+ conceptinload: History of the Horus Heresy I – Primarch name origins +

+ Primarch names+

+ This inload started as a reply to a forum post discussing the origins of the names of the Primarchs. I really enjoy etymology, and thought I'd write my thoughts down. +

+ I'll preface this by mentioning that this is all supposition and educated guesses; little more. I'd love to hear from you if you can point to another possible answer, or clear something up – please just leave a comment below. +

+ On Horus, Perturabo, and Magnus the Red +

+ The Latin word Perdurabo translates to 'I will endure to the end', stemming from the Latin word for vigour. Perhaps of relevance is that the English occultist Aleister Crowley took the 'magical name' Frater Perdurabo. This might, of course be a simple coincidence, but the name was used by Crowley as part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. +

+ This is relevant not only because it has hints of 'magic' and 'evil' around it (the group was fairly famous and notorious in 1970s/80s Britain), but also that it had close ties in organisational style and terms with the Freemasons – including Lodges and ritual titles like 'Frater', 'Neophytes' and 'Adeptus'. +

+ Thirdly, the group had a lot of (then-fashionable) Egyptian stylings and references. Significantly, Crowley declared himself the prophet of a new age – that of the 'Aeon of Horus'... +

+ Quoting from the Wikipedia article (so take it with a grain of salt – though remember we are discussing toy soldiers here!) on Thelema, the religion Crowley developed:
In the religion of Thelema, it is believed that the history of humanity can be divided into a series of aeons, each of which was accompanied by its own forms of "magical and religious expression". The first of these was the Aeon of Isis, which Thelemites believed occurred during prehistory and which saw mankind worshipping a Great Goddess, symbolised by the ancient Egyptian deity Isis. In Thelemite beliefs, this was followed by the Aeon of Osiris, a period that took place in the classical and mediaeval centuries, when humanity worshipped a singular male god, symbolised by the Egyptian god Osiris, and was therefore dominated by patriarchal values. And finally the third aeon, the Aeon of Horus, which was controlled by the child god, symbolised by Horus. In this new aeon, Thelemites believe that humanity will enter a time of self-realization and self-actualization.
(My emphasis) +

+ While far from identical, the inspiration for a lot of the Realm of Chaos material can be seen; with the Aeon of Isis being the peaceful pre-Emperor warp, the Aeon of Osiris being the Emperor's rise, and Horus being (surprise!) Horus the Warmaster, are fairly striking. +

+ If there is a connection with the GW designers and writers having an interest in the occult, there are some other potential tentative links with the Order of the Golden Dawn (and the occult in general). As an example, one of the founders, William Robert Woodman, took the magical name Magna Est Veritas. Not a million miles away from Magnus, particularly when you consider the 'magical' undertones and the fact that any biography a GW writer might have had would have mentioned his membership of the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine. +

+ ...of course, this is starting to sound a little like I might need a tinfoil hat. My point is that the writers would have been in an environment that would likely have known about people like Crowley, and it might have influenced them, particularly when researching for the Realm of Chaos books. +

+ On missing Primarchs +

+ No, not those missing Primarchs. I'm talking about the ones missing from Epic 1st. edition, where the Horus Heresy was first fleshed out from the fairly minor mention in the Realm of Chaos books. It's possible all the Primarch's names and Chapters/Legions (the two terms were pretty much interchangeable at this period – I'll use Legion throughout this inload) were thought up at the same time, but I think it more likely that the list was gradually expanded as it became necessary for a particular bit of colour text or background. +

+ As far as I'm aware, the order of appearance of the Primarchs is:
Horus who is introduced as the Warmaster of Chaos in the first Realm of Chaos title, Slaves to Darkness. Here he is noted as being: 
[...]inducted into a secret warrior's lodge, which proved to be little more than a coven. [...] It is clear that the Warmaster introduced a system of 'warrior lodges' into the five Legiones Astartes Chapters[...]the lodges revealed their true nature and showed themselves to be nothing less than Chaos covens. 
I've already explained my thinking behind Horus' name, though it should also be mentioned that it makes nice alliteration with 'heresy'! +

