In her early notes for the series, she came up with 40 names to use for Hogwarts students. They’re often alliterative, whimsical, and have a kind of Latin-based stodginess to them. The names,as with Rowling’s magical spells, have specific linguistic and historical roots that say something about how she thinks about her characters.
Here are the meanings behind 46 names from the “Harry Potter” universe.
Harry Potter’s name is all about his leadership qualities.
The last name “potter” is a common English, Dutch, and northern German name that refers to, well, people who make pots. “Harry,” though, is Middle English version of the name “Henry,” according to Pottermore, which is a name taken by many kings of England. It’s a nod at his role as a leader in the wizarding community.
Ronald Bilius Weasley’s name refers to his status as Harry’s sidekick.
The name “Ronald” is an anglicized name derived from the Old Norse name “Rögnvaldr,” which refers to a ruler’s adviser. That’s the role Ron somewhat plays in the series, as Harry’s sidekick.
“Bilius” – who is also Ron’s uncle – sounds like the word “bilious,” which means “full of bile.” That could refer to a liver disorder, but it also sometimes means “ill-tempered,” in a reference to the four temperaments of the Greek humours, which is more likely. Ron isn’t exactly emotionally mature.
As for “Weasley,” it sounds a lot like “weasel,” which isn’t a popular animal. Rowling herself likes them, though. In a now-deleted post on her website, she wrote that “since childhood I have had a great fondness for the family mustelidae; not so much malignant as maligned, in my opinion.”
Hermione Jean Granger’s name is more a reflection of her parents than her own personality.
Rowling got the name “Hermione” from William Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale,” but she doesn’t think her character and Shakespeare’s version have much in common. She said the name is a reflection of her parents, “a pair of professional dentists, who liked to prove how clever they were.” The name itself is older than that – Hermione is the daughter of Helen of Troy and King Menelaus in Greek mythology.
Rowling also made sure the name was uncommon because she “didn’t want a lot of fairly hard-working little girls to be teased if ever the book was published.”
At some point in drafting the books, Rowling changed Hermione’s middle name. In the books, it wasn’t encoded as “Jean” until “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” where she’s in Dumbledore’s will. Prior to that, Rowling said in interviews that her middle name was actually “Jane,” but she later changed it because she didn’t want her to share a middle name with Dolores Umbridge. “Jean” is also the middle name of Rowling’s daughter Mackenzie, and it’s rooted in a Latin word meaning “god is gracious.”
“Granger” is a somewhat common English and French name, an occupational name that refers to a farm worker who dealt with grain. Rowling also once considered “Puckle” as Hermione’s last name.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore has a meaning for each of his many names.
“Albus” is Latin for “white,” which could have some kind of symbolic explanation, but could also just refer to his beard.
“Percival” was one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. He was the original knight to search for the lost grail. Rowling could have chosen the name to refer to Dumbledore’s bravery, sense of history, and inquisitiveness. It’s also notable that Dumbledore died soon after drinking from a chalice, which contained one of Voldemort’s horcruxes.
“Wulfric” is an Anglo-Saxon name that means “wolf ruler or “wolf power.” Dumbledore doesn’t really have anything to do with wolves, as far as we know, so Rowling may have been nodding to Wulfric of Haselbury, a 12th-century British figure who was known as a miracle worker.
“Brian” is often thought to be derived from an Old Celtic word that roughly means “noble,” but I suspect Rowling was making a tongue-in-cheek joke by putting an exceptionally normal name alongside all the other Rowling-esque ones.
And finally, “Dumbledore” is an Old English word for “bumblebee.” “Because Albus Dumbledore is very fond of music, I always imagined him as sort of humming to himself a lot,” Rowling said in a 1999 interview.”
Tom Marvolo Riddle, of course, can also be rearranged to spell “I am Lord Voldemort” — but it also has its own meanings.
The name “Tom” is one of the most common names in the world, which speaks to how anonymous and underappreciated Riddle felt when he was younger, before he became Lord Voldemort. He changed it precisely because of how common it was.
“Thomas” is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “twin,” which could be a reference to his unique connection with Harry Potter.
“Marvolo” mashes together “marvellous” and the Latin term “volo,” which can mean either “to desire” or “to move rapidly.” Voldemort rapidly ascended into becoming a famous and terrifying figure.
