Published on June 17, 2007
HUMOROUS NAMES IN J. K. ROWLING’S HARRY POTTER SERIES: HUMOROUS NAMES IN J. K. ROWLING’S HARRY POTTER SERIES by Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don L. F. Nilsen Slide2: Slide3: Slide4: Slide5: Slide6: Slide7: SIX FUNCTIONS OF NAMES IN HARRY POTTER: SIX FUNCTIONS OF NAMES IN HARRY POTTER 1. Creating a parallel world 2. Providing efficient characterization 3. Aiding memory 4. Moving Plots forward 5. Providing 'smart' allusions 6. Creating Humor Slide9: 1. CREATING A PARALLEL WORLD Slide10: Harry is instructed to go to Kings Cross Station, a real train station that happens to have an ambiguous name. Here he is to catch the Hogwarts Express on Track Nine and Three Quarters. Before he gets on the train, the giant Hagrid, who cares for the beasts at Hogwarts, has already taken Harry to Diagon Alley (a play on diagonally), the street where Harry buys his school supplies. Just off from Diagon Alley is Knockturn Alley, whose name has been created from the adjective Nocturnally. Slide11: REGULAR WORDS WITH STRANGE SPELLINGS: REGULAR WORDS WITH STRANGE SPELLINGS The Night Bus is called the Knight Bus. In Diagon Alley you will find the Flourish and Blotts bookstore. Schoolbooks are mended with Spellotape instead of Cellotape because it corrects the spelling. Elderflower wine is served Instead of Elderberry wine. Slide13: The house elf at Sirius Black’s home is named Kreature, an altered spelling of Creature. The Dursley’s neighborhood where Harry lives with his Muggles relatives is named Whinging, which comes fairly close to whining. These different spellings have the same effect on readers as do the street signs in 'foreign' countries, which constantly remind travelers they are away from home. Slide14: The word parseltongue, combines the image of a snake’s tongue flicking in and out of its mouth with the grammar-related meaning of the verb parse. Rowling added the –el sound as when speakers make partial from part. A parselmouth is a person who can speak parseltongue. Slide15: A fuller example is her creation of words using mer, as in mermaid, to indicate something connected with the sea. Rowling writes about merpeople, a merperson, a mersong, something mermish, and a merversion of a town square. Slide16: Hogwarts is a Gothic parallel world. The four Hogwarts schools are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. The inn where Harry stays in Book Two is The Leaky Cauldron The bar in Hogsmeade is named The Three Broomsticks. Hogsmeade is where older students go to drink Butterbeer. This is probably a portmanteau name from butterscotch and rootbeer. Slide17: The word Muggles is listed in the 1965 edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary with only the note 'origin unknown.' Rowling speculates that she got the idea from mug, which in Britain refers to someone stupid or easy to fool. American dictionaries define the verb mug as 'calling attention to oneself by grimacing or exaggerated gestures as for a camera.' Slide18: Floo Powder is what lets witches and wizards travel through flues and chimneys. The word sounds like Flew Powder, and also reminds us of flea powder, which could be a pun on Flee Powder. Professor Dumbledore has a Pensieve Bowl, where he stores his thoughts and memories. This relates to pensive meaning 'thoughtful,' but the sieve part of the word tells us that this bowl helps Professor Dumbledore sift through and sort out his experiences. Slide19: Finally, consider the Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick which Harry gets to play quidditch with. By Book Three, his Nimbus Two Thousand is already out-of-date and he has to move on the next generation of a Fire Bird. Slide20: 2. PROVIDING EFFICIENT CHARACTERIZATION Slide21: J. K. Rowling gave Harry an ordinary name, and a more unusual last name. Except for Hermione, Harry’s friends, at least in the early books, all have ordinary sounding names that are easy to say: Ron, Ginny, George, Cedric, and Neville. But with the characters who play background roles, Rowling feels much freer to give them names tailor-made to the roles they play. Slide22: Percy’s owl is named Hermes after the Greek messenger god. Minerva is the Greek Goddess of wisdom, and Professor Minerva McGonagall is the wisest and strongest of the women faculty members at Hogwarts. Sirius is the name of the brightest star (the Dog Star star) in Canus Major and Sirius Black is Harry’s godfather who animages into a great black dog. Professor Binn (the past tense of the verb 'to be') is a ghost teacher who teaches History. He gives 'deadly dull lectures' because ever since he died, he has taught strictly from habit. He is himself in the past tense. Slide23: Madame Maxime Olympe’s name is