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By Any Other Name: What Harry Potter Names Mean

Names in fiction are an excellent way to give readers a clue as to the personality or nature of a character—whether it’s in their nicknames, their first names, or their last names, the way characters are referred to in stories like Harry Potter are important.

Remus Lupin, for example. When Remus Lupin was a child, a werewolf bit him, and that bite turned Remus into a werewolf as well. This didn’t stop him from becoming a Hogwarts professor, or from having a group of loyal and dedicated friends. The interesting thing is Lupin’s name. Remus is actually also the name of a mythological figure. Legends about Remus and his brother Romulus detailed that they were raised by a she-wolf—and that they founded Rome. Like the legendary Remus, Professor Lupin manages to overcome his past and rise to great heights. Another interesting point about Lupin’s name is that ‘lupin’ is actually related to the Latin word for wolf. It seems that Remus Lupin was destined to be associated with wolves (and werewolves) from birth.

Sirius Black is Harry Potter’s godfather, as well as a close personal friend of Remus Lupin. While they were students at Hogwarts, Sirius, along with James Potter and Peter Pettigrew, studied and trained to become an Animagus, or a wizard who can transform into an animal. The animal that Sirius chose to take on the appearance of is a big, black dog—one that other characters routinely mistake for being a Grim, a particularly nasty omen of death. Astronomically speaking, Sirius is the brightest star of the Canis Major or “Great Dog” constellation. This association has led to the star/star system of Sirius being colloquially referred to as the “Dogstar”.

Merope Gaunt, the mother of Tom Marvolo Riddle, Jr. (who would later become Lord Voldemort) is named after the youngest of the Pleiades, the companions of Artemis. They were the daughters of the Titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione, and share their name with the star-cluster of Pleiades. In the mythology, Merope married Sisyphus, a mortal. After bearing him several sons, she faded away—this is in part because she was becoming mortal. It is interesting to note that Merope Gaunt died after giving birth to Tom Riddle, Jr. In some ways, there seems to be a reflection of the Merope of myth in the Merope of Harry Potter.

Tom Marvolo Riddle was Voldemort’s name, before he took up the mantle of Dark Lord. In both the book and the movie, it is revealed that Tom Riddle’s full name is actually an anagram of “I Am Lord Voldemort”. This means that when the books were translated into different languages, in order to translate the anagram with the name, the name of Voldemort had to be changed. For example, in the French edition of Harry Potter, Voldemort’s name is Tom Elvis Jedusor.

Voldemort itself is an interesting name—Voldemort can be translated from French to mean ‘flight from death’. (It’s a fitting title for someone who tried so hard to escape death by not only seeking eternal life but also by attempting to become death’s Master.)

The tradition of having names that relate to stars and mythology extends to the younger generations of Harry Potter characters—Draco Malfoy, for example. “Draco” is the Latin for ‘dragon’, and can refer to not only the mythological creature, but also an Athenian lawgiver. This lawgiver was known for his particularly ruthless laws. “Malfoy” can be translated from French to mean ‘bad faith’; this is particularly interesting, seeing as the Malfoy family was not only aligned with Voldemort for years, but also seeing as the family broke from Voldemort’s ranks and aided Harry Potter, Voldemort’s greatest enemy.

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