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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.

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  • 11
    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
  • 5
    (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
  • 1
    Just wait until you learn about Melko.
    – ibid
    Sep 20 at 8:50
39

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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  • 8
    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. Jun 21 '15 at 14:12
  • 10
    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. 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.)

5

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.

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  • 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
3

The main difference between Melkor and Morgoth is that Melkor is a Quenya name with positive connotations ("he who arises in might") and Morgoth is a Sindarin name with negative connotations ("the black enemy").

In Tolkien's writings from c.1950, he had decided (as shown by other answers) that Fëanor was the one who coined the name Morgoth. This fit very well with the conception from the 1940s where Sindarin (then referred to as Noldorin) was the language of the Noldor. However with the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien later changed it so that Sindarin was the language of the Sindar, and thus this origin of the name "Morgoth" no longer fits.

In Tolkien's later conception, the name "Morgoth" was created by the Sindar of Middle-earth, who did not like the positive connotations of "Melkor", and so came up with their own name. The exiled Noldor then adopted this new name when speaking Sindarin.

So in effect, "Melkor" becomes the name used in Valinor and "Morgoth" the name used in Middle-earth.

The changes from the Quenya names of the Noldor to Sindarin forms when they settled in Beleriand in Middle-earth were on the other hand artificial and deliberate. They were made by the Noldor themselves. This was done because of the sensitiveness of the Eldar to languages and their styles. They felt it absurd and distasteful to call living persons who spoke Sindarin in daily life by names in quite a different linguistic mode. [footnote:] It was otherwise in written histories (which were by the Noldor in any case mostly composed in Quenya). Also the names of 'foreign persons' who did not dwell in Beleriand and were seldom mentioned in daily speech were usually left unaltered. Thus the names of the Valar which they had devised in Valinor were not as a rule changed, whether they fitted Sindarin style or not. The Sindar knew little of the Valar and had no names for any of them, save Oromë (whom all the Eldar had seen and known); and Manwe and Varda of whose eminence they had been instructed by Orome; and the Great Enemy whom the Noldor called Melkor. ... Melkor they called Morgoth 'the Black Enemy', refusing to use the Sindarin form of Melkor: Belegûr 'he that arises in might', save (but rarely) in a deliberately altered form Belegurth 'Great Death'. These names ... the Noldor adopted and used when speaking Sindarin.
The Peoples of Middle-earth - "The Shibboleth of Fëanor" (1968)


To add to your confusion though, Tolkien uses many other names to refer to Morgoth besides just the two you've asked about, even if we disregard the earlier stuff like The Book of Lost Tales and focus exclusively on writings dating from the 1950s or later.

  • Melko (1951-2, 1959)

    This form appears in two late word lists as an alternate form for Melkor, meaning "The Mighty One".

    Melko, Melkor (Great and Mighty) was to the Sindar Morgoth (Dark Tyrant).
    Parma Eldalamberon #21 - "Common Eldarin: Noun Structure" (c.1951-2)

    Melkor (also Melko): ... (Melkor, in older form Melkórë, probably means 'Mighty-rising', se. 'uprising of power'; Melko simply 'the Mighty One'.
    Morgoth's Ring - "Glossary" to "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" (c.1959)

  • Melkóre (1958,1959)

    This form appears in two late word lists as an "older form" of Melkor, meaning "Mighty Arising".

    Q melek- in Melkor (Melkóre) = mbelek-óre "mighty arising." melehta, mighty
    Parma Eldalamberon #17 - "Words, Phrases and Passages" (c.1958)

    Melkor (also Melko): ... (Melkor, in older form Melkórë, probably means 'Mighty-rising', se. 'uprising of power'; Melko simply 'the Mighty One'.
    Morgoth's Ring - "Glossary" to "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" (c.1959)

  • Melcor (1957-8,1959,1959)

    This form appears to just be an alternate spelling of Melkor, but perhaps the same name. Tolkien used it directly in a few of his texts from the late 50s.

