Names in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Books - from the Nilsens
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Namesrowling
Names in J. K. Rowling’s
Harry Potter Books
by Alleen Pace Nilsen
and Don L. F. Nilsen
Quidditch at A.S.U.
Dumbledore’s Army at A.S.U.
Barrett Honors College Refectory:
“Harry Potter Hall”
Rowling’s Parallel World
At Kings Cross Station in
London, so many tourists
went looking for Platform
9 ¾ where students board
the train for Hogwarts that
the managers put up a
sign and cut off a luggage
cart so that it appears to
be halfway into the wall.
On busy days, tourists
have to wait in line for this
Rowling’s Name Play to Create a
• The street where Harry
buys school supplies is
DIAGON ALLEY, c.f.
• It is near the “dark” and
• Instead of a stationery
store, school supplies
come from FLOURISH
•Night Bus Knight Bus
•To mug Muggles
MORE PARALLEL- WORD NAME PLAY
•Mer as in “Mermaid”
From the image of a
tongue and the
verb “to parse,”
parselmouth for a
person who can
GOTHIC NAMES IN ROWLING’S
Ravenclaw, and Slytherin
•What denotations and
connotations do you see in each
of the House Names?
•How about THE LEAKY
•THE THREE BROOMSTICKS ?
NAMES WITH MULTIPLE
• FLOO POWDER lets
witches and wizards
travel through flues
• It reminds us of
which in a circular
fashion reminds us
of the word FLEE.
his memories in a
readers of PENSIVE,
ponder” and also of
a SIEVE which is
used for sorting.
NAMES TO PROVIDE EFFICIENT
• Except for HERMIONE, The
main characters have
ordinary names (HARRY,
RON, GINNY, GEORGE,
CEDRIC and NEVILLE).
• But with less important
characters, Rowling uses
descriptive names tailor-
made to their actions.
• These names help readers
remember who’s who, not
just in a single book but
also between books.
Names of the Malfoy Family
• Draco Malfoy
becomes more and
• Lucius reminds
readers of LUCIFER.
• In Old French, malfoy
means “bad faith.”
• Narcissus Malfoy is
• Draco’s two
henchmen are named
CRABBE and GOYLE.
HOW DO THE
NAMES FIT THE
NAMES OF THE POTTER FAMILY
• Harry’s mother is
named LILY, a symbol
of purity and love.
• Her sister is named
PETUNIA, which in the
language of flowers
• The last name of the
Dursleys was probably
chosen to alliterate with
• Poor Dudley--his
parents think he’s
perfect, but readers
know he is a Dud.
• He joins a gang and
becomes BIG D.
• In a fit of pique, Harry
teases Dudley about his
mother still calling him
baby names , e.g. Ickle
Diddykins and Dinky
FACULTY NAMES: Professor Minerva McGonagall
was named after the Greek Goddess of Wisdom
• Professor Binn (the past
tense of the verb to be) is a
ghost teacher of history
with “deadly dull lectures.”
• Severus Snape gets more
and more severe as the
• One of MAD-EYE MOODY’s
eyes is loose in its socket.
• Professor UMBRIDGE’S
name is close to
Why Don’t Rowling’s Classical
Names Need to be Translated?
Why are these Greek and Roman names
• ARGUS FILCH is a caretaker and
guard, but he also steals things.
• MADAME MAXIME OLYMPE is
double-sized as shown by her
• Percy’s owl is named HERMES
after the Greek messenger god.
• SIRIUS is the “Dog Star” in Canis
Major and also the name of
Japanese version of …The
What Else Does Rowling Do to Help
Readers Remember Who’s Who?
Jim Dale, the actor who taped the books, told a New York
Times reporter that he had to create 125 different voices to
distinguish the characters just in Book 4.
SHE USES HUMOR
•Ludo Bagman is the
dishonest adult who bets with
Fred and George and then
bags all the money for
•Mundungus Fletcher is a
tricky embezzler and so his
colleagues refer to him as
Rowling Plays with Anagrams
• The Chamber of Secrets, centers around the
identification of a mysterious student from the past
named Tom Riddle.
• Ginny was given his diary, and throughout the year
has been communicating with him, although she did
not know who he was.
