Just before midnight on November 1st 1981, a rather severe-looking woman named Minerva McGonagall made a revelatory prediction. Although only a tabby cat mere minutes before, she was now standing beside a tall elderly man known as Albus Dumbledore, the two animatedly discussing the orphan baby they would soon leave on the darkened footsteps of number 4 Privet Drive.
"This boy will be famous!” McGonagall whispered to her companion, who was placing yet another lemon drop in the mouth hiding beneath his flowing silver beard. “There will be books written about him – every child in our world will know his name!”
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She was, of course, completely correct. The baby, a young wizard called Harry Potter, would soon possess one of the most celebrated names on the planet. It was a name that became emblazoned across JK Rowling's novels, which went on to sell 500 million copies worldwide in 74 languages. Four syllables that would garner their own registered trademark and font.
And even today, almost 21 years since The Philosopher's Stone was published, ‘Harry Potter’ is still a name more popular on Google than Donald Trump, Kanye West and Gandalf combined, not to mention 17 times more searched for than Jesus Christ.
But however right McGonagall’s prophecy was, she had overlooked something huge. While the Boy Who Lived would soon bare the world’s most famous name, so too would a set of other Harry Potters across the country. The estimated 23 Harry Potters of voting age residing in the UK, for instance.
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Although having no dealings with Hogwarts, Hagrids, Horcruxes, Hedwigs, Hippogriffs or Hufflepuffs, these Harry Potters would forever now be entwined with conversations about the wizarding world – whether they wanted to or not.
Is the name a permanent curse to their lives or simply a spellbinding conversation starter? Thanks to a few real Harry Potters, we don’t have to guess the answer to that question. We got to know five of these muggles – or at least wizards well-abiding The Official Magical Secrets Act – to discover exactly how the name has shaped their lives, for better and worse.
So, pour yourself a pumpkin juice and grab a chair by the common room fire. It’s time to meet the Harrys…
Sir Harry Potter, Lawyer
If you have ever heard of a Harry Potter without a lightning-shape scar, it’s probably this one. The defence criminal lawyer, legal historian and ordained priest has unleashed his booming Scottish voice across TV and radio, featuring on The One Show and presenting BBC4’s The Strange Case of the Law – much to the enjoyment of viewers…
And his name doesn’t just raise eyebrows on Twitter, but also conjures an unusually upbeat tone during criminal trials. “It gets a lot of amusement, especially in the crown court,” admits Potter. “Once I was representing a man called Martin Luther King and in the next court there was a Gandhi on trial. People were falling on the floor laughing as the tannoy was calling for the three of us.”
Now, you might think a lawyer who is subject to sniggering might not be a very good one in the eyes of the jury. And it’s also reasonable to assume a lawyer who can’t examine witnesses such as the Sheriff of Nottingham or somebody called Michael Caine – as Potter has also done – without inducing chortles throughout the courthouse would be a disaster to a client. Quite the opposite.
“Juries love it. They smile at me when they don’t with other barristers. And if you put the jury in a good mood, they’re easier to impress” says Potter. “Prosecutors often make a mistake when they introduce me as Harry Potter as it gives me an instant advantage. And they know it probably gives me a bit of an edge, but it amuses them too.”
However, occasionally his name can accidentally interfere with proceedings. “I once had a client who the judge ordered a psychiatric report for,” remembers Potter. “It came back as this huge 17-paged thing that concluded he was delusional because he thought his barrister was Harry Potter. The judge turned to me and said ‘I think we’ll be getting another report, Mr Potter!’”
It’s incidents like this that saw Potter writing to JK Rowling herself, outlining that he was a lawyer working in chambers (“’I’m the real Harry Potter and I know the chamber of secrets!’ I said”) and querying whether he was actually the source of the boy wizard’s moniker – “Because I’m Scottish I asked if she heard my name when she was living in Edinburgh,” Potter explains.
And amazingly, Rowling replied. And while she broke the bad news that the fictional Potter wasn’t inspired by the lawyer one, Rowling did reveal its source: Harry was simply her favourite name and the Potters were her next-door neighbours.
Not the answer Potter was looking for, perhaps, but Rowling’s words provided something much more valuable: “I keep that letter safe – it’s probably my pension fund!” he chuckles.
