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Behind the Names in the Harry Potter Books

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How do authors come up with the names of their characters? Some choose names they like, names of family members and friends, or names that sound good for certain types of people (good, bad, boring…). Then there are the authors who do in-depth research and choose significant names based on the traits or situations of their characters. J.K. Rowling is one such author. Read on and discover the real meanings behind her characters’ names.



Harry James Potter

  • Harry: form of Henry, meaning “home ruler.” Rowling chose it because it’s her favorite boy’s name.
  • James: derivation of Jacob, “supplanter.”
  • Potter: “a potter.” Rowling had a childhood friend named Ian Potter.

Ronald Bilius Weasley

  • Ronald: “having the gods’ power.”
  • Bilius: from bilious – one of four medieval humors: “anger and peevishness.”
  • Weasley: Though the weasel is regarded as an unfortunate, malevolent animal, Rowling says they’re “not so much malignant as maligned.” [1]

Hermione Jane/Jean Granger

  • Hermione: feminine form of Hermes, a Greek god with speed and luck, messenger to Zeus, patron of travelers, writers, and orators.
  • Jane/Jean: both derived from John, meaning “God is gracious.” Rowling changed the name from Jane to Jean in the 7th book, possibly so Hermione and Dolores Umbridge wouldn't have the same middle name. [1]
  • Granger: “a farm bailiff.” "In Fahrenheit 451" (Ray Bradbury), a character named Granger uses his photographic memory to memorize books. In the book "Frindle" (Andrew Clements), Mrs. Granger is a teacher who makes people obey the rules and play by them.

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

  • Albus: “white,” “wisdom.”
  • Percival: in Arthurian legend, a knight who was given a glimpse of the Holy Grail.
  • Wulfric: “wolf power.”
  • Brian: “high,” “noble,” “force,” “strength.”
  • Dumbledore: “bumblebee.”

James Potter, a.k.a. Prongs

  • James: See Harry James Potter above.
  • Potter: See Harry James Potter above.
  • Prongs: reference to James' stag patronus.

Lily Evans Potter

Sirius Black, a.k.a. Padfoot

  • Sirius: “scorching,” “burning.” Sirius is the “Dog Star,” brightest star in the Canis Major constellation and one of Orion’s hunting dogs.
  • Black: “black,” “pale.”
  • Padfoot: In English legend, Padfoot is a name for large magical black dogs with huge, blazing eyes. They silently roam the countryside at night, and they can vanish instantly. They guard graveyards, so they’re considered an omen of death and called "the Grim." Padfoot can also refer to the pads on dogs’ feet.

Arthur Weasley

Molly Weasley

WilliamBillArthur Weasley

  • William: “will,” “desire,” “helmet,” “protection.”
  • Arthur” See Arthur Weasley above.
  • Weasley: See Ronald Bilius Weasley above.

Fleur Isabelle Delacour (Weasley)

Charlie Weasley

  • Charlie: “man,” “army,” “warrior.”
  • Weasley: See Ronald Bilius Weasley above.

Percy Ignatius Weasley

  • Percy: a form of Percival, in Arthurian legend, a knight who was given a glimpse of the Holy Grail.
  • Ignatius: “fiery,” “ardent.” St. Ignatius was obsessed with money and power, but after having been captured and injured by his enemy, he had a change of heart.
  • Weasley: See Ronald Bilius Weasley above.

Fred Weasley

  • Fred: from Frederick, “peaceful ruler.”
  • Weasley: See Ronald Bilius Weasley above.

George Weasley

  • George: “farmer.” Saint George was a legendary dragon slayer and patron saint of England.
  • Weasley: See Ronald Bilius Weasley above.

Ginny (Ginerva) Molly Weasley

  • Ginerva: Italian form of Guinevere, meaning "fair one."
  • Molly: See Molly Weasley above.
  • Weasley: See Ronald Bilius Weasley above.

Hedwig: German saint who founded the Sisters of St. Hedwig, an organization which saw to the education of orphaned and abandoned children.

Rubeus Hagrid

  • Rubeus: homophone of rubeous, “red,” “ruddy”
  • Hagrid: Rowling says Hagrid is an “old English word meaning if you were "hag-rid," it’s a dialect word meaning you’d had a bad night. Hagrid’s a big drinker. He has a lot of bad nights." [1]

Neville Longbottom

  • Neville: “land,” “farm land,” connection to his interest in herbology.
  • Longbottom: In "Lord of the Rings", the Longbottom leaf is a very good pipe tobacco, another connection to Neville’s interest in herbology.