    But that is in part due to the mystery of love within Time; and in part due to the fact that the Incarnate only entered in to the design of Eä after the rebellion of Melcor; so that their whole being is bound up with the Marring. ... Not all the things that seem evil or unnatural to the Incarnate are the fruit of the works of Melcor.
    The Nature of Middle-earth - "Death of Animals and Plants" (c.1957-8)

    Manwe answered: 'This we have done, for fear of Melcor, and with good intent, though not without misgiving. But to use our power upon the flesh that Thou hast designed, to house the spirits of Thy Children, this seems a matter beyond our authority, even were it not beyond our skill.'
    Morgoth's Ring - "The Converse of Manwë with Eru" (c.1959)

    But the whole will not cease, until such time as no single living thing produces living offspring. (This may come about in turmoils made by Melcor in his last attempt to achieve mastery or revenge of destruction.)
    The Nature of Middle-earth - "The Primal Impulse" (c.1959)

    The harms and evils of Melcor were to him the greatest grief, and he ever sought to redress them or turn them to good. Melcor on the other hand desired even with passion to make things of his own, being restless and unsatisfied with all that he did, were it lawful or unlawful. ... Thus it was seen in Arda that the things made or designed by Melcor were never “new” The Nature of Middle-earth - "Powers of the Valar" (c.1959)

  • Belegurth (1968)

    This form appears in a late essay, and Tolkien says it was designed to be a deliberate modification of the word Melkor rendered into Sindarin (Belegûr), to mean "great death" instead of "he that arises in might"

    Melkor [the Sindar] called Morgoth 'the Black Enemy', refusing to use the Sindarin form of Melkor: Belegûr 'he that arises in might', save (but rarely) in a deliberately altered form Belegurth 'Great Death'.
    The Peoples of Middle-earth - "The Shibboleth of Fëanor" (1968)

So in conclusion, the following names appear in Tolkien's late writings:

  • Melkor ("He who arises in Might", standard Quenya form, used in Valinor)
  • Melcor (alternate spelling of Melkor)
  • Melkóre ("Mighty-arising", older form of Melkor)
  • Melko ("Mighty One", alternate Quenya form)
  • Belegurth ("Great Death", modification of the direct Sindarin translation Belegûr, used by the Sindar when referring to Morgoth's original name)
  • Morgoth ("Black Enemy", standard name used by everyone in Middle-earth speaking Sindarin)
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  • Also Meleko, which I think is an Adunaic version, though this probably doesn't count as "late writings", given it's from around the end of WW2. Sep 21 at 7:04
  • @DavidRoberts - Yeah, I gave myself an arbitrary cutoff point of 1950, and Meleko was from the mid forties.
    – ibid
    Sep 22 at 23:57
1

The same difference between Mairon and Sauron. Melkor is his original name, Morgoth is the name he got from Feanor after destroying the Two Trees of Valinor, murdered Finwe and stole the Silmarils:

Yavanna spoke before the Valar, saying: "The Light of the Trees has passed away, and lives now only in the Silmarils of Fëanor. Foresighted was he! Even for those who are mightiest under Ilúvatar there is some work that they may accomplish once, and once only. The Light of the Trees I brought into being, and within Eä I can do so never again. Yet had I but a little of that light I could recall life to the Trees, ere their roots decay; and then our hurt should be healed, and the malice of Melkor be confounded.' [...]

[...] But even as Nienna mourned, there came messengers from Formenos, and they were Noldor and bore new tidings of evil. For they told how a blind Darkness came northward, and in the midst walked some power for which there was no name, and the Darkness issued from it. But Melkor also was there, and he came to the house of Fëanor, and there he slew Finwë King of the Noldor before his doors, and spilled the first blood in the Blessed Realm; for Finwë alone had not fled from the horror of the Dark. And they told that Melkor had broken the stronghold of Formenos, and taken all the Jewels of the Noldor that were hoarded in that place; and the Silmarils were gone.

Then Fëanor rose, and lifting up his hand before Manwë 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. —Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor"

Morgoth means "Dark Enemy" in Sindarin, referring to Melkor being Middle-earth's enemy who brought darkness upon Middle-earth.

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  • Note that when linking to a page from another site as evidence, it's good to copy and paste the relevant text directly into your answer as well, so that if the link goes down or otherwise becomes invalid in the future for any reason, your answer still contains all the relevant information. It's also preferable to directly quote the original books or films wherever possible, as sites like Wikipedia can contain misinformation at times. Sep 20 at 7:36
  • Can you teach me to do it? I don't know how.
    – user145025
    Sep 20 at 7:37
  • Nevermind, I know now.
    – user145025
    Sep 20 at 7:40

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