Harry Potter, Student at Sheffield University
Like the Harry above, this Potter was born before The Philosopher’s Stone was published – but only by five months. This meant that although not named after the Boy who Lived (“my parents like to make that very clear,” he says), JK Rowling’s wizarding world has constantly been a part of his own. “It’s always been there, from when I was a kid,” explains Potter. “I was never ‘Harry’ or never just ‘Potter’ – I was always called the full ‘Harry Potter’ at school.”
Not that this was a bad thing. As Potter recalls, this recognition slowly treated him to some, as he says, “pretty cool stuff”. For instance, remember when book stores invited in streams of wizarding fans for the midnight launch of the latest Hogwarts novel? Well, on 21st July 2007, Potter opened up his Exeter branch of WHSmith to mark the release of The Deathly Hallows. “They even got me dressed up in a wizard’s outfit,” remembers Potter. “But I got a book out of it so I wasn’t complaining!”
But as he got older things got more, as Potter puts it, “intense”. “Family holidays were always interesting,” he says. “I don’t know what it is about American immigration, but they really like to make a scene. They have really stern faces for everyone else and then I step up and they’ll shout out ‘oh damn! Harry Potter?!’ and get up to show the other officers my passport.”
That’s not even the weirdest incident Potter has experienced in an airport. “In 2013 I was on a trip with my school. There was about 30 or 40 of us there when somebody spotted Gary Oldman [who plays Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movies]. And then, of course, somebody in my class decided to shout out about my name.
“[Oldman] thought it was a joke, but played along. ‘oh really?’ he said grinning. Then he pulled me forward from the crowd – I was hiding at the back because I knew this would happen. He read my passport, paused and went ‘oh s***!’. I was really chuffed.”
Harry Potter, Marketing & Customer Services worker
Dive into a Pensieve brimming with this Harry’s earliest memories and you’ll notice a recurring presence: Pottermania. Aged four and barely able to read JK Rowling’s first book when it hit stores, Harry was swamped with interest over his name. “I remember The Sun newspaper and BBC round my house,” he remembers. “It was a lot to ask of a kid, but I did enjoy it.”
His name soon led to bigger perks, particularly when Potter was invited to the London premiere of the Chamber of Secrets in 2002. “I went with my mum,” he remembers. “All these stars were walking down the carpet and then there was us – all the photographers were left asking ‘who are they?’” And after confounding the national press, Potter was even allowed to view the film with the stars, watching it while sitting next to Vinnie Jones.
However, for a 24-year-old working in the marketing department of a shelving company, the spell has since worn off slightly. Potter still gets emails from clients thanking him for “working his magic”, but his name has become somewhat of a bludger. “I play golf. I really love it so I wanted to enter a competition. So I called up to register and on hearing my name they said it wasn’t April Fool’s Day and slammed the phone down. Sometimes the name really doesn’t work in my favour,” he laughs.
Harry Potter, Salesman
If the wizarding Harry Potter ever packs in the auror work and tries his hand at a muggle business, we’ve got one tip: print off more business cards. “I can get through 80 to 100 at an event,” this Potter, a business development manager, explains. “Often I have people coming up to my stall saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m just here to get a business card with Harry Potter’s name on it’. I don’t mind it, though – it’s a great ice-breaker. And it’s good to be remembered if you’re selling the right stuff!”
And he hasn’t only found the name useful for shifting a sale. For instance, on accidentally arriving to The British Library’s Harry Potter History of Magic exhibition an hour late, Potter was able to gain entry with a flick of his ID. “As soon as my friend told them my name and they checked it we were sent straight in. They even said to not worry about closing time – ‘you stay as long as you want!’”
But perhaps most valuable of all, Potter has been gifted an easy fancy dress idea. “I’ve dressed as a wizard about five times now,” he says. “I think people always think I’d never be up for it, but it’s part of Halloween!”
Harry Potter, Fitness & Nutrition Coach
Wizarding gyms probably aren’t a concept you've given much consideration (well, not since the whole ‘Neville Longbottomed’ meme), but here’s a man who may change that. This Harry Potter is a workout fanatic keen on sharing his exercise and nutritional knowledge through his Instagram and Youtube streams.
However, instead of encouraging followers to build a Victor Krum physique, Potter markets himself as a specialist in superhero muscle. In fact, he goes by ‘Harry Ashton Potter’ online to stand out from Hogwarts’ finest. “Also I think just using "Harry Potter" would cause some people to think that I was using a fake name,” he explains.
