In JK Rowling's deft hands, character names are more than just a reflection of the personality of its owner. While many writers like to pick apart JKR's prose for overuse of adverbs or other small infractions, one technique she is almost universally admired for is her ability to craft unique, meaningful, and enchanting names. I mean, siriusly, can you imagine Rubeus Hagrid as a Robert Harris? Or Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore as Albert Davis?
But JKR's talent was not just in giving her characters a whimsical, though accessible, name which made them seem fully a part of their magical world. It was most importantly her ability to craft a name which carried hints of the mystery surrounding that character.
For example, many fans (myself included) are still convinced that when the Harry Potter Encyclopedia comes out, Dumbledore's animagus form will be revealed as a bumblebee. After all, Dumbledore is an old English word for bumblebee, and he always seemed to be humming about the place. And can you imagine that a former Transfiguration professor and a wizard as skilled as Dumbledore never learned to transform himself?
Years ago, when the HP books were new and fans were first beginning to share their enthusiasm over the Internet, the main clues being discussed were the meanings behind names. Readers quickly caught on that many came from myths; others from places; some were named after flowers or stars; and then there are JKR’s own creations, combinations of words with new meanings (such as Umbridge, a portmanteau from umbrage and bridge, as she provided a connection from the school to the ministry). All types of names were strikingly relevant to the character or object they represented, and most held some sort of clue regarding that character's role in the series.
- Argus Filch = Argus Panoptes from Greek mythology. Argus of the 100 Eyes made a great watchman, just like nasty old Filch.
- Petunia = flower name meaning anger and resentment, sounds like petulant
- Lily = flower associated with death and resurrection
- Bellatrix = the third brightest star in Orion, means female hunter
- Draco = Draco constellation, draco means dragon, a reminder of his serpentine Slytherin family.
- Grimmauld Place = definitely a grim old place, but it might also be a play on the Brother’s Grimm and a nod to their fairy tales.
- Minerva McGonagall = named after the Roman goddess of wisdom and war. She resembles a distant, austere goddess (with a warm side she reveals upon occasion), but a very apt second in command, as shown in Deathly Hallows.
Now look at these three names:
Albus (white in Latin) Dumbledore
Rubeus (red in Latin) Hagrid
First Sirius died, then Dumbledore, then finally, after a symbolic death from his motorbike, Hagrid was left to carry the body of Harry out of the Dark Forest of his enlightenment for his final confrontation, his golden moment in the rising sun.
Think of ways you can give extra meaning to your character names without creating something that looks like D'Oro'dindul'gum. JKR's names, while different, were still accessible. Also, be careful in choosing names with meaning that it also fits the character, story, and time period in which the story takes place.
Have you created a character name lately you're especially proud of?
This article is part of the Sleight of Hand series with tags of Mystery Plotting and Clues.