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Names and naming, thoughts - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Names and naming, thoughts
I did an article on this for SW fandom, but I can't remember if I ever made an entry specifically on names for HP characters. So, on the off chance that I haven't done this before, I'll go ahead and do so.

The HP universe uses names in a sometimes heavy-handed manner (when I first read PoA, I smacked myself across the forehead for not having spotted "Remus Lupin"... I mean, sheesh, parents trying to curse you much? Sirius Black as well, of course), but not every name is frought with direct meaning, including Harry Potter himself. (Granted, my mother is convinced that "Potter" has Christological significance, as in "I am not the potter, but the potter's clay," but that's pretty obscure. Harry seems to be your basic Campbellian mythic hero.) Hermione is a name-type (from educated and cultured parents), as are most of the Weasley names (down to earth, except for Ginevra, of course), not a direct meaning issue.

Names with baggage
Any well-known name that's not a perennial classic will have associations for the reader. Britney may well be a perfectly nice name on its own, but you really can't use it without dragging in the vapid pop-tart images of Britney Spears. This may be a shame, but it's just the way it is. The same is true for poor, innocent little Avril, a perfectly nice name that is currently not especially useful to anyone but Ms. Lavigne. And, with my deep apologies to the nation of France, Paris is at this moment very high on the eek list, as far as names go. As Beyond Jennifer and Jason put it, there's only one Arsenio. Generalized trendy names (Jessica, Nikki, etc) are going to make people think of the six people in English class who have them. These may be good associations or bad ones, but they're not ones the author controls. So no matter how many Jennifers and Kimberlys would realistically be in a class in the 70s or 80s, it might be smart to shy away from them in fiction. (Though Jennifer has other possibilities, below.)

Like trendy names and celebrity names, mythological and folklore names have severe baggage. As it happens, I know a girl named Athena, but it's a hard one to pull off--Minerva has been used more, and has just the tiniest bit less, so Professor McGonagall can use it more freely... though I'd note that she does so within the expectations of having the name of the goddess of wisdom and war. The sorceresses of the Arthurian legend are probably much more ambivalent in wizarding culture (and some are ambivalent even in the Muggle legends, like Niniane, who gives Arthur Excalibur, but also seduces Merlin for his power and seals him up in a rock or a tree), but Guinevere is pretty much a bad luck name... but not so much if it's brought into one of its many alternate forms, including Ginevra or Jennifer. There would be plenty of reason behind a Weasley named Jennifer, even if it does fall into the trendy category.

So veddy British
What do you do with the advice that a name would just not be commonly seen in Britain? I mean, with all due respect to Brit-pickers, names like Mundungus, Sirius, and even Hermione aren't exactly run-of-the-mill, and at last check, there was no law forbidding absurd names.

First, this would more or less only apply to Muggle-borns. The wizard-born, particularly the pure-blood families, have their own bunches of names that only bear a slight resemblance to modern naming practices. They range from the ordinary (James, Neville) to the exotic (Sirius, Lucius) to the bizarre (Nymphadora, Bilius), with all kinds of stops in between. Once you're in wizard-born territory, most bets are off.

Second, the fact that a name would seem "off" in Britain doesn't mean a child wouldn't have it. It does mean, however, that the child could spend a lot of time being looked at cross-eyed, with that kind of "Your name is what?" expression that any kid with an odd name is going to have to deal with. (Apple???) Giving such a name implies a lot about the parents, which in turn implies a good bit about what sort of home the person comes from. A child born in the seventies named Suellen Pamela comes from a household that watched a whole lot of American TV for one reason or another, and has a penchant for soaps. And a child named Rainbow Peace might be a young Thatcherite herself, but it's a good bet it's rebellion.

Third, I think what's usually jumped on isn't the fact that a name isn't common in Britain, but that it's obviously common elsewhere (generally, in the U.S.), and it drives people totally buggy to see it treated as common everywhere, as it implies that U.S. culture is the "default." This actually is a criticism to take to heart--this gets into common naming patterns, usually. If someone says, "Look, you've got a Nikki, a Brandy, and a Tiffany all in the same year. Think!" then listen. One set of parents going wild over a weird name is one thing, but three different ones in the same year at a school as small as Hogwarts, with their three daughters becoming bestest of best friends? Not likely. Different naming fads happen at different points in different cultures.

Now, I'm not sure about this all the time. I remember being told unequivocally that no real citizen of Ireland would name a girl Erin or Shannon--that was strictly for American wannabes. Then I looked up both of them (though I can't remember where at the moment; this was a couple of months ago--I'll go link hunting and edit it in if I can find it), and they were both in the top fifty names in Ireland. So, erm, hmm.

Virtue names, symbolic names, pattern names
There's nothing quite like a virtue name for lack-of-subtlety. She was born at the deepest part of the war... we'll call her "Hope" to symbolize our hope that things will get better. She was born at the end of the war...we'll call her "Dawn," to indicate new beginnings.

