The word is probably derived from ‘athar,’ an obsolete word for fire, and hence means a priest connected with the worship of fire. According to Vedic mythology, Atharvan was son of Brahmā, the Creator. He first brought down fire from heaven and offered soma into it with the recitation of appropriate mantras learnt from his father. He is sometimes considered as the propagator of the fourth Veda which is hence called the Atharvaveda or the Atharvaṇaveda. His wife was Śānti, the daughter of Kardama Prajāpati. He is sometimes identified with Aṅgiras, called Atharvāṅgiras, and is considered as the father of Agni, the fire-god.

This word, as also the word Atharvāṅgiras, is sometimes used to indicate the descendants of this sage.

The word Atharvan also refers to the hymns of the Atharvaveda.