Today is finally Halloween and we’re taking a look at Halloween monsters! From folklore to the silver screen, there are hundreds of monsters lurking in shadows, ready to give us a fright. But have you ever thought how they got their names?
First things first, and a favourite topic of Halloween pedants everywhere, Frankenstein. Brought to life by Mary Shelley in her 1818 novel, Frankenstein’s monster is often wrongly called Frankenstein, which is in fact the name of the doctor who created it. Indeed, the word Frankenstein and the prefix Franken- are now commonly and wrongly used to refer to something monstrous. In actual fact, in the novel the Doctor refuses to give his creation a name and instead refers to it with words like creature, demon and ogre. Shelley reportedly claimed that the name Frankenstein came to her in a dream but it is also the name of an old aristocratic German family, whose castle Shelley is said to have visited.
Less monster, more cosmic entity, Chthullu is the creation of weird fiction author, H.P. Lovecraft. Yes, it’s a bit of a tongue twister but Lovecraft did provide a pronunciation guide to help readers along:
…the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness.
Still not sure you’re saying it right? Go easy on yourself puny human, Lovecraft also said that it’s impossible for human vocal chords to accurately reproduce this alien word.
Thought that a trip to the garden centre was a risk-free affair? Think again! Meet the Triffid, a venomous, carnivorous, walking plant … and it’s out to get you. Handily, the triffid’s creator, John Wyndham provides a very detailed etymology of the name in his 1951 novel, Day of the Triffids:
So a name had to be found for them. Already there were botanists wallowing, after their custom, in polysyllabic dog Latin and Greek to produce variants on ambulans and pseudopodia, but what the newspapers and the public wanted was something easy on the tongue and not too heavy on the headlines for general use. If you could see the papers of that time you would find them referring to: TRICHOTS TRINITS TRICUSPS TRIPEDALS TRIGENATES TRIPEDS TRIGONS TRIQUETS TRILOGS TRIPODS TRIDENTATES TRIPPETS and a number of other mysterious things not even beginning with “tri”-though almost all centered on the feature of that active, three-pronged root. There was argument, public, private, and bar-parlor, with heated championship of one term or another on near-scientific, quasi-etymological, and a number of other grounds, but gradually one term began to dominate this philological gymkhana, in its first form it was not quite acceptable, but common usage modified the original lone first “i,” and custom quickly wrote in a second “f,” to leave no doubt about it. And so emerged the standard term. A catchy little name originating in some newspaper office as a handy label for an oddity-but destined one day to be associated with pain, fear, and misery-TRIFFID.
Godzilla or Gojira (ゴジラ)in its native Japanese is a portmanteau of the Japanese words gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale). There was a story that “Gorija” was a nickname given to a rather overweight stagehand at the film studio but this has sadly since been dismissed.
Last but not least, grab your garlic, it’s everyone’s favourite vampire, Dracula. Bram Stoker’s creepy Count was named after Vlad the Impaler, who was a Voivade (an Old Slavic term for a warlord, commonly translated as a Duke) of Wallachia in the 1400s. Vlad was a member of the House of Drăculești which began with his father, Vlad II Dracul. Vlad II was given the surname Dracul upon joining The Order of the Dragon and the word can be traced to the Romanian drac (devil) and then back to the Latin draco (dragon). Count Dracula goes by many names as can be seen in the following excerpt:
I could hear a lot of words often repeated, queer words, for there were many nationalities in the crowd; so I quietly got my polyglot dictionary from my bag and looked them out….amongst them were Ordog – Satan, polok – hell, stregoica – witch, vrolok and vlksklak ¬– both of which mean the same thing, one being Slovak and the other Servia for something that is either were-wolf or vampire.
Another word used by Stoker is nosferatu, which you may recognise from the classic 1922 silent horror film. The origins of this term are difficult to trace, some believe it comes from the Greek nosophoros (νοσοφόρος), which means “disease bearing”. Others think it stems from a misinterpretation of a Romanian word (potentially nesuferitu – the insufferable one) by the German folklorist Wilhelm Schmidt, who introduced the term in his 1865 article on Transylvanian customs.
This is the last in our series of Halloween blogs for this year, we do hope you’ve enjoyed them and maybe even learned something new about this spooktacular holiday! We’ll be back with our regular blogging schedule next week! One last thing before you go … would you like a trick or a treat?