In the grand tradition of Rowling using Shakespeare for inspiration, “Marvolo” could also be a refence to the character Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” the main antagonist in the play. His most famous line is “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em,” which are among the last words Dumbledore tells Harry before he faces off with Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest.
And finally, “Riddle” might just be a nod to how the young Tom wasn’t the boy he seemed. When Harry first saw the younger version of him, it was through memories in his diary in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Tom Riddle turned out to be someone quite different than an innocent Hogwarts student.
As for “Voldemort,” it’s a name the character fashioned for himself. In French, “vol de mort” means “flight of death.”
Neville Longbottom’s name is just a joke.
Rowling was probably just trying to have some fun with this name. His last name certainly didn’t help when it came to being teased in school. But at the same time, Rowling has always been clear about how fond she was of Neville as a character.
“Neville is actually quite a tragic figure to me,” Rowling said in an interview. “There’s a lot of Neville in me – this feeling of just never being quite good enough.”
Rubeus Hagrid is known for taking a drink.
“Hagrid [is] another old English word,” Rowling said in a 1999 interview. “If you were hagrid – it’s a dialect word – you’d had a bad night. Hagrid is a big drinker – he has a lot of bad nights.”
“Rubeus,” as Pottermore notes, may come from the Latin “rubeo,” which roughly means reddish, which is the colour Hagrid’s face turns when he starts drinking.
Even Draco Malfoy’s name makes him sound like a bad guy.
Draco’s first name is Latin for “dragon,” which says something about how his parents thought about power, and it’s also name name given to an Athenian lawmaker known for his harsh and strict laws, which is a reflection of how Draco treats the people around him.
As for his last name, “mal” is French for “evil,” which neatly situated him in the moral stratum of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” “Foy,” according to Pottermore, is a reference to the French word “foi” which means “faith” or “belief.” Rowling is telling us that his whole family has evil beliefs – the allegiance to blood purity that she rails so much against.
Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s dad, has similar dimensions to his name.
Lucius was a name for a few different Roman royal figures, most of whom were also Draconian. In King Arthur legends, one of Arthur’s rivals was the Roman politician Lucius Tiberius, which sort of parallels the rivalry between Lucius Malfoy and Arthur Weasley.
The name could also be another Shakespeare reference: Lucius is a character in “Julius Caesar” who’s allied with Brutus in his plot to kill the emperor. In the “Harry Potter” books, Lucius Malfoy is a government figure who, it turns out, supported Lord Voldemort in his plot to take over the Ministry of Magic.
Narcissa doesn’t have the best qualities, either.
Rowling evokes the vain characteristics of the Malfoy family with Narcissus, a character from Greek mythology who loved his beauty so much that he stared at his reflection until he died.
Sirius Black’s name is a pun.
Sirius is the name of the brighest star that can be seen from Earth at night. It’s also known as the Dog Star and is part of Canis Major, the Great Dog constellation. As an animagus, Sirius can transform into a dog.
Bellatrix Lestrange is also named after a star.
Sirius’s cousin Bellatrix is also named after a star. Bellatrix is the 25th-brightest star in the sky and, in Latin, is a feminine term meaning “war-like.” “Lestrange” probably refers to how weird she is.
Remus Lupin’s name gives away that he’s a werewolf.
If you didn’t know that Lupin was a werewolf by the time it was revealed in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” you should have taken a closer look at his name. “Lupin” is derived from the Latin “lupinus,” which means “of a wolf.” Remus is a figure from Roman mythology who was raised by a wolf.
Gellert Grindelwald, Dumbledore’s friend and nemesis, has a parallel name.
Grindelwald appeared only briefly in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” but he’s going to be a huge part of the rest of the series. “Gellert” is a name with Hungarian roots that roughly means “spear,” which doesn’t have a clear connection to the character. But “Grindelwald” sounds like a reference to Grendel, the monster villain in the Old English epic poem “Beowulf.” It’s also parallel to Dumbledore’s middle name “Wulfric,” as some people have noted.
Newt Artemis Fido Scamander’s name refers to his affinity with animals.
Newts are a type of salamander. Though the character’s full name, “Newton,” is a common name derived from “new town.”
Artemis is a Greek goddess of the wilderness, which dovetails nicely with Newt’s interests and talents.
“Fido” is a common name for pet dogs, and it means “faithful.”
“Scamander” just sounds a lot like “salamander,” and it’s also the name of a minor Greek river god.
