How J.K. Rowling Names Her Characters
J.K. Rowling has been profiled on Nameberry several times, and with good reason- she’s as creative a namer as she is a writer. She draws character names from literature, mythology, history, astronomy, and countless international languages. No character is named haphazardly; families have consistent naming patterns (like the celestial Blacks and the floral Evanses) and individual characters’ names match their personas. Below are some of the best-named characters in the series.
Minerva McGonagall- Minerva came from the Roman goddess of warriors and wisdom, fitting for a woman who dedicated her life to fighting Voldemort and educating generations of witches and wizards. McGonagall, on the other hand, comes from William McGonagall, a truly awful 19th century poet. In Rowling’s words, “There was something irresistible to me about his name, and the idea that such a brilliant woman might be a distant relative of the buffoonish McGonagall.”
Sirius Black– The entire Black family follows a celestial name theme. Sirius, his brother Regulus, his cousins Andromeda and Bellatrix, and even more distant relatives like Draco Malfoy are named after stars or other celestial objects. According to JK Rowling, this “suits their lofty ambition and pride.” Sirius’s star, the brightest in the constellation Canis Major, is particularly appropriate. Canis Major is said to look like a dog, apt for a wizard with the power to turn into one.
Bellatrix Lestrange- Bellatrix, like Sirius Black, has a star name that matches her family’s celestial theme. But Bellatrix isn’t just a star in the Orion constellation; it’s also the Latin word for a female warrior, fitting for one of Voldemort’s most zealous and brutal followers.
Lord Voldemort– Lord Voldemort spends the entire series trying to gain immortality, so it should be no surprise that “Vol de Mort” means “thief of death.” Voldemort’s birth name, Tom Marvolo Riddle, is an anagram of “I am Lord Voldemort.” The anagram aspect of the name resulted in the character having different names in different translations of the book, including “Tom Elvis Jedusor” in French and “Tom Sorvolo Ryddle” in Spanish.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore-Rowling has yet to give an explanation for Dumbledore’s extremely long name, but we do have some information about it. Dumbledore is the old English word for bumblebee, chosen because Rowling imagined him humming to himself around the grounds of Hogwarts. Albus means “white,” perhaps a nod to his long white hair and beard and moral goodness.
Sybill and Cassandra Trelawney- These characters are “seers,” or witches who can predict the future. Cassandra, whose name is drawn from Greek mythology, is considerably better at seeing than her great-great granddaughter Sybill. The mythological Cassandra was cursed; her accurate prophecies are never believed by anyone she tries to warn. Sybill is named for ancient Greek clairvoyants called sibyls. Trelawney is a Cornish name that Rowling chose because it is “impressive and attractive…a very old name suggestive of Sybill’s over-reliance on her ancestry when seeking to impress.”
Harry James Potter– The main character has perhaps the simplest name story in the series. Many characters in the series are named after other characters, including Harry, whose middle name honors his father. Rowling simply liked the names Harry and Potter. Potter was also the surname of Rowling’s childhood friends and neighbors.
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on January 20th, 2017 at 12:41 am
[…] I’ve just had a post published on one of my favorite name websites, Nameberry! Check out the post on JK Rowling’s character naming process. […]
on January 20th, 2017 at 1:02 pm
I’m always a sucker for Harry Potter articles! I never made the connection that the Evans’ had a floral theme…it seems obvious now lol but I never noticed it! Great article 🙂
on June 13th, 2017 at 9:03 pm
Generally very interesting! A couple of things to add:
– Sirius isn’t that distantly related to Draco, he’s his cousin once removed – which sounds quite distance but in that sort of family I suspect he’d have been ‘Uncle’ Sirius. It’s weird how all the families are sort of related, Mr Weasley’s mum was also from the Black family (Cedrella Black and Septimus Weasley – Septimus possibly a nod towards the fact the Weasley’s had 7 children?). It makes Harry and Draco are something like 4th cousins, and Neville, Harry, and Ron (and Ginny) are also distant cousins (around 5th, perhaps 4th once removed if we get technical).
– The Dumbledore family have an ‘A’ name theme; Albus, Aberforth and Ariana. Not sure if there’s any reasoning, for it – their mother was Kendra and father was Percival (which helps explain at least one of Dumbledore’s middle names).
– I like the Evan’s floral theme – a lot of fanfiction has Dudley continuing the theme and naming his daughter Daisy.
on June 13th, 2017 at 11:08 pm
Very interesting. Just one thing, “vol de mort” does not mean “thief of death” it means “running from death”. “thief of death” would be “voleur de mort”
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