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A character who often shows up in Marvel works associated with Thor is Hela, the God of Death. For example, she was the primary antagonist of Thor: Ragnarok.

Obviously, Hela is much better known simply as Hel. There are cognate terms that are pretty close to “Hela,” but “Hel” is the standard. However, Marvel uses a different term. This isn’t a choice that started with the film, either: the same is true of Hela’s Marvel Comics counterpart.

It’s a curious change, and presumably there was a reason for it. I’ve heard various possibilities: Hel didn’t sound feminine enough; people would be confused by her having the same name as her realm; Hel would sound too silly. But it’s all pretty speculative.

Do we know why Hela’s name was changed from the mythological standard? Has anyone associated with the comics commented on this?

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    Because it sounds too much like "Hell" and would confuse general audiences – Valorum Nov 8 '17 at 7:40
  • @Valorum - That’s certainly one possibility I’ve heard. But some confirmation would be nice. :) – Adamant Nov 8 '17 at 7:41
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    Is an IQ chart of the average cinema patron sufficient confirmation? – Valorum Nov 8 '17 at 7:42
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    Hela first appeared in the comics in 1964. At the time, any names directly referencing hell, demons, devils or the like would have caused the publisher difficulty with religious groups. Changing "Hel" to "Hela" might have been to provide plausible deniability. – Royal Canadian Bandit Nov 8 '17 at 8:46
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    According to the Marvel wikia, Hela was also known as "Ikea", presumably after the Norse goddess of self-assembly furniture. – Royal Canadian Bandit Nov 8 '17 at 8:49
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Do we know why Hela’s name was changed from the mythological standard?

To my knowledge; no.

Has anyone associated with the comics commented on this?

As far as I can tell from several google searches no.

That said, Marvel takes liberties with names, especially mythological names:

  1. Norse mythos' Hel is named Hela in Marvel
  2. Norse mythos' Frig is named Frigga in Marvel
  3. Norse mythos' Brynhildr is named Valkyrie in marvel
  4. Celtic mythos' Cairbre is named Caber in marvel.
  5. Chinese mythos' Sun Wukon is named after his title [the] Monkey King in Marvel.

And to prevent confusion with the place(s)

In Norse Mythos, Helheimr (Latin: Helheim) is named after Hel- literally "Home of Hel". Typically it's short form is reffered to as Hel. In Marvel Comics on the other hand, Marvel already had a location called Hell (the christian version), so they used the popular Norse short name Hel (1); however, naming its ruler and namesake Hel as well enables readers to become confused between any of the three.

(1) Notably Hel is a subset of Niflheimr. Given Marvel's usage of []heim to reference all but 3 of the Nine Realms (Alfheim, Vanaheim, Jotunheim, Svartalfheim, Niffleheim, Muspelheim) it stands to reason that they dropped the -heimr to retain consistency. Although, being Marvel Comics, they didn't keep it consistent (Nornheim).

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To avoid regulation in an era of moral panics.

The 1950s was a pretty socially conservative time. Showing some ankle was scandalous. Broadcasters refused to film Elvis below the waist because his dancing was too lurid. They were pretty uptight. There were also some pretty gory, violent comics for adults that would even challenge our modern, relatively libertine morality. Lots of people were freaking out about the perversions that their children might be exposed to. Comics burnings were organized and Congressional hearings were held. It was looking like Congress might regulate or even ban comics as some localities already had done.

So publishers decided to be proactive and self-censor. They created the Comics Code Authority and appointed some of the moralizers to it to give the moralizing public confidence that their comics were "safe". Comics that passed CCA review were given a stamp, kind of like the MPAA rating system. Distributors refused to carry comics that weren't approved. At first the restrictions were pretty strict, (police must always be respected, criminals must always be caught, no Hollywood monsters like vampires, werewolves, or zombies. You couldn't even have a black lead character!) Even the comic that birthed The Mighty Thor, Hela, and the rest of their comics pantheon, Journey into Mystery, was originally a horror comic until the CCA forced its format to change to fantasy. Without the CCA, there might never have been a Thor or Hela!

Though the code was eventually relaxed and finally abolished, originally, writers and publishers were even stricter than the code required. They wanted to show that they were adhering to it in good faith. In particular, invoking the devil was not allowed. They named a satanic character Mephisto to get around this, for example. So there was no way they were going to feature a character named Hel, goddess of the underworld. That is just way too Satanic for the 1960s. So they renamed her Hela.

  • It seems quite possible! Is there any evidence of this, though? – Adamant Nov 16 '17 at 0:19
  • @Adamant See the Wikipedia link. – J Doe Nov 16 '17 at 0:20
  • The Wikipedia link is just a description of the Comics Code Authority. Sure, that might have been the reason. But I’m wondering if there’s evidence for this specific case. – Adamant Nov 16 '17 at 0:22
  • If you could find another comic where “Hell” was prohibited by CCA verdict that might be persuasive. But also, Frig was also changed to Frigga, apparently, which leans more toward the “make it more recognizably feminine” side. Not that it couldn’t be both. – Adamant Nov 16 '17 at 0:25
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    I can't find a specific answer for Hela, I can only illustrate a trend where Marvel assiduously avoided giving the appearance of Satanism because of the code. Mephisto is another example. – J Doe Nov 16 '17 at 0:32

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