+ The following Legions (existing as Chapters since Rogue Trader) were also mentioned in this book: Blood Angels, Imperial Fists, Whitescars [sic.], World Eaters, Black Legion (though the earlier names of Luna Wolves and Sons of Horus are also mentioned) and Emperor's Children. +

+ The follow-up title, The Lost and the Damned, introduced the concept of the Primarchs (Horus was previously merely an Imperial Commander at the time), and mentions the following: Rogal Dorn, Sanguinius, Angron, Mortarion and Magnus the Red. A couple of these names look, to me at least, like they were created as puns based on the  existing names of the Legions mentioned earlier:
  • Dorn is Irish Gaelic for Fist (Imperial Fists)
  • Sanguis is Latin for Blood (Blood Angels)
  • Mortem is Latin for Death (Death Guard)
Rogue Trader pre-dated the Realm of Chaos books, so I think it likely that the writers picked a couple of the existing Chapters mentioned there (Blood Angels and Crimson Fists) and used them as inspiration; twisting a few letters here and there. Rogal is more problematic, though if you twist it to 'Regal', you get 'Regal Fist', which is essentially the same as his Legion's name.

+ Similar linguistic twisting turns Sanguis and Mortem into Sanguinius and Mortarion; and 'Angry' into Angron (note the shared suffix with Mortarion). +

+ I have heard that Angron allegedly got his name from a temperamental chap called Ron who the writers knew from the pub – giving us 'Angry Ron'; who was immortalised as the leader of the Khornate Chapter/Legion. Though this may well be an urban myth, it's certainly possible! +

+ So we return to Magnus, who I've argued might have a more 'meaningful' name. He is described in the tome as exceptionally large and with red hair. Magnus is Latin for 'great', or 'big' so his name might simply stem from a quick joke – perhaps an in-joke or something more crude... based on the 'Thousand Sons'. I wouldn't like to speculate :) An alternative and interesting explanation for Magnus' name is that it is based on that of Magnus Maximus, a Roman commander who usurped the Western Roman Emperor's throne. There are some interesting parallels, not least in the religious/magical persecution and the general Roman historical aspect. It's clear from various allusions and mentions (such as the Edict of Nikea, almost certainly based on the historical First Council of Nicaea; and the two missing Legions, anecdotally based on the historical Roman Legions lost or redacted) that at least someone in GW at the time was interested in Roman history, so I wouldn't dismiss that explanation out of hand. +

+ The remaining Traitor Legions – Emperor's Children, Alpha Legion, Night Lords, Iron Warriors – all now appeared here simply as mentions along with banner artworks, with the exception of the Word Bearers. None of their Primarchs are named, as far as I can see. +

+ Epic and developing the Horus Heresy +

+ While the Primarchs, traitor legions and the idea for the Horus Heresy were all introduced in Realm of Chaos, the concepts were fairly loose. They were further developed in the game Adeptus Titanicus and its expansion Codex Titanicus and Epic: Space Marine. The loyalist Ultramarines and Salamanders (again, both extant and undeveloepd names from Rogue Trader) and the traitor Word Bearers were introduced here, along with the first mention of Roboute Guilliman of the Ultramarines. The Primarchs of the other two Legions introduced at this period were still unknown. +

+ As a name, Roboute Guilliman doesn't seem to have much connected with it. I believe there was a poet by the name of François Guillimann; I've heard an anecdote that there was a French monk by the name of Guilliman who wrote a tract on rules for being a monk... but little beyond that. If you'd like to speculate, please let me know in the comments. I would note that 'Ultramarine' is a corruption of 'Outre Mare' – French for 'across the sea' (I believe). This was a term used for the Crusaders, and also the root of the colour ultramarine blue. Their Primarch's name might be a reference to the French root, but that's purely a guess. +

