A surprising amount of people aren't aware that the name of the cartoon character Harley Quinn comes from the word harlequin, which describes a type of pantomime jester found in Italian plays and often causing all kinds of mischief (hence the connection to the villain). Now, the origin of the word harlequin is quite interesting. Firstly, there were a lot of variations of it through Old French, including halequin, herlequin, hellequin, and harlicken, Somewhere in all of these alterations, the meaning had changed, deviating from the original definition of "malignant spirit" or general demonic entity. Etymologists further trace this to be named after Herla King (or, in the Old English spelling, Herla Cyning), a mythical leader of a Germanic Wild Hunt, who was believed to have caused quite a bit of mischief himself. The name of this fictional elf-king figure is quite possibly correlated to that of the Herules tribe. We're not sure where this comes from, but as the tribe is East Germanic, it makes sense that the word is too.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.