This is a rather pretentious name for somewhere to put a couple of posts I've made to rec.games.roguelike.nethack in the past and would like to have somewhere semi-permanent where I can refer to them and update them. It's an attempt at fathoming the meaning or references behind (initially) four aspects of NetHack: the scroll names, artifact names, god names, and shopkeepers. There's also a timeline of NetHack releases.
As a result of sterling research work (and archeological conjecture) by Ali Harlow, a tentative history of these can now be sketched. They were added to the game in three stages: Jay Fenlason devised eighteen for his original version of Hack, very few of which appear to have any meaning. Andries Brouwer removed three (Afkpu Zejotydin, Amgems Slak, and Orkael) and added nine more for his revised version; of these, several appear to have connotations associated with the scroll effect they happen to be assigned to in the definitions file (though they're shuffled before an actual game). Finally, KIRJE was added together with the mail code in Hack 1.0.2. Note that all of these predate the current DevTeam, so it's no use asking them.
What I believe to be the rgrn consensus on what meanings there are:
|ELBIB YLOH||Holy Bible|
|HACKEM MUCHE||"Hack 'em much"|
|JUYED AWK YACC||Unix tools ed(1), awk(1), yacc(1)|
|LEP GEX VEN ZEA|
|VELOX NEB||Starflight alien race?|
|VERR YED HORRE|
|DUAM XNAHT||amnesia||"Thanks, Maud"|
|FOOBIE BLETCH||(none)||Jargon 'foo', ('bar'?), 'bletch'|
|NR 9||confuse monster||The Beatles' "Revolution No. 9"?|
|PRATYAVAYAH||remove curse||Sanskrit, 'reverse annoyance'|
|READ ME||blank paper||Alice in Wonderland, software docs|
|VE FORBRYDERNE||punishment||Danish, 'beware, criminals!'|
|XIXAXA XOXAXA XUXAXA||scare monster||Spanish pronunciation -> manic laughter|
|YUM YUM||food detection||"Yum yum!"|
|KIRJE||Finnish, 'a letter'|
Note that various, highly implausible suggestions have been made to fill the gaps with anagrams, ROT13ing, and far-fetched homonyms. Unless it's very convincing, it's unlikely to be worth considering.
Earlier versions of this list were maintained by Peter Snelling, from work done by various rec.games.hack posters of the Ancient Days.
The NetHack artifacts are the usual mish-mash of famous weapons and other objects culled from literature, myth, D&D, and the DevTeam's own invention. An attempt at identifying the sources, where they exist, is below; assistance with filling in the "unknown" gaps is appreciated.
|Excalibur||Arthurian legend, Arthur's sword|
|Grayswandir||Roger Zelazny, "Amber" cycle, Corwin's sword|
|Snickersnee||Gilbert & Sullivan, "The Mikado", Ko-ko's sword|
|Orb of Detection||unknown|
|Sceptre of Might||D&D|
|Magic Mirror of Merlin||Edmund Spenser, "The Faerie Queene"|
|Mitre of Holiness||unknown|
|Tsurugi of Muramasa||Japanese swordsmith, but I don't know if he made a famous tsurugi in particular|
|Giantslayer||unknown (Jack the Giant-Killer's sword?)|
|Mjollnir||Norse mythology, Thor's hammer|
|Vorpal Blade||Lewis Carroll, "Jabberwocky"|
|Heart of Ahriman||Robert E. Howard, "Conan the Warrior"|
|Staff of Aesculapius||Greek mythology|
|Eyes of the Overworld||Jack Vance, "Dying Earth" cycle|
|Platinum Yendorian Express Card||obvious pun|
|Orb of Fate||unknown|
|Eye of the Aethiopica||unknown (something from Heliodorus?)|
|Orcrist||J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit", Thorin's sword|
|Sting||J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings", Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' sword|
|Stormbringer||Michael Moorcock, "Elric" cycle, Elric's sword|
|Longbow of Diana||Roman mythology|
|Master Key of Thievery||unknown|
|Dragonbane||unknown, but fairly generic|
|Fire Brand||Note that the D&D counterpart to Frost Brand was Flame Tongue|
|Trollsbane||unknown, but fairly generic|
|Werebane||unknown, but fairly generic|
|Bell of Opening||D&D Chime of Opening?|
|Candelabrum of Invocation||D&D Candle of Invocation?|
|Book of the Dead||Tibetan and Egyptian lore (papyrus, so presumably the latter)|
|Amulet of Yendor||rogue(6). From "Rodney", spelt backwards.|
The Bell, Candelabrum, and Book, though they have their own individual sources, derive as a ceremonial whole from the Roman Catholic rite of excommunication (not exorcism), which involves "bell, book, and candle".
The Amulet of Yendor's derivation gives rise to the question "Well, who was Rodney, then?" (usually asked about the nickname of the Wizard of Yendor, but that's a re-reversal, and the Amulet long pre-dates his appearance in the game); the answer is simply that "Michael [Toy, one of the authors of Rogue] thought it was a funny name and sounded sort of neat backwards", and so named the Amulet accordingly. Some microcomputer ports of Rogue had 'Rodney' as the default player name, but I don't believe this was the case for the original Unix rogue(6).
The mythoi from which NetHack draws its pantheons for each character class are documented in my gods-343.txt spoiler. A few references there may need elaboration: the "Hyborian" deities are drawn from the Conan novels of Robert E. Howard and others, "Nehwon" from Fritz Leiber's books about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and "Discworld" from Terry Pratchett's series of that designation. Additionally, Marduk (the Creator, referenced in the 'legacy' message at the start of the game) is Babylonian, and Moloch (the evil god in the game) is Canaanite. And finally, Elbereth (whose Hand you become when crowned as a lawful, and whose name is a ward against monsters when engraved) is from J.R.R. Tolkien's mythos (the Sindarin name of the Valië Varda), and Arioch (whose Glory you become when crowned as a chaotic) from Michael Moorcock's books about Elric of Melniboné (though Moorcock probably derived the name from one of the fallen angels in Milton's Paradise Lost).
The table of shopkeeper names is large enough that it is on its own separate page.
Contributors, correctors and clarifiers to the above lists either in their current forms or earlier ones:
David Blume, Boyan Brezinsky, Christian Cooper, Arto Hoikkala, Helge Hafting, Ali Harlow, David Moews, Dion Nicolaas, Heather Nicoll, Jerzy Pawlak, Kevin R, Rast, John Russell, Peter Snelling, Vitali, Liz Walsh, and Chris Waters.