+ As the only Primarch introduced here, it's possible that the writer – Jervis Johnson – took his inspiration from a new source entirely, perhaps explaining why the character has such a different and seemingly unrelated name. +

+ Brothers reunited: the full list +

+ The 2nd Edition of Warhammer 40,000 would give us the list of the Primarchs and Legions with which we're now familiar, so we now get the outstanding Legions – Iron Hands and Raven Guard – and the remaining Primarch names: Vulkan, Corvus Corax, Ferrus Manus, Alpharius, Lorgar, Perturabo, Fulgrim, Konrad Curze, Lion El'Jonson, Leman Russ, Jaghatai Khan. +

+ Who can say whether they were all thought up together way back during the writing of Realm of Chaos, or whether they were simply thought up and jotted down here? Whatever the answer, we can split them into groups:
  1. Puns/translations of the Legion name: Ferrus Manus, Corvus Corax, Alpharius
  2. Mangled literary, mythological or historical figures: Lionel Johnson, Vulkan, Jaghatai Khan, and Konrad Curze.
  3. An existing character re-introduced as a Primarch: Leman Russ was an Imperial Commander in Rogue Trader.
  4. Others: Fulgrim and Lorgar. 
+ To take these groups in turn: 
1_ The easiest group to work out; the new Legions get names that are simply derived from the Legion names introduced earlier – in much the same way as the earlier Sanguinius from Blood Angels etc. Ferrus Manus is Latin for 'Iron Hand'; Corvus corax is the scientific name for a common raven (hence again a Latin translation); and Alpharius is even more obviously derived from Alpha Legion. Perhaps the deadline was coming up! 

2_ The English poet Lionel Johnson, a contemporary and friend of Oscar Wilde, wrote a poem called The Dark Angel. (I have a vague recollection that the character turned up somewhere earlier than 40k 2nd as 'Lionel Gonson' – can anyone help?). This literary link, which seems fairly solid, may give some credence to Guilliman being named after the French poet; particularly since Jervis Johnson was also heavily involved in writing both Epic and 2nd edition 40k. The amphibian, salamanders, were said by Pliny to live in fire; a belief that was further disseminated by Saint Augustine. This association with fire probably inspired their Primarch's name, a simple tweak of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. Chagatai Khan was a descendant of Ghenghis Khan; it needs little change in spelling to arrive at the Primarch. Finally in this group, Conrad Curze is almost certainly an allusion to Joseph Conrad, who wrote Heart of Darkness a novel which included the character of the madman Kurtz.

3_ Leman Russ. First appearing in Rogue Trader as an Imperial Commander, then becoming the Space Wolves' Commander in a later expansion, this name finally became that of the Space Wolves' Primarch. We can say that Rogue Trader had less gothic and Roman influences; and had a more generically sci-fi feel. Some names – like Pedro Cantor – are based on real people (Pete Cantor was a friend of the writers and contributor to the book), others on pop culture (the infamous Inquisitor Sherlock Obiwan Clouseau). Still others have no obvious source besides 'sounding sci-fi'. I suspect Leman Russ was one of these, though I'd be happy to be corrected.

4_ While Fulgrim sounds a bit like 'Fulgor' (Latin for 'bright'), and 'Lorgar' sounds as though it were meant to be associated with 'Lore' (to go with Word Bearer) those origins seem a bit tenuous. This theory is partially strengthened by their similarity in endings with each other; a little like Angron and Mortarion. Since I suspect they were created together, perhaps this link helps provide some limited evidence. Again, anyone have anything a bit more creative on the origins of those last two? +

+ So much has been lost, and forgotten...+

+ In conclusion, my suspicion is that the Primarch's names were a sign of the times in the Games Workshop studio – an odd mix of historical figures, cheesy puns, occultism, and in-jokes; all of which would have appealed to the creatives and their audience. After all, this was the period of 'serious heads', where music, politics and literature would have been deeply analysed and discussed – and mocked, in that very British way  +

