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Playing the Harry Potter Name Game

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Harry Potter names

By Emily Cardoza

As a bookworm, I find that some of the most fun in reading comes after I finish the book – imagining the characters’ worlds, thinking up possible new storylines – and even new names! I’ve been giving the name treatment to a few works of fiction in my Literary Names series on Nothing Like a Name. My last post for Nameberry, New Names for The Secret Garden, prompted a couple of requests to give the same treatment to Harry Potter characters. But since the cast is so enormous, I’ve decided to try it out with just a select subset – the Defense Against the Dark Arts professors.

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The most stylish palette for clothes this season may be orange, lemon, lime and other neon-bright colors, but baby namers are showing a real passion for purple, loving names from pale Lavender and Violet to deeper purpley shades. Purple itself has many associations– with royalty and nobility—as well as haze, rain, overwritten prose, an Alice Walker novel and screen version, as well as purple people eaters.

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Nameberry Picks: 12 Best Virtue Names

virtue names

In the seventeenth century, for some of the most puritanical of the Puritans, even biblical and saints’ names were not pure enough to bestow on their children, and so they turned instead to words that embodied the Christian virtues.  These ranged from extreme phrases like Sorry-for-sin and Search-the-Scriptures (which, understandably, never came into general use) to simpler virtue names like Silence and Salvation.

The virtue names that have survived in this country were for the most part the unfussy, one-syllable girls’ names with positive meanings, such as Joy, Hope, Grace and Faith.  But then, in the late 1990s, a door was opened to more elaborate examples by the popularity of the TV show Felicity, and its appealing heroine.  Felicity (also the name of an American Girl Colonial doll) reached a high point on the girls’ list in 1999, a year after the show debuted, leading parents to consider others long forgotten relics.

Here are the Nameberry picks of the twelve best virtue names:

  1. Amitylike all the virtue names ending in ity, Amity has an attractive daintiness combined with an admirable meaning—in this case, friendship.  It could be a modernized (or antiquated, depending how you look at it) namesake for an Aunt Amy.
  2. Clarity—we like it much better than Charity or—oh no—Chastity.  And Clare makes a nice short form.
  3. ClemencyClemency, the name of a character in one of Charles Dicken’s lesser known Christmas novellas, The Battle of Life, can be seen as an offbeat alternative to Clementine.
  4. Constance was originally used in a religious context which has been lost over the years. There are many Constances found in history and literature: there was Constance of Brittany,  mother of young Prince Arthur who appears in Shakespeare’s King John, a daughter of William the Conqueror, and characters in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer and Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. Constance hasn’t been much heard in the 21st century—probably because of the dated nickname Connie.  The Puritans also used Constant.

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Back in the days when being an octomom –as in mother of eight– was no rarity, babies were often given a name that indicated their place in the birth order.  This began in the Roman Era, and was revived by the Victorians.

Now that ancient names (eg Atticus, Maximus), are coming back– partly influenced by the Septimus-type names heard in Harry Potterand starting to be seen as fresh rather than fusty, I thought we’d take a look at some of those long dormant number names—both Latin and others.


Prima — Perfectly plausible–and ego-boosting– name for a first girl, though rarely heard in this country other than as a surname (as in Louis P.) or terms like prima ballerina. Connie Sellecca and John Tesh used it for their now grown daughter, named after her maternal grandfather.

Primo —Historically, Primo has been among the most frequently used of the birth-order names, with its jaunty ‘o’ ending and Italianate flavor. It was the name of a Spanish saint, and author Primo Levi was a famous bearer.

Primus —The original form of the prime names; more appropriate to a Hybrid model car than a modern baby.

Una —Though this is an Irish name (Oonagh/Oona) with a different meaning, Una can also be thought of as a number one name and could be used for a first child. In literature, Una personifies the singleness of religion and the quintessence of truth and beauty in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and it was a favorite character name of Rudyard Kipling.

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World Premiere of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'

Novelist Joanne Lessner guest blogs about the family nicknaming tradition that can turn any upstanding name into something much more ridiculous.

My family loves words. We make them up, we pun incessantly, and we number several lyricists among us. We’re really rather annoying. But possibly the most vexing trait we exhibit, at least to those on the receiving end, is the generations-long tradition of an older sibling blighting a younger one with a ridiculous and, to the uninitiated, mystifying nickname.

We are nothing if not consistent in our weirdness. Our nicknames are all preceded by the definite article. For example, long before there was Rupert, there was my mother, nicknamed The Grint by her older brother. How, you may reasonably ask, did my Uncle John get The Grint from Helen? Apparently, she grinned a lot, and my uncle, misunderstanding the word, started calling her The Grinter, which he then shortened. My mother hated it, but as Helen was the 24th most popular name for girls born in 1941, my grandmother found it useful for getting her attention in a crowded store.

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