What Does Thanos Mean?

About a week or so ago, when Avengers: Infinity War was released, I thought, I wonder if there’s any interesting points related to language raised by the Avengers and their ancillary characters? If you clicked on that link in the first line of the paragraph, or read this post inspired by Black Panther, you can see that these films often give me a lot to think about.

Not that I’m cynically trying to cash in on the fact that everyone’s talking about this film. I just tend to think about what everyone’s talking about.

Yet, despite this being by far the most anticipated of Marvel Studios’ films, nothing really jumped out at me. I thought about how revenge is a noun, and the verb form is to avenge, but on researching it, the reasons behind the difference weren’t so interesting at all. And to revenge can be a verb, sometimes.

Infinity and war don’t really have very interesting stories behind them. None of the characters’ name have any particular linguistic interest for me (do you really want me to get into the meaning of the names Iron Man or Captain America?) Thor is interesting in its link to the word Thursday, but I’d also already covered that. As I’ve also covered Spider-man’s hyphen. Maybe I’ve just generally written about superheroes too much. I suppose it’s hard not to do so when you’re reacting to what the world is talking about.

Thanos though: now that’s an interesting name. I can’t find any evidence to confirm this, but I’m sure that when the character was created (by Mike Friedrich and Jim Starlin, I’ve just learned), it was inspired by Thanatos, the Ancient Greek personification of death (I’ve also just learned that Thanos’ brother in the comics is Eros, which is also the name of the Ancient Greek personification of love, which strengthens my suspicion).

Thanos is actually sometimes used as a male first name in the real world. Ironically enough though, it’s usually an abbreviation of Athanasios, which actually means immortal (with a- serving as a negative prefix). So by shortening it to Thanos and removing the negative prefix, it’s effectively giving the name the opposite meaning. Though at least that’s pretty appropriate in the case of the fictional Thanos at least.

So you see, it took me about a week, but I was finally able to come up with a post to cynically cash in on Avengersmania, and provide some interesting facts. What more could you want!?

7 thoughts on “What Does Thanos Mean?

  1. That was really funny. As I was watching the film, I thought, “Who came up with an everyday name for an arch-villain?” It would be the same if they called him Bob or Jim in English. It deprives the character of any ferocity. Θάνος; Please! The neighbor next door is called “Thanos”. Knowing that they wanted to abbreviate θάνατος (another everyday word), makes it even funnier. There is no abbreviation for a proper noun! OK, it’s not the sort the film you would expect much from, but sometimes the monolingualism of the Anglosphere and the lack of knowledge about anything else is beyond ridiculous!


  2. On Good Friday the choir at my church sings an item in Greek, Latin and English: Agios o Theos, Agios ischyros, Agios athanatos, eleison imas; Sanctus Deus, Sanctus Fortis, Sanctus Immortalis, miserere nobis; Holy God, and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us. Our choir sings the th of athanatos as ‘t’. How is Thanos pronounced?

    The word euthanasia is related (= ‘good death’).

    Liked by 1 person

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