Weyland: The Etymology of a Name

Names of characters and corporations in fiction can often give us an indication of their natures: sometimes writers will give deep consideration to names, other times the meaning is just coincidental, a name is picked simply because it sounds appropriate. While there is little information on how the name was chosen, Weyland seems to be a fitting choice for both the man and his company.

 

As you may be aware, the Weyland Yutani name is as old as the Alien franchise itself, making a subtle appearance on the beer cans in Alien(1979).

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The intention is clear, to show a future where East and West are united, a very European name married with a very Japanese one, that was likely the extent of the thought behind it. Ron Cobb, a concept artist on Alien , says “one of the things I enjoyed most about Alien was its subtle satirical content. Science fiction films offer golden opportunities to throw in little scraps of information that suggest enormous changes in the world. There’s a certain potency in those kinds of remarks. Weylan Yutani for instance is almost a joke, but not quite. I wanted to imply that poor old England is back on its feet and has united with the Japanese, who have taken over the building of spaceships the same way they have now with cars and supertankers. In coming up with a strange company name I thought of British Leyland and Toyota, but we couldn’t use “Leyland-Toyota” in the film. Changing one letter gave me “Weylan”, and “Yutani” was a Japanese neighbor of mine”(“Weyland-Yutani Corporation,” n.d.).

Though there does not appear to be any deeper significance in the change in spelling in Aliens(1986), I am rather curious as to why this was done. Weylan (and any variation of it) simply translates to “roadside land” and is not connected to any particular historical or mythological figure, the addition of the ‘D’ does not change its literal translation, but may have been added to give it richer semiotic value. Weyland, a name that has a multitude of spellings, may reference a somewhat obscure Northern mythical figure – Wayland the Smith; Germanic in origin, any fan of European mythology will have noticed that many names have dozens of variants. The most famous, Odin, is also written as Odinn, Wodin, Woden, Wuotan and Wotan. This is because these characters and names were shared between cultures and passed down orally through the generations. The Norse myths, made popular now because of Marvel’s Thor and the History Channel’s Vikings, were spoken in Old English, Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Norse, as well as more contemporary modern European dialects.

Weyland the Smith was also a name with a number of variations, Wayland, Wieland (Modern German), Wēland (Old English), Völundr (Old Norse), Wiolant (Old High German) just to reference a few spelling variations. But what is significant about this character?

Franks Casket FrontFront of the Franks Casket depicting the hamstrung Weyland on the far left

The story of Weyland tells the tale of a master smith, who’s creative skills were unmatched and a source of envy for those around him. He is even said to have forged armour for Beowulf. These creative skills are where the parallels between Weyland Smith and Sir Peter Weyland begin and end, but that alone is a fitting choice for the name of a billionaire industrialist. Certainly more so than Yutani, which literally just means “hot spring valley”. It is uncertain whether or not he is a god, mortal man or some other kind of creature, some sources even refer to him as a “fairy-smith”(Atlantic Religion, 2015) or a “prince of the elves”(Gutenberg, n.d.).

As with most myths there are many, many variations, some involve him marrying a Valkyrie or a Swan Maiden, but the essential details are as follows: A tyrannical Swedish king enslaves Weyland and has him hamstrung to prevent him from escaping. Weyland is forced to forge weapons, armor and jewelry for the king for many years, in that time he also gains the trust of the royal children. a calculated move, eventually enacting his revenge: murdering the king’s two young sons, crafting their skulls into drinking cups for the king, their eyes into brooches for the queen, and their teeth into a collar for the princess. The princess gets the worst deal, as Weyland also rapes and impregnates her. Finally, he devised a means to escape by flight (how is not specified), but not before, cruelly gloating, revealing his acts to the defeated king(Gutenberg, n.d.).

Such gruesome and disproportionate acts of vengeance don’t relate to Peter directly at all… As far as we know! Overall, the cruelty and lack of empathy fits right in with the Weyland Yutani brand, and by extension the cold, cruel world of the entire Alien universe. As far as I am able to discern, there is no evidence that the creators of Aliens knew about the myth of Weyland the Smith, but if they did, it was an appropriate choice in the fact that it captures the sentiments of the franchise without being an overt reference.

References

Gutenberg, P. (n.d.). Völundarkviða | Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing – eBooks | Read eBooks online. Retrieved from http://www.self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/V%C3%B6lundarkvi%C3%B0a

Wayland Revisited: A Pan-European God? (2015, December 9). Retrieved from https://atlanticreligion.com/2015/12/08/wayland-revisited-a-pan-european-god/

Weyland-Yutani Corporation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://avp.wikia.com/wiki/Weyland-Yutani_Corporation