From Dedalus Diggle to Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, JK Rowling’s incredible character names add an extra sprinkle of magic to her wizarding world. But they haven’t all been conjured up from the depths of her extensive imagination. Rowling has spoken often in the past about using everything from baby name books to graveyards, history to literature to influence her various monikers. Here are some examples of her inspiration…
Plenty of the Harry Potter character names have links with astrology. Sirius – Harry’s godfather – is the brightest star in the night sky, known as the dog star (Padfoot, anyone?) as it exists in the constellation Canis Major (the Great Dog).
A number of Slytherins also share their names with the night. Bellatrix is a star in the constellation Orion, while Regulus (the name of Sirius’ brother) is the brightest star in the constellation Leo. There are also constellations called Draco, and Scorpius (the name of D Malfoy’s son).
The most obvious example of French influence is Voldemort himself. Vol De Mort translates as theft of death, a “Riddle” which pretty much sums up everything the Dark Lord has set out to achieve. After all, this guy went as far as splitting his soul into seven pieces just to evade a meeting with his maker.
Other monikers with Gallic roots include Fleur Delacour whose name means flower of the court (like a noblewoman,” according to Rowling). Then there’s werewolf Remus Lupin whose surname is the French for wolf (and first name is a nod to Romulus and Remus – the founders of Rome who suckled from that very creature).
Latin and Greek
Speaking of ancient Rome, Rowling – who (perhaps unsurprisingly) studied French and classics at university – also included plenty of allusions to Latin. Albus means white so it’s no surprise that Albus Dumbledore is headmaster of Hogwarts, and orchestrator of the plan that would save the wizarding world from the Dark Lord. Oh, and there’s that long white beard he sports. Incidentally, “dumbledore” is also an old English word meaning bumblebee. “Because Albus Dumbedore is very fond of music, I always imagined him as sort of humming to himself a lot,” explained Rowling.
Then there’s Severus Snape. You don’t need a Latin dictionary to figure out that “severus” translates as “severe” – an adjective that does a pretty good job of summing up the Professor’s temperament throughout most of the seven novels.
Rowling’s mythological influences also extend to Minerva McGonagall, who shares her first name with the Roman goddess of wisdom, and divination Professor Sybil Trelawney – since sybils were mythical creatures who served as oracles in the temple of Apollo and had the gift of foresight. Argus, meanwhile, is a creature with a hundred eyes from Greek mythology who is just as watchful as Hogwarts’ caretaker Mr Filch.
A large number of Rowling’s characters share their names with flowers. Harry Potter may be about as plain as you can get (although his surname does make him sound quite green-fingered), but his mother and aunt – Lily and Petunia – are both named after decorative plants, as is Narcissa Malfoy. The three women may be very different but in the books they are united in being fiercely protective of their children. Hogwarts itself also plays host to a number of flower-named characters, including Pansy Parkinson, Lavender Brown, Poppy Pomfrey and Beauxbatons visitor Fleur Delacour.
One name that could never be termed “flowery” is Hagrid’s. The name itself is described by Rowling as a dialect word. If you were “hagrid”, it would mean you’d had a bad night. “Hagrid is a big drinker – he has a lot of bad nights,” she explained.
The only real person to ever be fully name-checked in Rowling’s books is a girl named Natalie McDonald. The nine-year-old had found solace in Harry Potter during her battle with leukaemia, so friend Annie Kidder contacted Rowling’s publishers with a letter, email and fax which the author didn’t receive until she got back from a two-week holiday to Spain. She sent replies to Annie, Natalie and her mother Valerie – including precious unknown details of her fourth book – but they were received the day after Natalie died. Valerie wrote back to thank the author for her gesture and a regular correspondence was struck up, before the McDonald family – Valerie, her husband Bruce and their two daughters – travelled to Britain to meet Rowling. But what they didn’t know at the time was Natalie McDonald had already been commemorated in The Goblet of Fire as a first year student at Hogwarts where she was sorted into – you guessed it – Gryffindor.
Rowling also inserted a reference to her two grandfathers into The Prisoner of Azkaban. The driver and conductor of the Knight Bus are called Ernest Prang and Stanley Shunpike, a nod to her grandparents Ernie Rowling and Stanley Volant.
According to Rowling, there’s hidden meaning to the Irish Quidditch team whose players are all named after people she knows. “Moran, Troy and Quigley are good friends,” the author explained on her website. “Troy is one of my oldest friends and she also happens to be a passionate supporter of West Ham Football Club. It is in her honour that the only soccer team ever mentioned in the books is West Ham.”
And finally, Nicholas Flamel – not entirely a figment of Rowling’s imagination. He was a real French alchemist who, according to legend, created the Philosopher’s Stone. Although he was born in 1330 and died in 1418 so doesn’t appear to have achieved that elusive immortality.
Perhaps our favourite in-joke, Filch’s busybody cat is named after Mrs Norris in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Let’s examine the similarities: both are officious, both are snitches, both are someone you’d try to hide from. Like her namesake, Filch’s cat is always on the lookout for misbehaviour – and Harry, Ron and Hermione fall into her clutches on a number of occasions.