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 teenagers but adults as well. One of the most interesting and distinctive features of J. K. Rowling’s book concerns the proper names that she used. Some are proper English names, while others are made up by the author, but each and every name has its own meaning within the paradigm of the book.
The onomatology of the 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 (Brøndsted and Dollerup). While working on the book, J. K. Rowling filled it with names taken from Greek and Roman mythologies, popular children’s literature, and allegories from other literary 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, and the Malfoys are of bad faith (Brøndsted and Dollerup).
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 characters in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are mostly British, but there are names that have French, Irish, Scottish, German, South European, Greek, and Latin etymology. However, the etymology of a name in the book does not necessarily indicate the place of origin of the character, but rather the root features of personality (Brøndsted and Dollerup). 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, such as Argus, Minerva, Hippogriff, and Phoenix. Furthermore, while creating names 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 one of fire.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of all the methods used by Rowling, it is necessary to analyze the names of some characters of the book: Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore, Lord Voldemort, and Lucius Malfoy. Harry Potter is a young magician, the protagonist of the novel. The surname is derived from the occupation, which refers to one who makes or sells pottery, and is a common British surname. The first name is derived from “Henry,” also a popular name in English, which means “to plunder” (Harper). J. K. Rowling herself often stated that she is fond of the name Harry (MuggleNet). However, regarding the fact that the combination “Harry Potter” is widely spread in the 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 is the headmaster of Hogwarts. The name itself is derived from the Latin word “albus,” meaning “white.” The name is used, firstly, to denote that he is old and has gray hair and beard, and secondly, as a symbol of morality, purity, and resistance to the dark forces. The surname is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “dumbledore,” as an older variant of “humblebee.” J. K. Rowling uses the word “Dumbledore” to single out the headmaster’s habit of walking and buzzing around like a bee (MuggleNet). Lord Voldemort is the dark magician, a former student of Hogwarts. Considering his original name, Tom Marvolo Riddle, it is obvious that it is symbolic as well. “Tom” is to identify his non-magic origin, while “Marvolo” is from the Shakespearean Twelfth Night character Malvolio, who was narcissistic and dreamt of greatness and power, and “Riddle” in English refers to “a thing that is difficult to understand or explain” (MuggleNet). 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 is derived from the French phrase “vol de mort,” meaning a flight of death, or a 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). Lucius Malfoy is one of the main antagonists in the book, father to Draco Malfoy. His name comes from the Latin name “Lucian,” meaning “light” (Harper). The name might also be connected to the word “Lucifer” to denote the evil and malicious character. The surname of Malfoy can be divided into two parts: “mal” and “foy.” “Mal” from French refers to something bad or evil, and “foi” refers to 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, and British cultural heritage, thus making them more meaningful and comprehensible.
Brøndsted, Katrine, and Cay Dollerup. “The Names in Harry Potter.” Perspectives Studies in Translatology, 12 (1), 2004, 56-72.
Harper, Douglas. The Online Etymology Dictionary. 2014, http://www.etymonline.com/
MuggleNet. Name Origins. 2014, http://www.mugglenet.com/books/name_origins_characters.shtml.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York, Scholastic Inc., 2013.