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Despite being the ultimate Big Bad Guy1 in the Lord of the Rings books, Sauron was not the biggest baddest guy in the Tolkien legendarium. In fact he was only a servant of Melkor/Morgoth, who was a former Vala and when at his greatest was much more powerful than Sauron ever was.

I hate slashes! What's with this Melkor/Morgoth? Both names refer to the same being. Are they his names in different languages (like Gandalf and Olorin, or Saruman and Curunir), and if so, which languages? Why are they used so interchangeably?

What's the difference between Melkor and Morgoth?


1 Warning: TV Tropes link.

  • 6
    I do not want to sound mean-spirited, but... you know enough about Melkor to know he exists and that he was also called Morgoth -- which means you went beyond what's said in LotR, book or movies -- yet you don't know why he was called that? A simple Google search of "Melkor or Morgoth" has the answer listed as its first result :/ – Andres F. Jun 27 '15 at 23:08
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    (The tooltip for the downvote arrow does say "this question doesn't show any research effort"...) – Andres F. Jun 27 '15 at 23:10
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    @AndresF. Thanks for commenting! I always appreciate constructive feedback :-) I did think I could probably have found this out on the web, but there are so many knowledgeable people in this community that I also thought I could find out more here than I would elsewhere - as I believe I have. Also, it wasn't just for me: if this thread becomes the go-to source for the answer to the Melkor vs. Morgoth question, surely that's a good thing for SE? – Rand al'Thor Jun 28 '15 at 11:05
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    Think of it like Lucifer/Satan. One is the original given name, the other a moniker given for being all evil. – Misha R Jan 18 '16 at 11:49
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Both names refer to the same person; Melkor is the first name he was known by, while Morgoth is a name given to him by his enemies.

Melkor, the original name, is the one he had from the very beginning, when he was part of the music of Iluvatar. The name is Quenya in origin, and means "he who arises in might", as he was accounted the mightiest of the Ainur who entered into Arda (and were thus called the Valar). He was called by this name until the Two Trees in Valinor died by his hand (with the aid of the spider creature Ungoliant), the Silmarilli were stolen and he fled from Valinor to Middle-earth.

After that momentous event, he was given the name Morgoth (or, fully, Morgoth Bauglir) by Feanor. Morgoth is in Sindarin, and means "Dark Foe" or some similar variant (You can see the root "Mor", for dark, repeated in many names, such as Mordor. "Goth" can be found in Gothmog, lord of the Balrogs). "Bauglir", similarly, means "Tyrant" or "Oppressor".

The Feanor rose, and lifting up his hand before Manwe he cursed Melkor, naming him Morgoth, the Black Foe of the World; and by that name only was he known to the Eldar ever after.

The Silmarillion, ch. 9.

So properly, Melkor is the only true name he has. "Morgoth" is an appelation given to him by his enemies, declaring him their foe to the end of time.

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    Melkor is not the name he was created with, that is unrecorded. – user46509 Jun 21 '15 at 13:56
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    Melkor's name is mentioned as early as the Ainulindale, the song of creation even before Arda was made. It's given as-is, not presented as a later appelation or self given name. I see no reason to assume it wasn't his name from the beginning. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jun 21 '15 at 14:12
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    Melkor is an epitaph. His true Valarian name is not recorded. The history of Middle Earth tells us that we know none of the true names of the Valar. – user46509 Jun 21 '15 at 14:33
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    Richard in his answer below answers this. Melkor is the Quenya name, which is an elf language, so obviously not the name in the language of the Ainur. – Joel Jun 21 '15 at 15:42
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    @turinsbane The problem with that is that like the Lord of the Rings, that is in-universe a second hand account, written by the Elves based on what the Valar told them. So you have to be careful about assuming that is actually the name Eru used. – suchiuomizu Jul 5 '15 at 17:34
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This is discussed in the Silmarillion. In short, Melkor is his proper name (from the Quenya word meaning "One who arises in Might") but the Elves won't say it for, ahem, reasons.

Of the Enemies Last of all is set the name of Melkor, He who arises in Might. 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. Great might was given to him by Ilúvatar, and he was coeval with Manwë. - Silmarillion - Of the Flight of the Noldor

and from the index of names at the rear of the book

Melkor: The Quenya name for the great rebellious Vala, the beginning of evil, in his origin the mightiest of the Ainur; afterwards named Morgoth, Bauglir, the Dark Lord, the Enemy, etc. The meaning of Melkor was 'He who arises in Might'; the Sindarin form was Belegur, but it was never used, save in a deliberately altered form Belegurth 'Great Death'. Passim (after the rape of the Silmarils usually called Morgoth) Silmarillion - Index of Names

and from his Letter 211

In the cosmogonic myth Manwe is said to be ‘brother’ of Melkor, that is they were coeval and equipotent in the mind of the Creator. Melkor became the rebel, and the Diabolos of these tales, who disputed the kingdom of Arda with Manwë. (He was usually called Morgoth in Grey-elven.)

4

As the other answers have already pointed out, both names refer to the same guy, and "Melkor" was dropped in favor of "Morgoth" because the former had positive connotations, while the latter is unmistakably negative in connotation.

Incidentally, the same idea applies to Sauron: He was first called Mairon, which means "The Admirable", but after he fell from grace and joined Morgoth, he was renamed Sauron, which means "Abhorred" in Qenya, and Gorthaur, which means "Terrible Dread" in Sindarin.

They are used somewhat interchangeably because they are both valid. However, more often than not, "Melkor" refers to the character before he pissed off the Elves (it was an Elf, Fëanor, who renamed him), and "Morgoth" refers to him after he pissed off the Elves.

We can see this especially clearly in the following passage from the introduction to Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, in which Christopher Tolkien is justifying his decision to publish stories that were, as the title implies, unfinished when his father died.

Those who would not have forgone the images of Melkor with Ungoliant looking down from the summit of Hyarmentir [upon Aman]... [or the image] of Beren lurking in wolf's shape beneath the throne of Morgoth...
- Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Introduction, p. 1

The context isn't particularly important - we're only interested in the nomenclature regarding the issue of Melkor versus Morgoth. If you haven't read The Silmarillion, the key thing to take away from this is simple: The scene where Melkor and Ungoliant look down from the mountain and see Aman below them happens before Fëanor names him Morgoth. The scene in which Beren, disguised as a wolf, sneaks into his fortress and confronts him, happens after Fëanor names him Morgoth.

In this instance, as in most others, the main difference between the two names is timing. If he is being called Melkor, you're probably reading something that happened before he pissed off the Elves, and inspired Fëanor to give him a contemptuous new name. If he is being called Morgoth, you're probably reading something that happened after he pissed off the Elves, and inspired Fëanor to give him a contemptuous new name.

This is especially true of texts that purport to be written by the Elves, because they refused to call him by his original name after he annoyed them. However, it also holds up in almost every other case as well.

  • Hmm. The other answers give some nice references and detail on where the two different names come from, but this one addresses the circumstances in which each name is used. I can't decide whether to change my acceptance! – Rand al'Thor Jun 27 '15 at 10:25
  • @randal'thor Nah, the other answers are better. – Wad Cheber Jun 27 '15 at 18:43
  • @randal'thor - I updated my answer to include the parallel example of Sauron - the same exact thing happened with his name. The name by which he was first known was complimentary, so when he turned out to be an asshat, they changed it to something less favorable. – Wad Cheber Jun 27 '15 at 21:39
  • Sauron's name was Mairon; Melian is someone else entirely. – user36551 Nov 14 '15 at 21:57

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