• When she is drawn into his evil plans, Harry gets the
diary and finds himself communicating with its
original owner. It belonged to TOM MARVOLO
RIDDLE, which is an anagram for I AM LORD
ANAGRAMS: TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE
I AM LORD VOLDEMORT (NEW FRONTIERS CLASS)
Palindromes Are Words Spelled
• The simplest example is the Mirror of Erised, which
is really the Mirror of Desire.
• When someone looks in it, they see what they most
desire as when Harry looks in the mirror and sees
himself with his young parents
• In a way, Hogwarts is a kind of palindrome because
it is a “backwards” spelling of Warthogs, an animal
some people describe as the ugliest in the world.
PALINDROME: “DESIRE” “ERISED” (NEW FRONTIERS CLASS)
The Mirror of Erised
Rowling Uses Old Words in New
WHEN READERS HAVE TO WORK TO FIGURE OUT THE
MEANINGS, THE IDEAS TEND TO STICK IN THEIR MINDS.
•Professor Dumbledore’s Phoenix Bird is named FAWKES,
which sounds like HAWKS, but starts with the sound of
•In Book Five, Harry goes on trial before the Wizengamot, or
•Harry’s father and his friends first figured out how to turn
themselves into animals so that as Wormtail, Padfoot, and
Prongs they could look after Lupin (aka Moony) and keep
him from harming either himself or others during the full
•Death Eaters is a fairly obvious term, but readers have to
figure out that they eat people’s souls, not their flesh.
Old Words in New Combinations
• Sirius Black’s old family home is named Grimmauld. It is
“grim,” but it is also “auld,” as in “Auld Lang Syne.”
• The charm Avadra Kedavra is Aramaic for “May the thing
be destroyed.” But since it is similar to the more familiar
(and linguistically related) magic charm Abracadabra,
readers can probably figure it out.
• Albus Dumbledore’s first name is cognate with “white
tablet (c.f. album), while his last name is an archaic word
for bumblebee, an appropriate allusion to someone who
keeps the records of the school and is “busy as a bee.”
Rowling Systematically Connects
Nicknames to the Original Names
•Peter Pettigrew Scabbers Wormtail
Pettigrew is an Animage (someone who can magically change into
an animal). His human name connects in readers’ minds to his
ability to grow from something petite to something big, while his
other two names appropriately describe characteristics of a rat,
which he is—both literally and figuratively.
•Griffin Horse Buckbeak Witherwings
Hagrid’s hippogriff is named Buckbeak (from horse in Latin and
from griffin), but when he gets in trouble for swooping in to help
in a rescue, Hagrid renames him Witherwings, thinking the new
name will allow him to live in disguise.
Why during summer vacation are Ron, Harry,
and Hermione left waiting for the Owls to bring
• Owls are the creatures
which carry the mail,
but O.W.L.’s are the
Levels, the tests which
Hogwarts students take
at age 15.
• Ron has a baby owl he
calls Pig, short for
Rowling Uses Sets of Names that Relate
Linguistically to Particular Languages
• Fleur Delacour is the champion representing Madame Maxime
and the Beauxbaton students from France. A good joke is that
when Hermione and Ginny are jealous of Fleur, they begin
calling her Phlegm.
• Champion Quidditch player Viktor Krum has a Germanic
sounding name and name of the Durmstrang school is also
Germanic. This school name relates to a German term for
“storm and stress” related to teenage angst.
• Professor Karkaroff has a Slavic sounding name.
More Linguistically “Marked” Names
• Rowling uses names with a far Eastern sound to
lend a foreign, or even foreboding, air to Azkaban,
the prison guarded by the dementors.
• Nagini, probably named after a snake in one of
Rudyard Kipling’s stories from India, is a snake
whose milk feeds the unrestored Lord Voldemort,
while Hassan Mostafa is the Chairwizard and head
referee of the International Association of Quidditch.
NAMES THAT MOVE THE PLOTS
Latin-Based Spells and
• LUMOS! brings light
• IMPEDIMENTA! stops
• PRIORI INCANTATEM!
invokes a previous
• OBLIVIATE! Erases
MORE NAMES THAT MOVE THE
• ENNERVATE! Restores someone’s energy.