And what about in his everyday life? Although he admits the novelty of the name “has worn off”, the same can’t be said of those close to him. “Sometimes my friends will say ‘ask him what his surname is’ [when meeting new people]. Then I usually pretend to not have a clue what they're on about so they end up looking stupid.”
So, from the story of Harry Potter and the psychiatric report to Harry Potter and the golf club quarrel, each of the above have faced their own unique experience of carrying the boy wizard’s name. But what do these people – hereby Sir Harry, Student Potter, Salesman Potter, Marketing Potter and Fitness Potter – all have in common?
Firstly: the majority prefer JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – only two of the above actually have a firm grasp of the Potter story. And even those who are fans of the books and films have to admire them privately. “I’m a big fan of both, but I have to pretend that I’m impartial to it,” says Student Potter. “Years ago, I got a pair of Gryffindor winter gloves and got absolutely roasted for wearing them. Never again!”
Secondly, they hate making restaurant reservations. Or paying bills over the phone. Or, well, anything that requires stating their full name. “There’s normally a titter in the background or they’ll say ‘come on, give us your real one’,” says Sir Harry. “I haven’t yet been stopped by the police while driving, but I suspect they would nick me for giving a false identity. They’d probably get out the breathalyser too.”
It’s not an inconvenience reserved for the offline world, either. Each of the Potters has been met by the same disbelief on social media. “I signed up to Facebook when I was 13, but every time a new Potter film came out Facebook banned me thinking that my account wasn’t real,” recalls Student Potter. “Each time I had to send off a scan of my passport and about two weeks later I’d be able to go on Facebook again. It was unbelievably frustrating!”
And he was a Potter lucky enough to be granted an account in the first place. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have denied others, assuming they’re setting up a page with a false name. And ironically, that’s just what they had to do to get accepted. Harry Potters across the globe have been forced to invent a new moniker, either simply utilising the Scandinavian alphabet (here’s a shout out to the Harry Pøtters out there), promoting their middle names or even assuming a pseudonym.
And it’s not just a problem with social media. Ironically, if you're born Harry Potter you become virtually anonymous online. Search for yourself and any mentions – good or bad – will be buried beneath volumes of wizarding memes, Reddit threads and ‘Draco Malfoy is definitely a werewolf’ fan theories.
On the plus side, this digital invisibility cloak means your personal details and shared pictures will be Google-proof – identity fraud won’t be a concern. And, if like Sir Harry, you wrote a book before JK Rowling then you might see a boost in sales due to a mass of confused fans (“I imagine children getting books about capital punishment are quite surprised!” he says with a chuckle).
However, being a young Harry Potter also means it’s near impossible to make a name for yourself on the web – even if you try to put a twist on it: “I’m thinking about going into consultancy and using my initials to get further up the Google rankings, but HP is one of the biggest businesses out there,” says Student Potter with a grin. “I don’t know if I’d make any money!”
And no, these Harry Potters can’t use their connection to Hogwarts to bolster business either. If they’re not licensed by Warner Bros and try to set up a company that waters down the Harry Potter brand – for example, by setting up a Harry Potter dry cleaners with winks to JK Rowling’s world inside – then they might be heading towards a lawsuit. In fact, a “Harry Potter Dry Cleaners” is one of the most commonly cited examples of trademark dilution in the US.
So, these Harry Potters won’t be raking in the galleons with a self-named business any time soon. But they do have a huge advantage getting employed at somebody else’s company. “The name definitely makes me stand out in interviews,” admits Salesman Potter. “It changes the dynamics of the whole thing as well. [The interviewer] might get a good measure of me if they make Harry Potter jokes and I receive them well. Part of being a functional person in society is being able to make fun out of yourself, I guess.”
And even better than securing you a job, going by the name of Harry Potter might win you an election. At least, that’s what happened to Sir Harry. From 2002 he served a term on Greenwich council in London, coming top in his local polls by only two votes. “That was the name,” he says. “In a local election, a few votes are all it needs. And when I was around canvassing I found there were quite a few children that followed me because they heard I was Harry Potter. Recognition helps.”
