Ettins in the D&D universe are described as giants which have two heads, and this has carried over to many different games that draw from the D&D lore, for example Dwarf Fortress and many roguelikes.

However, the original etymology for the word doesn't imply any dicephalous nature of the giants, and I was unable to find an earlier citation that described ettins with two heads.

Was the description of ettins having two heads based on Norse (or any other) mythology?

  • 1
    D&D commonly pressed names into use for the lack of a better term. There are two-headed giants in folklore; they wanted a name for them; ettins was handy.
    – Mary
    Mar 9 at 0:45

2 Answers 2


I always thought (and maybe I was wrong) ettin was a corruption of or derived from Jotun, the original name for Norse Frost Giants; many of which had multiple heads though how many one had often varied with the individual (from a book I once read concerning Norse trolls, a Frost Giant having as many as five hundred heads was not impossible).

  • Do you have a reference for the 500-headed frost giant?
    – March Ho
    Jul 5, 2016 at 6:58
  • @March Ho- I think it was D'Aulaire's Book of Trolls (I was around twelve when I read it so I might be mistaken, but I do recall the authors' name had a D'-something). Jul 5, 2016 at 17:57
  • Many jotunar had many-heads? I'm certainly not familiar with that as a common trait in actual Old Norse myth, although it wouldn't surprise me if it is common amongst trolls in later folklore which is then anachronistically claimed to be Old Norse myth about jotunar. Regardless, ettin is not a corruption or derived from jotunn, but is instead cognate with it (i.e. both have a shared origin from which each derived independently). The characterisation of jotunar as frost giants, whilst common, is also hard to justify
    – Tristan
    Mar 26 at 16:38

I believe it is a derivation of Jotun (Iotunn) or Jotnar where the old English likely also comes from, eotunn, all representing giant. Where there are examples of what the classical depiction of a dicephalous creature is as an Ettin. In Nordic mythology, the Ringlefinch is depicted to be two-headed and is a Jotun creature or Troll. It's possible folklore merged Trolls, Ogres, or Giants together to create such a mythological creature.

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    English ettin does not come from Old Norse jǫtunn. They both come from Proto-Germanic etunaz. Also, there is no mention of the Ringlefinch in Norse mythology. It appears only in the Trollhunter movie from 2010, where it doesn't even have two heads... Mar 5 at 15:27

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