+ Whatever the final answer, the discussion is interesting. I suspect ultimately that the Primarch's names are a combination of dashed-off, barely thought-through jokes to hit a deadline, with a great deal of well-researched, wide-ranging discussions based on the writers' broad and shared enthusiasm for historical, literary and oounter-cultural knowledge. A fitting tribute, then, to the fantastic creativity at the GW studio at the time. +

+ I hope you've enjoyed my thoughts on this. If you like this sort of post, I have some similar ramblings relating to the Primarch's homeworlds – let me know if you'd like to see that below, along with any corrections, additions or thoughts of your own on the Primarch's names. +


  1. This has certainly been an excellent read! As a devout World Eater, I was particularly amused by the idea of "Angry Ron" and really want to believe this version now, even though it may only be fiction ;)

    I think your idea of having "Rogal" as a version of "Regal" is sound, by the way, as "Rogal" could also be seen as a portmanteau of "Royal" and "Regal", which would basically arrive at the same conclusion.

    I've always liked to imagine that Guiliman's name was actually based on the name of a pub mate of one of the authors by the name of Robert Guilliman or something. Given the obviously punny and/or slipshod nature of some of these names, that's just as good a guess as any, I suppose ;)

    All in all, I fully agree with your assessment of the names being a wild mix of crude puns and well-considered literary or historical allusions -- in fact, I remember first seeing the small table with the names of the legions and their Primarchs in the 2nd edition Codex Imperialis and wincing at some of the names: Angron, Mortarion or Ferrus Manus just seemed outright stupid, while Konrad Curze oder Lionel Jonson were sounded strangely pedestrian. At least, those latter names were somewhat redeemed by their deeper literary meaning (although I think the Lion should rather have been Lyon' Elgonsen, or whatever that older version looked like).

    The true art, however, lies in taking a name like Angron and actually creating an interesting and multidimensional character around a punny name and a very simple concept. In this particular case, the task has been achieved rather beautifully by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, but that's an entirely different subject.

    Anyway, I, for one, would love to read a similar article about the Primarchs' homeworlds!

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Interesting stuff. Furthering the link between Conrad/Konrad and Heart of Darkness is the fact that the assassin that kills him is called M'Shen, for Martin Sheen (an Apocalypse Now reference).

    I think Russ is from Rus - an archaic Norse word meaning 'Men who Row' - a way of referring to vikings. And Space Wolf is from sea wolf - a term for viking raiders. Amusingly, 'leman' is an old word for a lover or mistress. If there is a pun there I don't see it.

    Magnus the Red sounds Norse to me as well, from Magnar (meaning strength, probably from the latin as you say. There were a lot of Norwegian kings called 'Magnus the ...' And then Eric the Red is a Viking saga. But how that relates to Magnus I don't know. He was always the most odd of all the Primarchs - giant, red haired cyclops - originally he was a true cyclops - it makes me think there is something more there. I was looking for connections between the cyclops and magic, possibly something to do with freemasonry (which would include an Egyptian link too perhaps) but it's beyond me.

    Oddly, I was sure there would be a link between Angron and Spartacus, but as far as I can tell the name doesn't have any links to that time beyond there being a fictional character called Agron in the Spartacus TV show.

    Fulgrim is from fulguration I'd say - a flash like lightning. A reference to speed and the lightning flash of inspiration/artistry.

    Lorgar is a bit of a mystery, I suppose in addition to Lore it could also evoke Law - law of god, commandments. With his book of Lorgar he essentially transcribed the Chaos commandments in the role of Moses.

  3. Just a tidbit to answer the quesetion about earlier appearances. The Lion was formerly known as

    Lyyn Elgonson

    He is depicted as a standard marine commander at the Feast of Malediction. It's in the Rogue Trader rulebook, as a small piece at teh foot of one of the pages along with an illustration.


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