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What are the Origins of Some of the Names in the Harry Potter Novels?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Many readers have remarked on the name origins of characters in the Harry Potter novels, suggesting that they may provide hidden clues into the nature of the characters. Given J.K. Rowling's extensive research into and inclusion of mythology from a wide variety of nations, it seem probable that the name origins for her characters are important. Some of the names are clearly clever or amusing puns, like Peeves, while others have deeper meanings which reflect their characters and actions, such as Minerva McGonagall, with a double name reflecting strength, bravery, and female warriors.

One of the lengthiest names in the novels is, of course, Dumbledore's. His full name is Albus Percival Brian Wulfric Dumbledore, and each name individually adds to an overall description of who Dumbledore is. In old English, Albus means white, and is a name commonly used to reflect age and wisdom. Percival was one of the knights of the Round Table, and the name is used to suggest the bringing of peace and illumination. Brian is a traditional Irish name which literally means high, but could also be used to suggest noble birth. The name origins of Brian probably come from Brian Boru, an Irish king who died defending his people. St. Wulfric was a hermit, reflecting Dumbledore's sometimes lonely station in life, and Dumbledore is an old English word meaning bumblebee. Rowling has said that she chose “Dumbledore” because her mental image of Dumbledore included him wandering around the castle, humming to himself.

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The name origins of Harry and his family are also interesting. Potter is a relatively common name in England, and one which Rowling says she has always been fond of. Harry's name means power, while the name James means “supplanter.” Lily Evans, Harry's mother, also has a very interesting name. Lilies are flowers traditionally associated with death and rebirth, because they die back every year but sprout fresh leaves from the bulb buried in the soil. Evans means “young warrior.” The frequent inclusion of resurrection in the name origins of Rowling's characters also lends some insight to the books.

Harry's friends and advisers also have interesting name origins. Hermione is an Anglicized form of Hermes, the Greek messenger, and a name that is also associated with magic and earthiness. A granger is a common farmer, but also the name for a people's movement which was supposed to bring rights to farmers in the 17th century. Ron's name suggests that he is an adviser to kings, while his father, Arthur, has a name which means “leader.” Ginevra is an old name meaning evergreen, while the name origins of Rubeus Hagrid are a mixture of Celtic and Latin. In Latin, Rubeus means red or ruddy, probably a reference to Hagrid's complexion, while Hagrid may be a Gaelic pun on ha, for half, and Grid, the name of a fearsome giantess.

Other telling name origins include Alastor, or “defender of mankind” and Severus, which is probably a play on the word “severed,” suggesting that Severus Snape has cut himself off. Bellatrix Lestrange has an interesting name as well; Bellatrix means “female warrior,” while Lestrange may be a play on “stranger” or “estranged.” Fleur Delacour is the flower of the court, or the heart, depending on how one reads it, and Remus Lupin's name is a nod to his wolflike nature, as Romulus and Remus were raised by a wolf and Lupin means “wolf” in Latin.

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pastanaga
Post 4

@irontoenail - I don't think that these books were intended to be taken that seriously though. I mean, I don't want to dismiss them as fluff, because they aren't. But I also think that they have a sort of fairy tale logic, where characters can be named for their qualities rather than given names at random.

You could also speculate that someone like Sprout comes from a family who always worked with plants. It seems like the kind of society where children end up doing roughly the same thing that their parents did and that might be the origin of last names like that.

irontoenail
Post 3

@pleonasm - I don't mind Voldemort so much because it is revealed that he chose that name himself from his own name and it makes sense that he would pick something scary, or even, if you stretch it, something that means "running from death" which is what he spends the books attempting to do.

But generally I hate it when authors use clever names because it draws me out of the story. They have a herbology teacher called Mrs. Sprout, for example. Why would every person in that world just happen to completely fit their name? Is naming a child in the world of Harry Potter actually a way of controlling their future? Because that is what it seems like. Parents might hope that naming their child after knights and great leaders means that he or she will become a great leader, but the real world doesn't work like that.

pleonasm
Post 2

I love how much thought Rowling put into the names in Harry Potter. My absolute favorite, though, is Voldemort, which means "Flight of Death" in French.

Another really interesting fact is that Diagon Alley sounds like "diagonally" and Knockturn Alley sounds like "nocturnally" which work so well as names as well as puns. She really is a very clever author.

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