Luna Lovegood

  • Luna: “moon,” probably a reference to her moon-like eyes, also that she’s a bit “loony.”
  • Lovegood: "simple and true affection."

Remus John Lupin, a.k.a. Moony

  • Remus: Remus and Romulus, twins raised by wolves, possibly signifies Lupin’s two identities.
  • John: “God is gracious”
  • Lupin: “wolf,” “wolf-like,” French name for werewolf.
  • Moony: becomes werewolf at full moon.

Nymphadora Tonks

  • Nymphadora: from “nymph,” a stage of metamorphosis in insects.
  • Tonks: “twin,” “double,” “of two hearts” (Notice similarity to her husband’s name, Remus.)

Alastor Moody

Minerva McGonagall

Severus Snape

  • Severus: “stern” “harsh.”
  • Snape: “a stinging or hurtful rebuke” “a boggy patch of ground.”

Regulus Arcturus Black

  • Regulus: “prince” “heart of the lion.” Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo. Marcus Atilius Regulus was a Roman naval commander known for his heroic self-sacrifice.
  • Arcturus: forth brightest star. The Romans thought it could foretell stormy weather.
  • Black: See Sirius Black, a.k.a. Padfoot above.


Cornelius Oswald Fudge

  • Cornelius: “horn.” Pope St. Cornelius was martyred in 253 and succeeded by Bishop Lucius. He is represented holding a horn.
  • Oswald: “god rule.”
  • Fudge: “evade” “dodge” “incompetent.”

Rita Skeeter

  • Rita: short form of names ending in "rita," near rhyme to mosquito.
  • Skeeter: slang term for a mosquito.

Argus Filch

  • Argus: a hundred-eyed giant, “alert watchman”
  • Filch: “steal” “snitch”


Voldemort: “flight from death.”

Tom Marvolo Riddle

  • Tom: form of Thomas, meaning “twin.” Again Rowling uses a name that means twin for someone with two personalities.
  • Marvolo: apparently a name Rowling invented to make Tom Marvolo Riddle an anagram of “I am Lord Voldemort.”
  • Riddle: can mean “any enigmatic or dark saying or speech,” “to fill or affect with (something undesirable, weakening, etc.)” [1]

Nagini: Nagas are serpent creatures in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Female Nagas are Naginis.

Lucius Malfoy

  • Lucius: association with Lucifer (Satan). Lucius was a cruel Roman emperor. In Arthurian legend, King Arthur (Arthur Weasley?) defeats Roman Emperor Lucius in battle.
  • Malfoy: “bad faith.”

Narcissa Malfoy

  • Narcissa: In Greek mythology, Narcissus (a minor deity) fell in love with his reflection and gazed at it for so long that he starved to death. From narcissistic: “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.”[2]
  • Mafoy: See Lucius Malfoy above.

Draco Malfoy

  • Draco: “dragon,” cruel Athenian law-maker, circumpolar constellation Draco the Dragon.
  • Mafoy: See Lucius Malfoy above.

Bellatrix Lestrange

  • Bellatrix: “warrioress,” a star also called the Amazon Star.
  • Lestrange: sounds like “strange,” possible reference to Roger L'Estrange, 17th century English journalist strongly against religious tolerance.

Peter Pettigrew, a.k.a. Wormtail

  • Peter: “rock.”
  • Pettigrew: could be broken down to "Pet I-Grew," referring to his time as a pet rat.
  • Wormtail: worm-like tail of a rat.

Dolores Jane Umbridge

  • Dolores: “pain” “resentment.”
  • Jane: See Hermione Jane/Jean Granger above.
  • Umbridge: sounds like umbrage, meaning “suspicion,” “doubt,” “ hostility.”


Vernon Dursley

  • Vernon: “alder tree,” also a place in Normandy.
  • Dursley: a town in Gloucestershire, England. Rowling chose the name because it sounds “dull and forbidding.” [1]

Petunia Dursley

  • Petunia: flower symbolizing anger, resentment.
  • Dursley: See Vernon Dursley above.

Dudley Dursley

  • Dudley: play on dud, “failure,” “loser,” “blah.”
  • Dursley: See Vernon Dursley above.


Rowling didn’t stop at significant character names - the names of spells, potions, creatures, and some place names, also have deeper meanings. Exploring and learning them can only lead to a greater appreciation of Rowling’s work.


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Author: Madeleine Wieder

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