Harry Potter: What’s in a name?

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Students dressed up as Ron, Harry and Hermione show their cougar spirit.  Many names in the Harry Potter series have French and Latin influences. (Makenzie Jamias)
Students dressed up as Ron, Harry and Hermione show their cougar spirit. Many names in the Harry Potter series have French and Latin influences. (Makenzie Jamias)

Tom Riddle must’ve done some research when he chose the name Voldemort.

Voldemort, Remus Lupin, Draco Malfoy and Sirius Black are just a few of the names in the Harry Potter series that give great clues into their personalities. Voldemort is French for “flight of death.” Lupin is derived from Latin lupus, meaning “wolf,” and Remus was one of the mythological founders of Rome who was suckled by a she-wolf as a baby. Draco is Latin for “dragon,” and Malfoy means “bad faith” in French. Sirius is the dog star, the brightest star in the Canis Major (“Great Dog”) constellation.

Fiction readers may be able to understand a lot about a personality simply from analyzing the character’s name.

Knowing French or Latin can be particularly helpful in analyzing words and names in the Harry Potter books according to Daniel Manjarrez, a BYU student from Dallas double majoring in French and psychology. Though Manjarrez has never read the Harry Potter books, he has seen the movies and noticed the presence of French.

“Voldemort was pretty obvious,” Manjarrez said. “The key word is mor,’ which means death. I think that’s a pretty big clue to what Voldemort stands for. If you were to know certain words in languages, you don’t even necessarily have to know about the person. Just with the name you know what kind a person they are. But in French, the ‘T’ (in Voldemort) isn’t pronounced.”

Though Voldemort is pronounced with a ‘T’ in the films, J.K. Rowling said in a recent interview the T is supposed to be silent, as French pronunciation would dictate.

Tanner Dahl, a senior from Valencia, California who is studying business management, describes himself as a huge Harry Potter fan. Though he doesn’t know French or Latin, Dahl is aware of their influences in the books.

“I didn’t notice them when reading, but did after,” Dahl said. “I just saw them on a random website and thought they were really interesting. They make sense in context.” Dahl’s personal favorite is expecto patronum, which is Latin for “I await a guardian.”

Manjarrez agreed that they make sense in context. Not knowing much about the characters since he has never read the books, Manjarrez is still able to form ideas about certain people because of their names. “You don’t have to know about the person to know Malfoy is possibly an antagonist, the opposite of good and hopeful or anything Harry represents,” he said.

Simply having the knowledge of other languages adds insight into the lives of those characters

“Beauxbatons I would think would have an attractive, good connotation to it,” Manjarrez said. “Fleur Delacour would be flower of the court. Maxime would be something related to maximum, and it’s a name in French also.”

Morsmordre, the incantation to conjure the dark mark, has a significant meaning as well. “It’s a conjugated form of dying, and then to bite. So something or someone who’s maybe lethal or maybe who has been affected by death.”

Tabitha Brower is junior from Springville studying media arts. Brower has spoken French for 11 years, and began reading the Harry Potter series as a child. A big Harry Potter fan, Brower has been to King’s Cross station, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London and even The Elephant House in Edinburgh where Rowling wrote much of her early novels.

“I started reading them really young, but I remember recognizing Voldemort and Fleur Delacour,” Brower said. “It was helpful. It helps you to know more of what an author’s intents are. Voldemort can mean flight of death or thief of death and so as I got older and read about the horcruxes, it made more sense. It’s interesting because he cheats death and he flees death. He’s such an important character so I like that you can get that much from a name. ”

Manjarrez said analyzing the linguistics is “another approach to understanding fiction,” and Brower agrees. “In my film class we were talking about how there are a lot of clues as to a character’s relationships and what they’re like,” Brower said. “Sirius’ name, for example, pointed to the grim. Both Sirius’ and Lupin’s secrets are out there if you’re alert for it. I like that she (Rowling) gives you hints for characters.”

While books shouldn’t be judged by their covers, perhaps the characters within can be judged by their names.

Albus Dumbledore: Albus is Latin for white. Dumbledore is an old English world for “bumblebee.” Rowling says she imagines him wandering around the castle humming to himself, much like a bumblebee.

AragogAra from aranea which is Latin for spider. Gog refers to a legendary giant.

Draco Malfoy: Draco in Latin means a large serpent or dragon; also a tyrannical Athenian lawgiver. Malfoy means “bad faith” in French.

Hagrid: An old English word meaning you’d had a bad night. Hagrid was big drinker and had lots of bad nights.

Hedwig: “A saint.”

Fawkes: An allusion to Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up King James I of England during the opening of Parliament. Guy Fawkes Day is also known as Bonfire Night.

Minerva McGonagall: Minerva was the Roman goddess of Wisdom.

Remus Lupin: Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf as babies. On Potterwatch, his code name was Romulus. Lupin means wolf in Latin.

Severus Snape: Obvious connotations of severity and strictness. Rowling said “Snape” was the name of a place in England  that just stayed in her mind.

Sirius Black: Sirius is the “Dog Star,” the brightest star in the Canis Major (“Great Dog”) constellation. Technically, his name could translate to Dog Black, an obvious allusion to both his animagus and the Grim.

Weasley: A reference to weasels, which have had bad reputations as unfortunate and even malevolent animals in Britain and Ireland. Rowling was fond of them though and didn’t think of them as malignant.

Voldemort: Flight of death.

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