It seems obvious that it comes from the Indo-European root lewk. (But then, I'm not an etymologist, so there may be elements I am missing.)

This is the root of my idea:

Loki's association with Fenrir would seem to validate this (i.e. λύκος/lúkos is also cognate with this stem.) There is actually a very well constructed thesis on the relation of the root words for wolf, locust (i.e. "wolves of the air") and light in relation to Apollo titled "Apollo the Wolf God".

In addition to that, a relation can be drawn between Loki and Lucifer, the "Morning Star", as nemesis of the "Sky Father/Lord in Heaven". Further, Loki is an agent of Ragnarok, which can be related to the New Testament idea Armageddon.

There is a similar pre-Christian parallel to Prometheus, who stole fire. Both defied the Sky Father and were bound.

Finally, the inextricable relationship of Loki and Balder would seem to sugget such a meaning. The impetus for Loki's treachery is based on his jealousy toward Balder "the Bright". There is no indication that Loki's name has anything to do with darkness, so this is not a relationship of opposites in that regard. Further, much of Loki's stories have to do with cleverness, a modern meaning of "bright".

All of the relevant languages are part of the Indo-European family, and Norse Mythology has many parallels to Greek Mythology.

  • Is λύκος cognate with that stem, though? I don’t seem to see it in the links you sent me. One should always beware of false cognates and folk etymologies that seek to tie everything together neatly.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 25, 2016 at 22:25
  • @Obie2.0 I can't find any research on it relating to Loki which was largely why I asked this question, but the lack of clarity of the meaning of the name in Old Norse may be an indication his name is borrowed. Loki is an outsider, a "foreigner" if you will, so it's not an entirely crazy idea. There are certainly parallels between Norse and Greek mythology.
    – DukeZhou
    Sep 8, 2016 at 15:28

3 Answers 3


Because there are many possibilities. Lewk, as you mentioned, but also:

  • leugh - To tell a lie
  • leug - To break
  • lok/loka/luka - Either a lid, a container, or To close; this could be a reference to his role in Ragnarok (killing Heimdall)

Without anything definitive, we're forced to either pick a preference, or admit that there are many possibilities. After all, for all we know, the answer might be all of them.

  • Thanks for providing these additional referents. You make a very good point. Possibly I should instead be asking "has anyone made a serious study of the correlation between the Indo-European 'lewk' root and Loki?"
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 25, 2016 at 19:06

Just because two words look similar does not mean they are related. Coincidental resemblances are very common between unrelated words.

Etymology as a science is based on the comparative method where established patterns of correspondences between different languages are considered the main evidence for a particular word's origin. Corresponding words often don't look too similar at first glance: for example, Old Norse tíu and Latin decem. But by comparing different sets of words from languages with a common ancestor, we find repeating patterns that allow us to reconstruct rules of sound change that provide support for hypotheses about etymology.

Considered in terms of correspondences, PIE *lewk as an ancestor of Old Norse Loki is not obvious at all.

Due to Grimm's Law, PIE *k was regularly spirantized to Proto-Germanic *h in most phonological contexts. We can see this in the reconstructed PG words listed on that Wiktionary page: *leuhtaz, *leuhtą, *leuhsaz, *leuhsą. So you would have to explain how it developed to /k/ instead in "Loki."

I am not very familiar with the development of Norse vowels, but it looks like the diphthong "eu" generally became "jó" (for example, in the words Ljótr and ljóss). "Loki" obviously does not contain "jó". So that is another problem with your proposed etymology (although I don't know if the vowel "u" in the zero-grade form of this PIE root, *luk, would be more plausible as an an ancestor of Old Norse "o").

I'm not an etymologist, so I don't know these details. There may in fact be explanations for how this root could develop to "Loki." But evidently, they are not convincing enough to establish a consensus view. And it's certainly not convincing to just say "it seems obvious." That's not just inexact science, it's not doing science at all.

  • What you say about consensus view must certainly be valid, and thank you for taking the time to post such a detailed and informative reply. Clearly I am approaching it from the opposite direction, which is to say looking for archetypal parallels and deriving meaning based on that.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 26, 2016 at 1:18
  • When researching the meaning of "Cassandra", a came across a similar issue. It was suggested to me that this may be an indication that her name is not strictly Greek in origin, but a hybrid. (Cassandra, of course, was not a Hellene.) It occurs to me that Loki, also an "outsider", may have a similarly non-strictly-Norse origin.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 29, 2016 at 19:11

What we know of those myths has been written at a time Germans/Nordics are totally evangelized. An you can clearly see two traditions at work. One is the folk tradition behind those myths. the other is the Christian religion. Contrary to let say Egyptians, or mostly old Romans, where we have access to the raw myths.

And you can clearly see Loki, Baldr and the Ragnarok are so much tainted with the Christian feeling you can only take some gaze at them.

Compare this biblical episode (John 8-11):

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

With Baldr:

Loki want to kill Baldr and learn only a small branch of Mistletoe can do it. During a game everyone is throwing thing at the invincible Baldr until Loki guide Baldr's brother Hodr a blind god who cannot aim to throw the innocent mistletoe thus killing Baldr.

Compare closely the two myths. And see Jesus pointing that: All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone! The first stone.

Now take a close look at Baldr death: First it is CLEARLY a lapidation scene. There is no doubt here. Second, see how the blind Hodr, guided by Loki will throw an innocent plant. Take Jesus Words and put them on Baldr myth and. Hodr is the one who has never sinned. You know, innocent, blind, cannot aim, mistletoe, hand guided. The finger on his innocence is so clear, so detailed. And people who wrote that certainly read John. So it is almost clear Baldr's death is too christian to be what it was at the origin.

But Ragnorok and Apocalypse are so intertwined that once again... Jormungar and the evil snake... Loki and Lucifer...

That in my opinion why you see the old tradition (coming from the natural spreading) fighting with the new one. And Loki and Baldr are more than certainly the one who changed the most. You can bet that: In the original myths their roles was very small, so they have been high targets for those late additions.

Just a personal opinion.

  • 3
    I doubt very muck that Loki's role was ever a small one. Tricksters are central to many mythological traditions, and Loki is certainly related to pre-Christian tricksters such as Prometheus and probably Hermes. However, even if your thesis is correct, how does this relate to the linguistic root of the name Loki?
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 25, 2016 at 16:16
  • although you make an interesting point in many regards. For instance, from a Biblical perspective, Loki can be seen as leading Hoder to commit the sin of Cain. From what I glean from the Icelandic sagas, simply killing someone for an imagined slight is not uncharacteristic of many human heroes. However Loki leads Hoder to commit a "blood sin" against kin. However, this also parallels Orestes' murder of his mother.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 26, 2016 at 20:33
  • It is sort of interesting how the gods, knowing Balder is invincible, decide it would a fun thing to try to kill him.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 26, 2016 at 21:19

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