derived from 'maximum' and 'Olympus.' She is the head mistress of the visiting Beauxbaton School. Like Hagrid, she is part giant, but she claims to be simply 'big boned.' Peeves is a poltergeist, who always seems 'peeved' at something or someone. The house elf, Dobby, is always daubing up messes. Professor Gilderoy Lockhart is revealed to be a fraud whose royalty is simply gilded on. Slide24: Professor Severus Snape gets more and more severe as the books progress Draco Malfoy becomes more draconian, while his father, Lucius reminds the reader of Lucifer. In Old French, the word 'malfoy' means 'bad faith.' Draco’s two henchmen are named Crabbe and Goyle. Harry receives a letter from Mafalda Hopkirk, who works for the Ministry of Magic. Her name also has negative connotations. Slide25: Argus Filch is a caretaker or guard at Hogwarts. He often observes Harry and his friends doing something illegal or sneaking into a forbidden place. In Greek Mythology, Argus was the giant with a hundred eyes. The Word 'filch' is slang for 'stealing.' Narcissus Malfoy (the wife of Lucius and mother of Draco) is narcisistic. Mad-Eye Moody is moody because someone takes over his identity for almost a full school year. He is called Mad-Eye because his eye has come loose in the socket and is now out of control. Slide26: In Book Five, Harry goes on trial before the Wizengamot, or wise counsel. Later, Harry and Dudley are attacked by the Death Eaters. Finally, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is Professor Umbridge, whose name is uncomfortably close to umbrage, which relates to 'a reason for doubt or suspicion,' or 'a fancied slight or insult.' Slide27: 3. AIDING MEMORY Slide28: Jim Dale, the actor who tape recorded Book Four, told a New York Times reporter that he had to create 125 different voices to accommodate all the characters. Mnemonic devices are needed to help the reader keep track of this many different characters. The biology teacher is named Professor Sprout. The transfiguration teacher is named Madame Hooch. The charms teacher is named Professor Flitwick. He is so small that he has to stand on a stack of books to see the class. Ludo Bagman is the dishonest adult who bets with Fred and George and then bags all the money for himself. Slide29: Animal characters also have memorable names. Professor Dumbledore’s phoenix bird is named Fawkes, which sounds like hawk, but starts with the sound of phoenix. Hagrid has a flying hippograff. Hippo is Latin for 'horse.' and graff has the [gr] sound of griffin. Buckbeak reminds the reader of a buckskin horse and a fierce bird. Slide30: Owls are the creatures which carry the mail, but O.W.L.’s are the Ordinary Wizarding Levels, the tests which Hogwarts students take at age 15. Ron names his miniature owl Pig. Pig is short for Pigwidgeon. Slide31: Sometimes characters have a regular name and a nickname. When the rat Scabbers changes back into his human form he is known as Wormtail. His original name was Peter Pettigrew. He is the Animagus (someone who can magically change into an animal) who can grow from something petite into something as big as a human. Slide32: Rowling also uses exotic and foreign-sounding names, such as the French sounding Fleur Delacour as the champion representing Madame Maxime and the Beauxbaton students. Rowling uses the Germanic sounding name of Viktor Krum for the champion Quidditch player representing Professor Karkaroff and the Durmstrang students. Slide33: Rowling uses names with more of an Eastern sound to lend a foreign, or even foreboding, air to Azkaban, the prison guarded by the dementors. Nagini is a snake whose milk feeds the unrestored Lord Voldemort, while Hassan Mostafa is the Chairwizard and head referee of the International Association of Quidditch. Slide34: 4. MOVING PLOTS FORWARD Slide35: The spells and charms are based on Latin words. Lumos! brings 'light.' Impedimenta! stops someone. Priori Incantatem! reinvokes the previous charm. Obliviate! erases someone’s memory. Slide36: Ennervate! restores someone’s energy. Riddikulus! changes a Boggart into something silly or laughable Expecto Patronum! calls forth a protector (a 'father') when threatened by an extreme danger as when being attacked by the Dementors, who suck the spirit out of people. Slide37: Rowling use these spells as an unusually efficient way to move forward with her plots and subplots. In Book Four Harry must get to the graveyard where Voldemort’s father was buried and hence the only place where Voldemort could be restored to life. Then he must get back to Hogwarts This problem was solved by the relatively simple charm that Wormtail used to change the Tri-Wizard Championship Cup into a Portkey. Earlier in the book, readers had learned about Portkeys