• RIDDIKULUS! Changes a Boggart into
something silly or laughable.
• EXPECTO PATRONUM! Calls forth a
protector (a “father”)
• PORTKEYS are items that have been
changed into something that will magically
transport people to where they want to go.
Rowling Uses Name-Play for
• In a fairly light example of foreshadowing, the harsh
sounds in Rita Skeeter’s name are appropriate to the
unscrupulous ways in which she collects her information
and writes her stories for Witch Weekly.
• Her name also reminds us of mosquitoes, which are often
called “skeeters.” This is appropriate because of the way
she “bugs” people to get information.
• When she animages into a beetle, readers see a
memorable example of assonance, when vowel sounds
Rowling’s Humorous Alliteration
• Dr. Filibuster’s Fabulous Wet-Start No-Heat
• St. Brutus’s Secure Center for Incurably
• Two Ghosts: Moaning Myrtle and Nearly
• School textbooks: Saucy Tricks for Tricky
Sorts, Break with a Banshee, Gadding with
Ghouls, Magical Me, Voyages with Vampires,
and Madcap Magic for Wacky Warlocks.
Some of the Foreshadowing Reveals
Conflicts and Hostilities
• The word mudblood is a term for a witch or wizard with
one muggle parent, cf. our offensive term halfblood.
• Lord Voldemort’s name literally means “fleeing from
death,” a meaning that becomes clear in the later books
when Harry hunts for the Horcruxes that Voldemort had
hidden in hopes of gaining immortality.
• When the stone statue representing the founder of the
Slytherin school opens its mouth to let an enormous
serpent slither out readers, who have always had
suspicions about the Slytherin School, feel vindicated for
TONKS—AN EDGY NAME TO MAKE
• A flippant young witch is named
NYMPHADORA, but she prefers
to be called TONKS, which is
British for testicles.
• In American slang TONK is a
male homosexual, a dude, or a
• Her name reminds readers of
NYMPHO, NYMPHETTE, and
MORE NAMES TO MAKE READERS
• In Book Two, Harry gets a
Nimbus Two Thousand
broomstick to use when
he plays quidditch, but by
Book Three, it is out-of-
date, and he has to buy a
Amusing Product Names
•Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor
•Ton Tongue Toffee
A SAMPLING OF ROWLING’S PUNS
• Peeves is a poltergeist,
who always seems
peeved at something or
• The house elf, Dobby, is
always daubing up
• Professor Gilderoy
Lockhart is revealed to be
a fraud whose royalty is
simply gilded on.
• Mrs. Figg, one of the
Dursley’s neighbors, is a
Squib, who reports on
Harry’s activities. Since
the 1500s, squib has
referred to news items or
• The Durmstrang school
gets its names from the
German expression sturm
und drang (storm and
stress) a theory of
Only Harry Is Unafraid to Say Lord
• Is the situation similar to the teachings of some religions,
which out of respect, teach that people should avoid
saying the name of God?
• The Harry Potter books were seriously censored when
they first came out. Some religious conservatives
claimed that the books were immoral and should be kept
away from children. Do you think this might have related
to the religious idea against “using the name of the Lord,
thy God, in vain”?
•In conclusion, Rowling uses new spellings and
different names to establish the fact that she is taking
readers to a world that runs parallel to their own, but is
•She uses creative naming to provide instant
characterization and to help her readers remember
who is who.
•When she names her charms and potions, she is like
modern manufacturers who name their products so as
to create built-in advertising claims as with Allerest
allergy medicine, Diehard batteries, and Holsum bread.
• In relation to plot development, Rowling uses her
newly created names, especially the names of her
charms, to keep her plot moving at a fast pace.
• She also uses newly created names for
foreshadowing and for revealing the depth of her
• But most of all, she uses creative naming for comic
relief. Just as Shakespeare provided comic relief In
the darkest of his tragedies, Rowling does the same
thing in her Harry Potter series.
HARRY POTTER WEB SITES
Accio Deathly Hallows:
Harry Potter Games & Decorations:
Harry Potter Recipes:
Harry Potter Treats:
How Harry Potter Should Have Ended:
INFORMATION FOR MUGGLES:
J. K. ROWLING: