the name "arrack" was applied to a variety of native spirituous liquors. Variations on the name are "araka" "ariki", "rack", "rak". It is used for liquor made from koumiss (mare or camel's milk), the arecanut, palm toddy, mahua tree flowers, etc. Its name derives either from the arecanut or from the Arabic arak , "sweat". At the beginning of the nineteenth century, whole forests in Ceylon were devoted to its production, and distillation took place at all the villages around the coast. [EB, vol. II, page 426-427]

From The Stars and Planets of Frank Herbert's _Dune_: A Gazetteer by Joseph M. Daniels, retrieved from this link.

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