What do the origins and parts of the names reveal about their characters? Consider the names of Lucius Malfoy, Albus Dumbledore, and Voldemort.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second book in the Harry Potter series written by J. K. Rowling. This book is immensely popular amongst not only children and juveniles, but amongst adults as well. One of the most interesting and distinctive features of J. K. Rowling’s book is the proper names that she used. Some units are proper English names and some are made up by the author, but each and every name has its own meaning within the paradigm of the book.
The onomastics of English language is built in such a way, that each name bears not only nominative meaning, but also hidden shades and labels that are to be explored in order to fully understand their place within the paradigm. The names used in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets always have a hidden meaning behind them – they represent certain characteristics, cultural associations and describe each personality (Brøndsteda, & Dollerupa, 2004). While working on the book, J.K. Rowling filled it with names taken from Greek and Roman mythologies, popular children literature, and allegories from other literature works. Names in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are often alliterative, adding more poetics to the writing by using associations and phonetics, depicting characters and implying that something else is hidden there – Snape snipes from time to time, Albus is a good wizard, Malfoys are of a bad faith, etc (Brøndsteda, & Dollerupa, 2004).
While working on the book and creating appropriate proper names, J.K. Rowling not only took into consideration the etymology of each name, but also filled them with intertextual and cultural meanings. Names of the characters in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are mostly British, but there are the ones that have French, Irish, Scottish, German, South European, Greek and Latin etymology. However, the etymology of a name in the book does not necessary indicates the place of origin of the character, but rather the root features of personality (Brøndsteda, & Dollerupa, 2004). There are many intertextual echoes within the book as well – for example, Longbottom was borrowed from the Lord of the Rings, Hermione was taken from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Marvolo from Twelfth Night and many more. In addition, many names in the book were taken from Greek and Latin mythology like Argus, Minerva, Hippogriff, Phoenix. Furthermore, while creating the onomastics space in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets J.K. Rowling included many references to British history and folklore. There are characters named after the heroes of Arthurian legends – Arthur, Ronald and Percival Weasley. Albus Dumbledore’s phoenix is called Fawkes – after the well-known Guy Fawkes, who wanted to blow up the British parliament. Therefore, the image conveyed by this name is the one of the fire.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of all the methods used by J.K. Rowling it is necessary to analyze the names of some characters of the book – Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore, Lord Voldemort, and Lucius Malfoy. Potter, Harry – a young magician, the protagonist of the novel. Surname derives from the word potter that means ‘the one, who sells pottery’; it is a common British surname. Name derives from the name Henry, also a widespread name in English, which means to plunder (Harper, 2014). J.K. Rowling herself often stated that she is fond of the name Harry (MuggleNet, 2014). However, regarding the fact that the combination Harry Potter is widely spread in English language, one can presume that she used this particular name to highlight that the protagonist is an ordinary person capable of great deeds. Albus Dumbledore – the headmaster of Hogwarts. The name itself derives from the Latin word albus – white. The name in this case is used to denote firstly, that he is old and has gray hair and beard, and secondly, as a symbol of morality, purity and resistance to the dark forces. Surname derives from Anglo-Saxon word dumbledore – humblebee. J.K. Rowling uses the word Dumbledore (Humblebee) to single out headmaster’s habit to walk and humble different songs quietly (MuggleNet, 2014). Lord Voldemort – the dark magician, former student of Hogwarts. Considering his original name – Tom Marvolo Riddle, it is obvious that it is symbolic as well. Tom – to identify his non-magic origin, Marvolo – from Shakespearean Twelfth Night character Malviolo, who was narcissistic and dreamt of greatness and power, and Riddle – that in English means ‘a thing that is difficult to understand or explain’(MuggleNet, 2014). Therefore, one might conclude that these units are definitive and descriptive concerning this particular character. The name Lord Voldemort is an anagram of the original name and derives from the French phrase vol de mort – flight of death, flight from death, and this is also descriptive considering the facts that the character is seeking immortality, and is able to actually fly in the air (MuggleNet, 2014). Lucius Malfoy – one of the main antagonists in the book, father to Draco Malfoy. His name comes from Latin name Lucian that means ‘light’ (Harper, 2014). The name might be connected to the word Lucifer – to denote the evil and malicious character. The surname Malfoy can be divided into two parts mal and foy. Mal from French means bad, evil and foi means faith. This way, J.K. Rowling implies that this character has bad intentions and is not a good person.
To conclude, the names in the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets bear more than
just a nominative meaning. Using various methods, J.K. Rowling manages to convey the basic traits of each character in their name. She filled the book with names that come from English folklore, Greek and Roman mythology, British cultural heritage, thus making them more meaningful and comprehensible.
Brøndsteda, K. & Dollerupa, C. (2004). The names in Harry Potter. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 12 (1), 56-72.
Harper, D. (2014). The online etymology dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.etymonline.com/
MuggleNet. (2014). Name origins. Retrieved from http://www.mugglenet.com/books/name_origins_characters.shtml
Rowling, J.K. (2013). Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets. New York: Scholastic Inc.
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