Porpentina Goldstein has a prickly personality, like a porcupine.
“Goldstein” is a common Jewish surname of Germanic origin and refers to people who work with gold. So it can mean “goldsmith,” but also possibly “alchemist.”
“Porpentina” is an archaic version of “porcupine,” and could refer to the character’s prickly demeanour.
Percival Graves is another King Arthur reference.
“Percival” – also one of Dumbledore’s middle names – was one of King Arthur’s knights, while “Graves” is a gloomy-sounding name that could have tipped viewers off about the character’s untrustworthiness in “Fantastic Beasts.”
Rowling liked “Bartemius Crouch” so much that she used it twice.
Crouch Senior and Junior are two significant characters in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” “Bartimeaus” is New Testament figure, a blind man healed by Jesus. The name could be ironic, since Barty Crouch Sr. didn’t realise his son was impersonating Mad-Eye Moody. “Crouch” is a common last name derived from “cross.”
Even Fleur Isabelle Delacour’s name is unusually beautiful.
“Fleur” is French for “flower,” “Isabelle” comes from the French word “belle,” meaning “beautiful,” and “de la cour” means “from the court.” So her name means “beautiful flower from the court.”
Cedric Diggory could be a nod to “Narnia” author C.S. Lewis.
Cedric is a common incorrectly spelled version of “Cerdic,” a sixth-century Saxon king.
His last name may come from “Sir Degare,” an obscure Middle English poem. It might also be a reference to Digory Kirke, a character from C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia,” of which Rowling is a fan.
Amos, Cedric’s father, is named after a Biblical prophet. In Hebrew, the name is related to the word “burden,” which Amos must carry after his son’s death.
Rowling picked the Dursley family names because she didn’t like them.
Both “Dudley” and “Dursley” are the names of areas in England – Rowling got them by looking at a map.
“The surname ‘Dursley’ was taken from the eponymous town in Gloucestershire, which is not very far from where I was born,”Rowling wrote on Pottermore. “I have never visited Dursley, and I expect that it is full of charming people.”
She’s also acknowledged that naming such an unlikable family after the town might have its consequences.
“I don’t imagine I’m very popular in Dursley,” Rowling once said in an interview.
As for Dudley’s parents, the names were chosen because of their emotional associations.
“‘Vernon’ is simply a name I never much cared for. ‘Petunia’ is the name that I always gave unpleasant female characters in games of make believe I played with my sister, Di, when we were very young,” Rowling wrote.
Argus Filch, the caretaker of Hogwarts, is always keeping a lookout for those pesky kids.
In Greek mythology, Argus was a giant hundred-eyed watchman. Like Filch in the “Harry Potter” novels, he seemed to be able to see anything, even the conversations held in obscure corridors in the castle. “Filch” is British slang for casual stealing, which has less obvious connections to Filch’s character.
Rowling has made no secret of how much she disliked Cornelius Fudge.
“Cornelius” is a common name and comes from the New Testament. But with the Minister for Magic’s middle and last names, “Oswald” and “Fudge,” Rowling reveals what Fudge’s politics were all along.
“Oswald” is likely a reference to Oswald Mosley, the leading British fascist politician in the lead-up to World War II, who supported Adolf Hitler. Fudge is also a lot like Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who tried to avoid war with Hitler. Taken together, the name reflects Rowling’s distaste for the British politicians who allowed Hitler to get away with his crimes, like as Fudge denied the return of Voldemort at the end of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
“Fudge,” as a verb, means to “present or deal with (something) in a vague, noncommittal, or inadequate way, especially so as to conceal the truth or mislead,” according to the Oxford Dictionaries, which also sounds a lot like how Fudge ran the ministry.
Rufus Scrimgeour wasn’t afraid to take on Voldemort.
In the books, Scrimgeour replaced Fudge and Pius Thicknesse as the Minister for Magic – one who tried to hunt down Voldemort head on instead of cowering before it. The name makes sense.“Scrimgeor” is a Scottish clan name derived from a phase that means “someone who skirmishes.” “Rufus” comes from the Latin word meaning “red-haired.”
Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank is perhaps Rowling’s most delightful name. It suits someone who looks after animals.
Grubbly-Plank has all the hallmarks of a great J.K. Rowling name. She’s a minor character – temporarily replacing Hagrid as a Care of Magical Creatures professor at Hogwarts – but Rowling gifted her with an elaborate name anyway.
“Wilhelmina” is Germanic in origin and means “willing to protect,” which makes sense for a character who looked after magical animals. “Grubbly” sounds a lot like “grubby,” which means “dirty” and is how someone feels after handling bowtruckles all day. And “plank” is another word for a straight, wooden floorboard, which gives the same sense of boring stability she represented as a professor.
Gregory Goyle isn’t much more than Draco’s bodyguard.
“Gregory” is derived from a Greek word meaning “watchful” or “alert,” and could refer to how he’s a sort of bodyguard for Draco Malfoy. His last name sounds like “Gargoyle,” the types of statues that look over Gothic-style buildings, which also refers to how he looks over Malfoy and also gives him a foreboding vibe.
Vincent Crabbe is invested in Malfoy’s ambitions.
“Vincent” is derived from the Latin “vincere,” which means “to conquer” and is parallel to what he wants to accomplish with Goyle and Malfoy. “Crabbe” might refer to his crabby, irritable attitude.
Salazar Slytherin is named after a Portuguese dictator.
The Hogwarts founder’s name comes from, as Rowling noted, António Salazar, a 20th-century Portuguese dictator.
“Slytherin” sounds like “slithering” which, you know, is how a snake gets around.
Godric Gryffindor is definitely Rowling’s favourite Hogwarts founder.
“Godric” is derivative of the Old English name “Godrich,” which basically means “good person.” So no mystery there about which Hogwarts house Rowling sided with the most.
The last three letters of “Gryffindor” – “d’or” – are French “golden,” one of the colours of the house. A griffin is a mythological beast that’s part lion and part eagle.
Rowling found Gilderoy Lockhart’s name on a random war memorial.
“I was looking for quite a glamorous, dashing sort of surname, and Lockhart caught my eye on this war memorial, and that was it,” Rowling told the BBC.
She said she found “Gilderoy” while looking through the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. She found the name “Gilderoy” as belong to “a highway man, and a very good-looking rogue.”
“Gilderoy Lockhart, it just sounded perfect,” Rowling said. “Impressive, and yet, in the middle, quite hollow, of course.”
Xenophilius Lovegood loves weird things.
A “xenophile” is someone who loves weird things, and the Lovegood family is nothing if not xenophilic. “Lovegood” refers to the inherent goodness of the people in that family, even if they do believe in conspiracy theories and even though Xenophilius betrayed Harry to Voldemort.
Minerva McGonagall’s name is a joke about a terrible English poet.
Minerva is the Roman name for Athena, goddess of wisdom and justice, which suits the Hogwarts professor’s values.
As for the last name? It’s a jokey reference to William McGonagall, who the Independent called “the worst poet in the English language.”
“William McGonagall is celebrated as the worst poet in British history,” Rowling wrote on Pottermore. “There was something irresistible to me about his name, and the idea that such a brilliant woman might be a distant relative of the buffoonish McGonagall.”
Garrick Ollivander was born to be a wandmaker.
“It is said that the name means ‘he who owns the olive wand’,” Rowling wrote on Pottermore, “which suggests that the original Ollivander arrived in Britain from a Mediterranean country (olive trees not being native to the UK).”
Garrick is Old English for “one who governs with a spear,” perhaps a reference to the shape of wands.
Kingsley Shacklebolt has an appropriately royal name for a person who becomes the Minister for Magic.
A shacklebolt is the metal part of a chained shackle that holds it closed. When she named the character, Rowling could have been referring to the character’s focus on security, or she could have been making a vague comment about bondage and slavery, because Shacklebolt is one of the few black characters in the “Harry Potter” universe. Rowling also includes a pun in his name – his Patronus is a Lynx, which sounds like the “links” of a chain.
“Kingsley,” on the other hand, has connotations of royalty. He uses the code name “Royal” in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and becomes Minister for Magic after Voldemort falls.
Rita Skeeter’s name likens her to a mosquito.
Skeeter syndrome is a disease that’s spread through mosquito bites. Of course, Rowling would name the gossip columnist after a bloodsucking insect.
Horace Eugene Flaccus Slughorn is obsessed with good breeding, but he has some good characteristics.
The Roman poet Horace was known for his witty and well-mannered writing that nonetheless contained serious critiques of his society at the time. In poems written about him, he’s often depicted as being friends with other famous Roman poets, like Virgil, so that could be a reference to how Slughorn likes to create a coterie of powerful friends around him.
