The Magical History Of The Characters’ Names In “Harry Potter”

Petrificus Totalus!

Stay right there! You might be a Harry Potter super-fan, but are you familiar with the fascinating history behind the names of your favorite characters? It turns out that J.K. Rowling was pretty lexically clever and creative when naming slimy villains like Draco Malfoy or tragic heroes such as Remus Lupin.

Grab your quills and turn to page 394: we're studying magical name etymology.

Ron Weasley

Let's start with Ronald Bilius Weasley. Of courseRon is Harry’s best friend. So it’s fitting that Ronald comes from the Old Norse name Rögnvaldr, which is composed of roots meaning "advice, counsel" and "ruler."

Bilius sounds like bilious, which means ill-tempered.

And finally, Weasley sounds an awful lot like weasel, which is a scrappy animal that's sometimes considered vermin. Indeed, while pure-bloods, the Weasley family is often looked down on for being poor.

Hermione Granger

In Greek mythology, Hermione is the daughter of Helen of Troy; the name is apparently the feminine form of Hermes, the messenger god. That makes sense, because she has a knack for delivering crucial pieces of information that save Harry and Ron's lives throughout the series.

Hermione's last name, Granger means "farmer," a very Muggle-type profession for common people like her parents, who were dentists.

Rubeus Hagrid

Some Potter fans note that Hagrid’s name may be derived from the term hagridden, which means "worried or tormented," as by a witch—which seems appropriate for a character who is often concerned for Harry's safety in a world of wizards and witches.

Others have noticed the name Hagrid is pretty similar to the adjective haggard, which perfectly describes this half-giant's unruly appearance (and fondness of drink). His first name Rubeus, in Latin, can mean "bramble" or "red," also fitting for his wild hair.

Draco Malfoy

Draco means "dragon" in Latin, underscoring his nasty, cruel personality.

His surname, Malfoy, is related to the French words mal (“bad”) and foi (“faith”), hence “bad faith.” So Rowling is not-so-subtly telling us that the Malfoy family has impure beliefs. Shocker!

Sirius Black

Sirius is the name of the brightest star visible from the Earth. Sirius is also called the Dog Star—and you may recall that his Animagus (magic animal) form is a black dog, hence Sirius Black.

His nickname is Padfoot, one of the many names for large, ghostly black dogs said to roam the UK countryside.

Dolores Umbridge

Her name, Dolores Umbridge, oozes cruelty, just as her magical black quills were objects of torture. If you recall, they didn’t require ink. Instead, these quills wrote with the blood of the person using it.

Dolores is from the Latin dolor, meaning "sorrow" or "grief," which she inflicts on plenty of students at Hogwarts.

Umbridge alludes to the word umbrage, which means "annoyance, displeasure, offense." Sounds about right!

Remus Lupin

According to ancient myth, Remus and his twin Romulus were orphans that were raised by a she-wolf. As the story goes, these twins went on to found Rome. Talk about humble beginnings!

It can be no coincidence that Remus Lupin's last name comes from the Latin lupinus, meaning "belonging or related to a wolf" (like the English lupine). As all Potter fans know, this gentle professor transforms into a bloodthirsty werewolf at the full moon.

Sybill Trelawney

This divination professor’s name reflects her future-telling ability. In Greek mythology, a Sibyl was a priestess who could see into the future.

Trelawney is an old Cornish name that means homestead. Rowling says she chose the name Trelawney because of her love of Cornish surnames. Cornish relates to the language and people of Cornwall, in southwest England.

Petunia Dursley

Like her sister Lily, Petunia is a flower. But, whereas lilies symbolize humility and devotion, petunias symbolize anger and resentment. And, of course, we learn that Petunia was jealous of Lily’s magical powers.

Petunia’s married name is Dursley, which also is a town in Gloucestershire, England. To her, the name Dursley sounded “dull and forbidding.”

Pomona Sprout

Pomona Sprout is an expert at magical herbology. Pomona was a Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards.

And sprout, of course, is a word that describes growth and development. A fitting last name for a professor! 

Madam Poppy Pomfrey

Madam Poppy Pomfrey is the matron (institutional nurse) of Hogwarts who uses magical spells and ointments—Skele-Gro, anyone?—to heal Harry and his often-injured friends.

Poppy calls to mind the poppy flower and its juice, or opium, used a medicine since antiquity.

And Pomfrey (Pomfret, Pontefract) cakes are small black sweets made with licorice, another medicinal ingredient.

Discover many more Harry Potter names and terms, from Hufflepuff to Bellatrix Lestrange, on Dictionary.com.

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