Apr 25, 2011

Remarkable names in Harry Potter

It’s been many years since the last Harry Potter book came out, and yet, Harry Potter continues to be just as alluring to the generation that grew up with it! Now that there is nothing left to read (sob sob) Harry Potter fans have to be satisfied with analyzing what is already there! Recently I got hooked to the names of characters in Harry Potter, which are very interesting. Many of the names are normal, like Harry Potter himself, but many others are steeped in mythology.

Rowling has penchant of giving names that match the personality of characters. To start with, Sirius is the name of the brightest star that can be seen from earth. It is no coincidence that this star is informally called the Dog Star because it is a part of a constellation called Canis Major or big dog. Remember, Sirius changes into a dog when he an animagi. The name of the werewolf Remus Lupin is derived from two different stories, but both mean the same thing. Remus was a mythical character who was raised by a wolf. He and his twin brother Romulus were the founders of Rome, and for that reason, Harry Potter fans (me included) often speculated that Lupin had a twin brother who would make a grand entrance at some point. Too bad it didn’t happen. Lupin, meanwhile, refers to the moon, which is supposed to turn him into a werewolf. The name of Luna Lovegood is a similar reference to moon which makes people go loony or mad.

Rowling seems to have given considerable thought to the names of schoolteachers. Dumbledore’s first name Albus signifies a lot of things. It means old, wise, white, or protector, and Dumbledore is all of them. Remember that his grave is completely white and he is called the White One at some point. Professor McGonagall’s first name is Minerva, who was the goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology. A very fitting name indeed for a brilliant witch, who was one of only eleven registered animagi in the century! Similarly, Sybil Trelawny’s first name means prophetess, which is what she is. Herbology is taught by Pomona Sprout, and Arithmancy by Septima Vector.

The names of a few negative characters are very fitting too. Draco Malfoy’s first name means dragon, and his family name Malfoy is related to Mal – a root word meaning evil in Latin. Later Draco names his son Scorpius, a reference to scorpions. Fenrir Greyback is a vicious werewolf we meet in the sixth book, and his name means “monstrous wolf ” in Norse mythology. Severus refers to severe character, and Severus Snape is indeed a very bitter person. A demented person is crazy, frenzied, and mad, and that is exactly how dementors make people feel.

Rowling also seems to like amusing old names that are no longer in use. Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, Hogwarts’ care of magical teacher for a couple years, is one of them. Wilhelmina is a female form of William and has long gone out of fashion. Neville’s family in particular seems to choose their names from the dregs of name dictionaries; I guess this is a way of showing that his family is traditional. Neville’s name itself is one of them, and so are his uncle Algie, grandmother Augusta and aunt Enid. Enid Blyton is the name of a beloved children’s writer, who died more than a hundred years ago, and the name we can say has died with her. Other names of minor characters like Ludovic Bagman, Bartemius Crouch and Cornelius Fudge are just some of those outdated names. She also likes to sprinkle them around for random characters, like Archie, the old man who insisted on wearing women's housecoats in the fourth book. Probably the most interesting outdated name belongs to Ginny, her name is not Virginia as many people had believed. Her full name is spelt out only once, at Bill and Fleur’s wedding when Aunt Muriel says that “Ginevra’s dress is far too low cut”. Ginevra is a unique variation of Guinevere, which is an already unique name in the first place. The only Guinevere I know of in literature is the wife of King Arthur of Camelot. The meaning of the name is "fair and white", a fitting name for the attractive Ginny with many fans.

Rowling has also used other classical and mythological names for minor characters. Dedalus Diggle is an excited character who shoots sparklers into the air to celebrate the death of Voldemort in the first book, and later is the most excited member of Harry’s guard. That sounds very much like the Dedalus from Greek myths, an eccentric man who built wings out of feathers and candle wax and flied out of prison. Nymphadora is commonly known as Tonks because she doesn’t like her classical name, but her whole family seems to have classical names. Nymphadora is a reference to nymphs, or beautiful maidens, in Greek mythology. Her mother is called Andromeda, the beautiful wife of Greek hero Perseus. The constellation Andromeda, which is the nearest constellation to our galaxy, is named after her. Andromeda’s sister is called Bellatrix, which means female warrior (again, very fitting for this extremely aggressive woman). Her other sister is Narcissa, mother of Draco. Narcissa seems to be a reference to Narcissus, a vain man in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection and died watching it. Though the name has obvious negative connotations, Narcissa Malfoy is not a major character so we don’t know whether or not she is vain. Hermione is one of those classical names too, it is the name of Helen's daughter, a very minor character in the Greek myth Iliad. Hermione is the female form of Hermes, the messenger god, who is also the patron of travelers, thieves, storytellers, and commerce. This name does not seem to be related to Hermione's character. Rowling has said that she wanted a unique name for Hermione. Just in case the book became popular, she didn't want a lot of nerdy girls teased with the name of the character. And Hermione is a truly unique name that I doubt anyone else had at that time.

Though I seem to have run out my limits for an article, I have by no means exhausted the study of names in Harry Potter. I am sad that I could not incorporate more fun names at once, but at the same time, I guess it’s a good thing that with Harry Potter, the fun is never exhausted!

P.S. No, the fun is never exhausted, I keep finding new meanings so I am going to add them here as notes

1. Pomona Sprout is the teacher of herbology, and the connection of her surname 'Sprout' to her subject has already been mentioned. I also found out Pomona is an early Roman deity of orchards and gardens.

2. Like Sirius, whose name is associated with stars, Lupin's name is also pretty sidereal. There is a constellation called Lupus which is informally called the wolf constellation.

3. Argus is the name of a hundred eyed giant in Greek mythology who guards. In Harry Potter, Argus Filch is the vulture eyed caretaker of the castle.

4. Sybil Trelawney's prophetess great grandmother is called Cassandra, and Cassandra is a princess with prophetic powers in Iliad. Actually, Sybil should have been named Cassandra, because in Iliad, nobody believes Cassandra, and in Harry Potter, everyone thinks Sybil is a fake.

5. Alecto Carrow is one of the death eaters who enters Hogwarts as a teacher in the seventh. She is also in the scene of Dumbledore's death. Alecto is the name of one of the furies in Greek mythology, and she is a nasty person who sprang from the castrated blood of Uranus. The meaning of her name is "implacable anger."

6. There is also a Dragon constellation, but this is pretty tangential since Draco Malfoy is not as closely related to a dragon as Sirius and Remus are to dog and wolf.



Nimitta said...

That was a really good article, I enjoyed very much reading it. Thank you Sewa di! You surely have a vast knowledge overall.
Its always good to read your stuff.

Nimitta said...

Also, for the poll, I am the one voting for "Other" because I think Hermione's name is more interesting than the rest of them of whom you probably forgot to comment on your article. Or you couldn't find a story about her name to comment on.
Her name is extremely interesting to me. I wonder how Rowling came up with that name.

sewa said...

thanks for reminding me nimmu, and i m so glad u like it :)

bipul amatya said...

I really loved this article...so many new things

Yug zee Tah said...

Wooooow i love this. kya dammi research. hermione is helen's daughter, is she not? i loveeee it i cant choose just one.

sewa said...

thanks for liking, im so glad :)
Yes, she is Helen's daughter, as I have mentioned :).
Her name though has little relation to her character, I think. Hermione is the female form of Hermes, the messenger god, who is also the patron of travelers, thieves, storytellers, and commerce.

I just remembered, Sybil Trelawney's great grandmother is called Cassandra, and Cassandra is a princess with prophetic powers in Iliad. Actually, Sybil should have been named Cassandra, because in Iliad, nobody believes Cassandra.

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