when Hermione, Ginny, Ron, Harry, and Mr. Weasley used one to be magically transported to the Quidditch World Cup. Slide38: Another charm extremely important to the plot of Book Four, is the Veritaserum, a truth potion, which in chapter 35 causes Wormtail to reveal his actions of the past year and the whole story of how he imprisoned and then impersonated Mad-Eye Moody. This explanation is essential for the denouement. Slide39: Rowling also uses wordplay for foreshadowing. Professor Lupin’s name is close enough to the Latin word for 'wolf,' lupinus, that readers are prepared for the fact that his absences are related to his condition of being a werewolf. This fact is crucial to the overall plot because Harry’s father and his friends first figured out how to turn themselves into animals so that as Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs they could look after Lupin (aka Moony) and keep him from harming either himself or others during the full moon. Slide40: In a lighter example of foreshadowing, the harsh sounds in Rita Skeeter’s name are appropriate to the unscrupulous ways in which she collects her information and writes her stories for Witch Weekly. Rita Skeeter’s name also reminds us of mosquitoes, which are often called 'skeeters.' This is appropriate because of the way she 'bugs' people to get information. She Animages into a beetle, a word which repeats the long e’s of her name. Slide41: Rowling also uses wordplay to reveal conflicts. The word mudblood is an 'offensive' term for a witch or wizard with one muggle parent. She introduces the term to illustrate the kind of inner-group conflict that often arises among peoples who are similar but not identical to each other. Mudblood starts the same as muggle, and ends like halfblood. Slide42: When Harry stands in front of The Mirror of Erised, he sees himself with a man and a woman. The man has the same kind of tousled black hair and rooster tail that Harry has, while the woman has green eyes like Harry’s. With Dumbledore’s help, Harry realizes that this magical mirror shows people their deepest longings (Erised is Desire spelled backwards), and he is seeing his parents. Slide43: Practically the whole plot in Book Three, The Chamber of Secrets, centers around the identification of a mysterious student from the past named Tom Riddle. Ginny, Ron’s younger sister, was given his diary, and throughout the year has been communicating with him, although she did not know who he was. Slide44: When she is drawn into his evil plans and Harry gets the diary and finds himself communicating with its original owner, the secret is revealed. The diary is that of TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE, which is an anagram for I AM LORD VOLDEMORT. Slide45: Harry learns this just before the final battle in the book, which is built around another bit of wordplay. At Voldemort’s command, the stone statue representing Salazar Slytherin and the Slytherin school opens its mouth, 'And something was stirring inside the statue’s mouth. Something was slithering up from its depths.' Out comes a basilisk, an 'enormous serpent, bright, poisonous green, thick as an oak trunk,' which Harry must fight. This event vindicates the suspicions that readers have had all along that the Slytherin School is close to the dark arts. Slide46: 5. PROVIDING 'SMART' ALLUSIONS Slide47: In creating her names, Rowling alludes to ancient legends and myths. She also uses Latin and many other languages. This means that her sophisticated readers will catch onto more allusions and read with greater pleasure. This is well demonstrated on Priscilla Spencer’s web site. Most readers catch onto the 'purity' that is implied by the name of Harry’s mother, Lily, but only a few readers will know that Petunia, the name of her sister, who is Harry’s foster mother, symbolizes anger and resentment. Slide48: The name of Sirius Black’s old family home is Grimmauld. It is 'grim,' but it is also 'auld,' as in 'Auld Lang Syne.' The charm Avadra Kedavra is Aramaic for 'May the thing be destroyed.' This is similar to the more familiar magic charm of Abracadabra. These two words are related to each other. Slide49: In Book Five, one of the adult witches who comes to rescue Harry from the Dursley’s house is a young and rather flippant woman named Nymphadora, but who prefers to be known by her surname of Tonks. Tonks is British slang for testicles. In American slang a tonk is a male homosexual, a simpleton, or fool, a dude or fop. Nymphadora’s given name is is related to such words as nympho, nymphette, and nymphomaniac, which all imply female sexuality. Slide50: Consider also the name of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore is an archaic word for bumblebee (Jones, 