Menacing Word -> Sith Lord Name:
- Bane -> Bane
- Plague -> Plagueis
- Insidious -> Sidious
- Tyrant -> Tyranus
- Maul -> Maul
- Invader -> Vader
- Snake -> Snoke
Was wondering if there were any canon and real world explanations
Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
There was not a single creative process used to devise the names of the Star Wars villains, and the origins were likely to be different for names that were invented in different eras. So I will divide my answer into three parts and deal with characters named during different creative eras differently.
Original Trilogy Era (pre 1999)
The first Dark Lord of the Sith to be named was Darth Vader. Lucas has repeatedly said (including in this 1997 New York Times article) that the name was chosen to be suggestive of "dark father." In other Germanic languages, including German and Dutch, "vader" is quite close to the word for "father."
There are vocal individuals online who claim that Lucas is lying about the origin of this name. This claim is based on the notion that Darth Vader was not intended to be Luke's father during the production of the first film; and the first mention of the family connection appears relatively late in the production process for The Empire Strikes Back. However, given how closely Lucas guarded the secret of Luke's paternity (keeping the information from most of the cast and crew even through filming of Empire), it is no surprise that he did not include that piece of information in any written materials in the the 1970s.
Moreover, Lucas has also said that, had Star Wars been only a modest success, he probably would have made a lower-budget sequel, perhaps based on the first extended universe novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye, and in that case Vader probably would not have been Luke's (or Leia's) father. Finally, even if Lucas had not committed entirely to having Vader as Luke's literal father, a name suggestive of "dark father" would still be highly appropriate for a tall, black-clothed, deep-voiced character.
The only other Sith who appears in the main Star Wars series during this period is the emperor. Palpatine (but not Darth Sidious) was named in the novelization of Star Wars, which was credited to Lucas but was actually ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster. If "Palapatine" is suggestive of anything, it is probably "palpitate" or "palatine"; the former just seems silly, but the latter sounds appropriately imperial ("palatine" being the Latin root underlying "palace"). However, in that novelization, the emperor was very much not a Force-using Sith Lord. It is established in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi that the emperor is a Force wielder, but in the films he is still never referred to by name; he is just "the emperor" or, to Vader, "my master."
Prequel Trilogy Era and After (1999 to 2012)
Many more Sith names appeared in during the prequel trilogy, as well as the television cartoons and extended universe materials that were closely tied to the central narrative. At this point, "Darth" was adopted as Sith title, although dialogue from Star Wars suggested it was part of Vader's proper name. ("You can't win, Darth.")
It is very obvious that the major Sith names that were invented during this period were indeed chosen for their English implications. The names include some that are simply words for violent or dangerous things: "Maul" and "Bane." Others are slight modifications of English words with strong negative valances: "Sidious" (from "insidious"), Tyranus (from "tyrant" or perhaps the original Greek "tyrannos"), and Plagueis (from "plague"). There is no subtlety here.
Some of the names are even suggestive of the character and role played by the Sith that they name. This is particularly clear for the three Sith who appear on screen in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Darth Sidious is a conniver who works with subtle behind-the-scenes manipulations, controlling both sides in the war that breaks out. The role of his apprentice Maul is to provide direct violent confrontations with the Jedi. Darth Tyrannus is the leader of a military insurrection; and Greek "tyrannos" meant a ruler who seized power by violence.
Disney Era (post 2012)
There does not seem to be any evidence that the villains of the Disney films follow any sort of pattern. The closeness of "Snoke" to "snake" or "smoke" might have been intended to be suggestive, or it might not. Without a clear statement from the Disney creative team addressing the question (and I have not been able to locate such a statement), it is not possible to say conclusively why they chose Snoke's name the way they did.
However, the other main Force-using villain, Kylo Ren, has a name that does not seem to be suggestive of anything. (Honestly, the only word I can think of similar to "Kylo" is "kybo," which is a dialectical term for an outhouse—not very threatening.) So, regardless of how the name "Snoke" was chosen, there is not a consistent pattern of using suggestive names for the series's main villains during the Disney era.