The nahuatl word “axolotl” describes an animal transformed from the Aztec god, Xolotl, brother to Quetzacoatl.
The axolotl is important in Aztec mythology. The word “axolotl” comes from the native Aztec language, or nahuatl, and roughly translates to: “water slave,” “water servant,” “water sprite,” “water player,” “water monstrosity,” “water twin,” or “water dog.” No one meaning can be considered correct to the exclusion of all others, any one of which is tenable and may have been an accepted connotation in living nahautl, in given contexts.
All of these names refer to the Aztec god, Xolotl, brother to Quetzacoatl. Xolotl was patron of the dead and ressurrected, (where he took the form of a dog,) and had exceptionally broad surveillance over games, twins, and monstrous and grotesque beings, including lifeforms with congenital deformities or other repulsive appearances. Aztec lore states that Xolotl, fearing his imminent sacrifice, threw himself into the water and transformed himself into an axolotl, among other things, to escape banishment from the earth, which would result in his death. As an axolotl, he was ultimately captured, killed, and fed to the sun and moon.
All of the forms Xolotl assumed were monstrous, ugly, or paired. The axolotl fits these themes with its supposed “ugly” features or through its twin relationship, in its aquatic form, to the terrestrial salamander, the two forms seemingly recognized as stages in the life cycle of a single species.