I've always thought that the name of the Lovecraft deity Shub Niggurath was intended to sound vaguely Semitic, but I recently noticed that it seems to encode a certain well-known English-language racial slur.

Is it known whether or not H. P. Lovecraft intended for readers to make this connection? It actually seems quite apt, considering that, in The Whisperer in Darkness (1930), the author describes (emphasis mine):

... and abundance to the Black Goat of the Woods. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!

It is known that Lovecraft harbored some racist views, but that does not prove that he intended to incorporate a certain racist word into the name of one of his gods.

There is also a black cat in the author's earlier The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927) who is named Nig, so it seems that the author was at least somewhat comfortable with this word.

  • 6
    Could very well be. Let's just say that Lovecraft -- and his editors -- were not sufficiently repelled by the sound of the name to change it to something else. The name also sounds vaguely like "ziggurat", a Mesopotamian stepped pyramid that would have been much in the news at the time. Archaeologist Charles Leonard Wooley was active in Mesopotamia from 1922 to 1934 and his books stimulated a great deal of interest. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 20:02
  • 4
    Not to put too fine a point on it, but Lovecraft didn't seem to bother being subtle with expressing bigotry. In addition to the "ziggurat" connection pointed out by @RobertColumbia, "nigromancy" was a fairly usual term for black magic.
    – user888379
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 20:09
  • 11
    Irrespective of Lovecraft's views (read Houellebecq for that), he may just have used a word particle that evokes blackness, as in the Latin niger. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 22:06
  • 8
    Lovecraft rarely provided any sort of etymological context for names like these. In this case I've seen it hypothesized that the name was inspired by the name Sheol-Nugganoth found in a Lord Dunsany story. I'm not aware of any human racial context to either name. In any case, there is no way to certify an answer to this question. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 22:42
  • 1
    @DavidTonhofer Latin has more than one word for "black". Did Lovecraft ever use the other common word, ater, meaning "dull black", to create new words? Or the Greek root melan- "black"? Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 23:46

1 Answer 1


Robert Price makes the following etymological claim in his introduction to the collection The Shub-Niggurath Cycle:

Shub-Niggurath first appears in the 1927 tale "Clarendon's Last Test" (usually printed under its shorter Weird Tales title "The Last Test"), and there we read nothing of a goatish nature. So he began with a mere name. Where did he derive it?

That is a simple matter: an avid reader of Lord Dunsany, Lovecraft ran across the evocative reference in "Idle Days on the Yann." Dunsany refers to "Sheol Nugganoth, whom the men of the jungle have long since deserted, who is now unworshipped and alone." No doubt the name stuck in his mental Commonplace Book and waited there till he needed something with a good occult ring to lard the magic threats of Dr. Clarendon. The name already carried a whiff of sulfur: Sheol was the name for the Netherworld mentioned in the Bible and the Gilgamesh Epic.

This isn't mutually exclusive with your proposed connection, and indeed would make in-universe sense given the entity's association with the black Goat of the Woods. Note other Dunsany inspired likely portmanteaus such as Nyarlathotep:

Lovecraft notes that the peculiar name Nyarlathotep came to him in the dream, but one can conjecture at least a partial influence in two names found in Lord Dunsany’s work: the minor god Mynarthitep (mentioned in “The Sorrow of Search,” in Time and the Gods [1906]) and the prophet Alhireth-Hotep (mentioned in The Gods of Pegana [1905]). Hotep is, of course, an Egyptian root, and Nyarlathotep is said in the prose-poem to have come “out of Egypt.”

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.