Jötunn (plural jötnar) are the oldest race of deities in Norse mythology. They are the descendants of the ancient giant Ymir. The name is derived from the verb to eat, which would translate as the gluttonous.
The plural word is used for both female and male members of this race. For the plural, the spelling Joten is also found in German.
The Jötnar live in Jötunheim, which lies beyond the earth inhabited by humans.
The ruler of this realm is Utgard Loki.
Some of the Jötnar are friendly to the Aesir and humans, for example Aegir and Mimir. Other Jötnar are hostile to the Aesir, Vanir and humans. Thor therefore has to fight them constantly. This conflict will continue until Ragnarok.
Are the Jötnar Giants?
The Jötnar are often translated as "giants", nevertheless there is no evidence that they were bigger than other gods. Only in the Utgardlokisage he is presented as a giant of enormous size, but it soon turns out that this was only a trick.
This leads especially in the English language to problems, because there - unlike in German - a word for giant does not exist. What one imagines by a giant in German can either refer to its size or to its characteristic as a "fearsome being".
In the English-speaking world, on the other hand, the word gigant is used only for size and ettin - which is a mythical creature with several heads - for the fearsome. Selvårv Stigård therefore suggested translating Jötnar as "Ettin" instead of the word "giant" to clarify the difference in meaning.