56), and Albus Dumbledore is a very busy person. The word albus means 'white tablet,' and is cognate with album. Albus is a 'white tablet' that carries the institutional memory of Hogwarts Academy. Slide51: Mrs. Figg, one of the Dursley’s neighbors, is a Squib, who reports on Harry’s activities. This word that has been in English since the 1500s, both as a verb and a noun to refer to short news items or utterances, which fits with her job of reporting on Harry. The Durmstrang school gets its names from the German expression sturm und drang (storm and stress) a theory of adolescent psychology. The last name of Minerva McGonagall contradicts her character because William Topaz McGonagall is jokingly known in literary circles as the world’s worst poet. Slide52: Only Harry is unafraid, to say Lord Voldemort’s name. The situation is also similar to the teachings of some religions, which out of respect teach that people should avoid saying the name of God. Some religious conservatives claim that the Harry Potter books are immoral and should be kept away from children. This may be partly because of the similarity to religious teachings against 'using the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.' Slide53: 6. CREATING HUMOR J. K. ROWLING’S DESK Slide54: Rowling is constantly inventing new foods such as Berrie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Covered Spiders. Students have to give passwords to get into the various hallways and towers of their school. Toward the end of Book Four when Harry needs desperately to see Professor Dumbledore, he realizes that he has forgotten the password and so he stares at the stone gargoyle and guesses: 'Sherbet lemon?' Then he says 'Pear Drop, Er---Licorice Wand. Fizzing Whizbee. Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum.' Eventually in desperation he tries 'Chocolate Frog,' then 'Sugar Quill!' and finally 'Cockroach Cluster!' To his amazement, it works (p. 579). Slide55: Some names are surprising or incongruous, but even the incongruity is somehow appropriate. At Hogwarts, there is the whomping willow tree. The Weasley family home is called The Burrow. Then there is Dr. Filibuster’s Fabulous Wet-Start No-Heat Fireworks Shop, and St. Brutus’s Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys, where the Dursleys claim Harry spends the school year. Slide56: There is alliteration in the name of Ton Tongue Toffee, which the Weasley twins invent and leave for Dudley to pick up and eat. Just as they had planned, it makes his tongue grow enormously. There is also alliteration and other word play in the titles of such books as Saucy Tricks for Tricky Sorts, The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle, Madcap Magic for Wacky Warlocks, and all the books that Harry has to buy for his second year class in Defense Against the Dark Arts: Break with a Banshee, Gadding with Ghouls, Holidays with Hags, Travels with Trolls, Voyages with Vampires, Wanderings with Werewolves, Year with the Yeti, and finally Professor Lockhart’s autobiography, Magical Me. Slide57: Comic Alliteration is also used in the names of places (St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries). Ghost names often alliterate (Moaning Myrtle, Nearly Headless Nick). Nick’s name creates a vivid mental picture because he was beheaded with a dull axe, which didn’t cut quite through, sohis head is still attached and dangles precariously if he moves too quickly or doesn’t wear a high collar. Slide58: Harry’s cousin, Dudley Dursley, is also in the books for comic effect. Throughout the books, readers who identify with Harry are amused by how superior he is to Dudley, and Dudley Dursley’s name is designed to show his inferiority. Even though Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon think Dudley is perfect, readers know he is a dud. Slide59: Because of the Dursley’s conformity they send Dudley to The Smeltings School, which sounds like a school of fish. Dudley later turns into a gang member, and his new name is Big D. But in a fit of pique, Harry teases him about his mother still calling him such babynames as Ickle Diddykins and Dinky Diddydums.. Slide60: Nicknames are important in the Harry Potter series. In Book Five, Mundungus Fletcher’s colleagues refer to him as Dung Slide61: The objects that are forbidden at Hogwarts also often have funny names. These forbidden objects include Screaming Yo-Yo’s, Fanged Frisbees, and Ever-Bashing Boomerangs. There are 437 such forbidden items. Slide62: In Book Three, Ron brings Harry a present from his trip to Egypt. It is a Pocket Sneakoscope, which emits a piercing whistle when it comes close to anyone doing something untrustworthy or dishonest. Another wish-fulfilling invention is omniculars, which