Our Student Potter also achieved election victory last year, in an uncontested – yet still problematic – contest. “I was running unchallenged to my international students committee, but I wasn’t the only name on the ballot paper. There was me and the acronym for ‘re-open nominations’, just ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘RON’. I was thinking ‘oh god, why me!?’” he laughs. “But usually the name helps. I’m thinking of going into politics and fingers crossed it makes a difference.”
Yet even the Potters we spoke to who had no ambitions of power have been scrutinised like a politician. “Because of the name people are going to remember if you do anything wrong,” explains Salesman Potter. “If you make somebody feel bad or do something embarrassing you’re not going to get away with it. You have to make a conscious effort to be on your best behaviour all the time. It makes things a bit less natural than what it should be.
“The name takes away a bit of privacy. When I was three days into university people had heard about me before we met… I think a lot of the conversations I have with new people aren’t made in confidence. You know that they’re going to tell somebody they’ve spoken to you. And depending on how the conversation went, they might share details as well. I know if somebody hears my name they’re probably going to tell five people about it.”
Student Potter can relate: “I remember a few weeks into my first year when people were posting about me on [anonymous sharing app] Yik Yak. People were like ‘oh my God, there’s a guy called Harry Potter in my politics seminar!’ or ‘There’s a bloke in my flat block called Harry Potter!’. These posts were getting 60 or 70 upvotes every day. I was thinking ‘who are these people!? Who’s doing this?
“I remember too walking to a seminar on a busy street and a guy stopping in front of me, taking out his headphones and shouting ‘YOU’RE A WIZARD, HARRY!’. It was quite intense.”
It’s not just at university. These Harry Potters have gone through similar encounters during each new phase of their life. Whether starting a new job or school, they have to go through a recognition process that the actual wizarding Harry could relate to. “In school assembly in my first week they decided to call out my name. Everyone started whispering – it was just like that scene from the Philosopher's Stone,” recalls Salesman Potter.
Those who grew up at the height of Pottermania have been particularly influenced by their name. And it’s easy to think why: imagine if you were called Harry Potter and 75% of people you ever met wanted to discuss your name (an estimation given by one Potter). Not only would that be all you’ve known, but it’s also the first impression you leave on everyone else. As Student Potter says: “I do find it bizarre how much it shapes my identity when I first meet people. It can really define me.”
But here’s the thing: if the name did somewhat transfigure their characters, it didn’t craft them into a set of anxious individuals or deeply-frustrated men waiting for the next ‘10 points to Gryffindor!’ jibe. Far from it: rather than shying away from the topic, each of the Potters we spoke to were extremely open about their connection to JK Rowling's character. They were easy-going, jolly, honest, confident and brilliantly self-deprecating too. Each one, to put it simply, was just incredibly nice.
True, we took a somewhat biased sample of Harry Potters – not only are these the ones who agreed to speak to us, but they’re all Potters who haven’t decided to change their name (the few of these hard-to-find former Potters we contacted declined an interview).
But the majority of Potters we spoke to were up for a chat. And despite going through years of – what most would consider – anxiety-provoking situations, they still were incredibly upbeat about their experiences.
In fact, none said they felt the need to file a deed poll. Pop a name tag on each of the above, stand them in front of the Mirror of Erised and each would still see ‘Harry Potter’ written on the reflected sticker.
Why? One possible reason: they’re never short of conversation. Granted, it’s the same are-you-really-called-Harry-Potter talk that’s a novelty for strangers, but it’s a topic they’re well-trained in. “It’s always nice to start off with a joke – assuring them you’re not actually a wizard,” explains Student Potter. “I think it makes me friendlier, more willing to have a laugh and get to know somebody better. It’s better than awkward small talk.”
It’s also a name that people can’t help but warm towards. Tell somebody you’re called Harry Potter and they’ll instantly think of a beloved childhood character. Barriers are broken down as people plug into JK Rowling’s fantasy world, home of happy memories and adolescent wonder. And, as Sir Harry Potter delicately puts it, “If you were called Hitler or Stalin it would probably put off some, but the name attracts people.
“It gives pleasure to others. And if you can make people smile at relatively no cost to yourself then it’s a good thing. You have a warm glow.”
So yes, the Harry Potters we spoke to weren’t without their quibbles and were quick to tell of the woes of constant recognition. But each of their stories finished with a laugh instead of a sigh, a light shining through any possible darkness – much like the real Potter’s Patronus repelling away any dementor.
With all things considered? All was well.
Originally published 29th March 2018