Aug 26, 2011

Meaning of names in Harry Potter

The recent release of Harry Potter movie was a major event for fans worldwide, since it is the last movie in the series. The enormity of the farewell event could be felt in many different ways. When I went to watch the movie, lots of people were sitting outside the movie hall waiting to watch it. Ever since I came to US, I have never seen even a single person wait so faithfully to watch a movie, let alone a corridor full of them. Some were carrying Harry Potter books, some were dressed up as the characters, and most of them just excitedly discussing the plot. The excitement was palpable, and carried over to virtual world too. That night, five of the ten words on Twitter world trends were related to Harry Potter. In fact, as I watched, Voldemort was kicked out from the list only to be replaced “Mischief Managed”, a phrase used in Potterworld to turn off the Marauder’s Map (a paper version of Google Earth with live feed). This is perhaps the last time that Harry Potter is going to grab the world’s attention on this scale, I noted ruefully, because there are no more Harry Potter books or movies on the way. Consequently, this is also the perfect moment to put a spotlight on the amazing craft of JK Rowling who mesmerized the world.

Rowling has invented many names for magical objects in Harry Potter, and it might interest the fans to know that most of the names are not random. In fact, most of the inventive names are true to their meaning, like veritaserum. In Potter-world, when a person drinks veritaserum, they are compelled to tell the truth. This serum played an important role in the fourth book when Dumbledore poured it down the throat of a stupefied Barty Crouch, and out came the story of a death eater believed to be dead. The word veritaserum is made up of two words, verita and serum. “Verita” has its roots in verus, a Latin word meaning truth. It can be found in other truth related English words like verify (ascertain the truth of), veritable (true) and verisimilitude (likeness to truth). Even the frequently used word “very” originally used to mean true and genuine. The serum in Veritaserum is a generic word meaning fluid, many shampoos and conditioners are called “serum” these days, probably to make a plain old shampoo sound sophisticated.

There are many other interestingly named serums in Harry Potter. Amortentia, the so called love-potion, is one of them. The meaning of “amour” is love, and is found in many love related words like amorous (lovey-dovey) and paramour (lover). Amortentia plays a very important role in the story of Harry Potter. The arch villain Voldemort’s mother is in love with a wealthy and handsome muggle. But Merope is an unattractive woman who is described as possessing squint eyes, ragged clothing, and “a look of utter defeat”. She is only able to seduce her lover by using Amortentia. However, Voldemort’s father leaves her before the child is born, because as all Harry Potter fans know, Amortentia does not create love, it only induces a strong infatuation that wears out with the potion. The potion falsely named, because it is impossible to create love. It is, however, possible to create luck by bending circumstances in your favor, with the help of a shining golden potion called Felix Felicis. This is the lucky potion that Harry gets as a reward from Professor Slughorn, and which he later uses to gain information from Slughorn himself. Both the words Felix and Felicis are variations of a single word, felicity, which means happiness. While Felix is a first name, Felicis is not a word in regular English. However, felicitations may be wished for people on happy occasions. I have no doubt that a drought of Felix Felicis would make me very happy indeed.

Other things that make me happy can be found in the mirror of Erised. This mirror plays an important part in the first book. The first time that Harry sees it, he sees himself surrounded by his loving family, reflecting his heart’s desire. No wonder, because the name of the mirror “Erised” is just desire spelled backwards. Rowling takes many such little liberties with language. For example, spellotape, which is a tape used in the wizarding world, is a play on the word sellotape, the tape we normally use in real word. By adding a p in it, the tape sounds like it is made of spells. Omnicular is also a word coined in a similar fashion. In a real world, binoculars have just bi, or two functions, to increase or decrease the size of objects. In Harry Potter’s world, Omniculars allow you to zoom, pause, replay and do many other things, as Harry learned in the Quidditch world cup tournament (Though not too pleasantly, as Ron kept watching a random bloke pick his nose again and again). In other words, they have many (omni) functions.

The names of the four Hogwarts founders are equally interesting and fraught with meaning. Each of them is related to their house emblem. Godric Gryffindor’s last name is derived from Griffin, which is a legendary creature, part lion and part eagle. Remember that the symbol of Gryffindor house is a lion. Similarly, Rowena Ravenclaw’s last name can be dissected into two parts, raven, which means black, and claw, which are the nails of a bird. The eagle, which is the symbol of Ravenclaw house, has exactly such black claws. The emblem of the Hufflepuff house is the badger, which is a fluffy and furry animal. Of all the founder’s names, Hufflepuff’s matches least with its house emblem, the resemblance of Huffleppuff to a badger is vague. Salazar Slytherin’s last name, on the other hand, is a very precise reference to slithering snakes, which are its house emblems.
A griffin

And now we have come to an end of the discussion of meanings in seemingly random Harry Potter names. If you had not guessed, this was a desperate attempt to hold on the Harry Potter saga, and avoid saying goodbye to the beloved franchise (sob sob!) I bet millions of fans are inventing strategies like this even now, as we have spent exactly half of our lives mesmerized by Harry Potter. But now we can hold off the goodbye no longer. So here’s saying a farewell to Harry Potter! It was fun!

This post was published in the Kathmandu Post:


royal dude said...

amazing, i never thought of the names that way!

Anonymous said...

Raven is a bird - does it also mean black?
You can meet Harry Potter again if the movie The Troll: Rise of Harry Potter is made.

sewa said...

thanks royal dude.

annonymous, raven ca mean bird or black, i think black suits here more because the ravenclaw emblem is an eagle, not a raven

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