“Eugene” is Greek for “well-born” (sounding kind of like “good genes”), which alludes to Slughorn’s status as a Slytherin and proponent of nepotism.
“Slughorn” is a word in a Gaelic dialect that “slogan” is derived from, basically meaning “war cry.” It could be a reference to the ultimately moral convictions Slughorn holds. He did, after all, help defend Hogwarts in the Battle of Hogwarts in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
Nymphadora Tonks’s unusual name doesn’t hint at her shape-shifting abilities.
You’d think that if Rowling went through such lengths to come up with “Nymphadora,” then she’d make it a reference to Tonks being a Metamorphmagus, or someone who can naturally magically change their appearance. “Nymphadora” seems to reference nymphs, who were instead divine, beautiful figures in Greek mythology that inhabited streams and forests.
To “tonk” is a slang term for striking something. Tonks is one of the testiest members of The Order of the Phoenix, always fighting Death Eaters.
Sybill Trelawney’s name references Greek oracles.
On Pottermore, Rowling offers several explanations for how she named this character.
“Sybill’s first name is a homonym of ‘Sibyl’, which was a female clairvoyant in ancient times,” Rowling wrote. “My American editor wanted me to use ‘Sibyl’, but I preferred my version, because while it keeps the reference to the august clairvoyants of old, it is really no more than a variant of the unfashionable female name ‘Sybil’.”
As for her last name, Rowling wanted to try out a Cornish surname, which she hadn’t done until the third book.
“I did not want to call her anything comical, or which suggested chicanery, but something impressive and attractive,” Rowling wrote. “‘Trelawney’ is a very old name, suggestive of Sybill’s over-reliance on her ancestry when seeking to impress.”
Dolores Jane Umbridge is one of the most despised characters Rowling ever invented.
Rowling modelled her most detestable character after a teacher she hated, as she wrote in Pottermore. Her name is a reflection of her characteristics.
“Umbridge’s names were carefully chosen,” Rowling wrote.
‘Dolores’ means sorrow, something she undoubtedly inflicts on all around her. ‘Umbridge’ is a play on ‘umbrage’ from the British expression ‘to take umbrage’, meaning offence. Dolores is offended by any challenge to her limited world-view; I felt her surname conveyed the pettiness and rigidity of her character. It is harder to explain ‘Jane’; it simply felt rather smug and neat between her other two names.
Rowling’s animal names also have hidden meanings, like the giant spider Aragog.
The Acromantula – a sort of giant deadly magical spider – comes from “ara,” short for “arachnid.”
“Gog” has a darker meaning. In Jewish or Christian eschatology, it refers to a figure or nation involved in apocalyptic prophecies.
Nagini’s name indicates she isn’t any ordinary snake.
In Sanskrit, Nagini literally means “a being taking the form of a great snake.” It not just any normal snake. That might have been a hint to Nagini being a Horcrux, because she contained a fragment of Voldemort’s soul.
Peeves the Poltergeist is named because he annoys everyone.
To be “peeved” is to be annoyed. As Rowling wrote in Pottermore, “Peeves is well-named, for he has been a pet peeve of every Hogwarts caretaker from Hankerton Humble (appointed by the four founders) onwards.”
Mundungus Fletcher’s parents must have thought very little of him.
“Fletcher” is a last name that refers to “fletching,” which is part of the process of making an arrow. It doesn’t provide any obvious insight into his name. “Mundungus,” though, is an archaic word that means poor quality, bad-smelling tobacco, which is also how people tend to think about the thief.
Pomona Sprout is a great name for a herbology teacher.
Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit trees, and “sprout” is another reference to her plant cultivation.
Fenrir Greyback’s name references a wolf monster from Norse mythology.
Fenrir, a son of Loki, was a dangerous wolf in Norse myths. It’s a name that suits a character who’s a murderous werewolf. “Greyback” might be a reference to his appearance as a wolf when he transforms into one.
Alastor Moody is named after Zeus.
“Alastor,” in Ancient Greek, was another name for Zeus, meaning “avenger.” It’s a reference to Moody’s uncompromising judicial philosophy as a law-enforcement officer.
The meaning of his nickname, “Mad-Eye,” is more straightforward. He has a magical eye.
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