are like binoculars except that they have extra buttons that can be used to slow down an action or to show an instant rerun. Slide63: ! Rowling does not need to provide a glossary because she mostly combines well-known Latin roots and familiar morphemes (the smallest parts of language that carry meaning) in new ways. Some readers simply learn the names 'as names' while others receive an extra sense of satisfaction and involvement from figuring out underlying meanings and relationships. Slide64: !! In concluion, Rowling uses new spellings and different words to establish the fact that she is taking readers to a world that runs parallel to their own, but is quite different. She uses creative naming to provide instant characterization and to help her readers remember who is who. When she names her charms and potions, she is like modern manufacturers who name their products so as to create built-in advertising claims as with Allerest allergy medicine, Diehard batteries, and Holsum bread. Slide65: !!! In relation to plot development, Rowling uses her newly created words, especially the names of her charms, to keep her plot moving at a fast pace. She also uses newly created words for foreshadowing and for revealing the depth of her characters’ emotions. But most of all, she uses creative naming for comic relief. Just as Shakespeare provided comic relief In the darkest of his tragedies, Rowling does the same thing in her Harry Potter series. Slide66: References # 1: Babcock, Philip Gove, ed. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged. Springfield, Massachusetts, 1967. Beale, Paul, ed. Partridge’s Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English from the Work of Eric Partridge. New York: 1989. Colbert, David. The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: A Treasury of Myths, Legends, and Fascinating Facts. New York: Berkley Books, 2004. Dickson, Paul. Names: A Collector’s Compendium of Rare and Unusual, Bold and Beautiful, Odd and Whimsical Names. New York: Delacorte Press, 1986. Green, Tamara M. The Greek and Latin Roots of English, 2nd Edition. New York: Ardsley House Publishers, 1994. Slide67: References # 2: Dunkling, Leslie. The Guinness Book of Names, 6th ed. London: Guinness, 1993. Fiedler, Leslie. 'Archetype and Signature,' Symbol and Myth in Modern Literature, ed. by F. Parvin Sharpless. New York: Hayden Book Company, 1972, pp. 40-48. Granger, John. The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels. Hadlock, WA: Zossima Press, 2002. Gruner, Charles R. The Game of Humor: A Comprehensive Theory of Why We Laugh. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997. Jones, Malcolm. 'Why Harry’s Hot.' Newsweek, July 17, 2000, 52-56. Slide68: References # 3: Kronzck, Allan Zola, and Elizabeth Kronzek. The Sorcerer’s Companion: A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter. New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2001. Morreall, John. The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1987. Nel, Philip. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels: A Reader’s Guide Unauthorized. New York, NY: Continuum Publishing Group, 2001. Nilsen, Don L. F. and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Language Play: An Introduction to Linguistics. Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House, 1978. Slide69: References # 4: Rowling, J. K. Book 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998. Rowling, J. K. Book 2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999. Rowling, J. K. Book 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999. Rowling, J. K. Book 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Rowling, J. K. Book 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. Rowling, J. K. Book 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. Slide70: References # 5: Simpson, D. P., Editor. Cassell’s Latin-English, English-Latin Dictionary, 5th edition. New York: Macmillan, 1968. Soukhanov, Anne H. Word Watch: The Stories Behind the Words of Our Lives. New York: Henry Holt, 1995. Spencer, Priscilla. What’s in a Name? The Guide to Harry Potter Name Etymology website http://www.theninemuses.net/hp/ Consulted January 8, 2004. Slide71: References # 6: Vander Ark, Steve and Michelle Worley. The Harry Potter Lexicon. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/index-2.html. Checked January 14, 2004. Veatch, Thomas C. 'A Theory of Humor,' Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 11:2 (1998): 161-215. Waters, Galadriel and Astre Mithrandir. Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter. Niles, IL: Wizarding World Press, 2003. A Whole Bunch of other Harry Potter Links. http://www.sirlinksalot.net/potter.html. Checked January 14, 2004.