Sigh. People do this. It can't be denied. Especially young parents with a tendency toward smarminess. There's nothing wrong with virtue names, but they can go over the top very easily. It might be better to think in terms of irony, or of needs rather than traits (Faith, from Buffy, is a good example of the former--she has no faith in anything, but grows to find some in herself and in other people, and to need it). Avoids the smarm factor. I like a good virtue name myself (my favorite, Reconcile, comes from ye olde family tree), but in literature, you have to be careful with them. They're a little overpowering.

Symbolic names are a little different--that's Remus the wolf or Sirius the dog. Personally, I'm curious about the connection between Luna (moon) and Remus (Moony). I believe they're both also referred to as Loony at a couple of points (Luna by everyone, Remus by Peeves). Should you go for the symbolic?

Shrug.

Yes and no. I liked what JKR did with Lupin--"lupine" is a common enough word, but it didn't automatically tick, the way it might have if his name had been, say, "Wolfe." So my preferred method is to look for related words and find names from them.

Pattern names are a gift if you're naming a whole batch of siblings and cousins at once--it limits things and gives lists to choose from, which makes things much quicker. Naming a member of the Black family? Break out the astronomy books. Got an Evans kicking around? Look in your garden. Going for a Weasley? Try the down-to-earth, old-fashioned sound. (Or, conversely, an Arthurian name, or a variant thereof.) Of course, it can get heavy-handed (though with the Blacks, that's almost the point), but it does give a sense of connection, like these people were named by the same pair and are part of the same family unit. It's a quick marker. On the other hand, you don't want to go over the top unless you happen to be Andromeda Black Tonks (in which case, it's mandatory, of course). So you'd want to find category names that actually sound like usable names. The Evanses may like pretty flowers, but I doubt we'd find a "Monkshood Evans" or "Geranium Evans" in the family tree If you have so many flowers that you're down to Geranium, maybe it's time for the non-Evans in the couple to take over the naming. ;) Also, you can only push this for so many generations before the kids will rebel. (Again, unless you're a Black.)

Naming after
It's one thing to have one or two members of the next generation named after some (preferably deceased) members of the older generation, but a whole new bunch of kids using the same bunch of names is just confusing and kind of creepy and morbid, imho. If it must be done, it must, but--especially if the named-after person is still alive--nicknames would be a good idea, just to keep track of who, precisely, we're talking about. Though I can't for the life of me think of a good nickname for "Sirius" or "Neville." (G-d save us from Siri and Nev). Another option is cross-gender naming after--Harriet for Harry, a girl named Jamie/Jaime for James. That helps. Variants of names could be good as well, like the aforementioned "Jennifer" for "Ginevra." Someone on SQ recommended "Susan" or "Susannah" as a name-after name for "Lily," since the meaning is the same. And of course, after living in the Jewish community for awhile, my mind immediately goes to first initials, though it kind of threw me the first time I heard, "I'm Michael, named after my grandfather, Mordechai." When it came around to me, I was a little cowed to admit that my name was Barbara, after my great-great-great grandmother... er, Barbara. It seemed so uncreative. :p It's a useful way to think for creating names for a new generation--there's a connection, but also a new individuality.

Anyway, that's all for now.

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queenrikki_hp From: queenrikki_hp Date: March 14th, 2005 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
This an absolutely wonderful topic. Names are always very important to a character and picking the right one can be difficult. Even something as simple as the spelling the name can be seen as a cue to the character's personality (or to their degree of Sueage). I'm writing a fic with a character based on an idea my sister had and I had argue her from "Kathryne" to "Catherine", which wasn't exactly easy. But I couldn't see a thirty-something Canadian couple using that particular spelling for a child, especially in the late 1960s. She would have been labeled a Mary-Sue, sight unseen (and she has enough Sueish characteristics that I really don't that).
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: March 14th, 2005 07:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's not just in Jewish culture that names can be for initials. My great aunt Atlanta Nickolina was named after two boys who died very young, Asle and Nels.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: March 14th, 2005 07:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Whoops, meant to say that was the Norwegian side of the family, but I hit the "post" button too fast.
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: March 14th, 2005 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
when I first read PoA, I smacked myself across the forehead for not having spotted "Remus Lupin"... I mean, sheesh, parents trying to curse you much? Sirius Black as well, of course)

I don't have my book handy, but I seem to remember we only knew Lupin as "Professor R. J." until Sirius called him Remus in the Shrieking Shack scene, and by that point we already knew his secret.

Also, isn't PoA the first time we really got to see just how significant JKR's names could be? The names were always suggestive, but until the Shrieking Shack all we knew for certain was that JKR likes odd, alliterative names.
alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: March 14th, 2005 10:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't have my book handy, but I seem to remember we only knew Lupin as "Professor R. J." until Sirius called him Remus in the Shrieking Shack scene, and by that point we already knew his secret.

Yep. Because I remember a shipping debate where one debater claimed he knew what was going to happen because he knew "from the time I heard Remus Lupin's name that he was a werewolf." And it was snarkily pointed out that we didn't know his name until after we found out he was a werewolf, so it wasn't really that impressive. And also that has nothing to do with predicting romance.
jesspallas From: jesspallas Date: March 14th, 2005 08:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have to admit I am a bit of a name fanatic and I love using names with a meaning when I write fic as anyone who's read my fic Oblivious will know! It is also a source of great personal pride for someone who doesn't often spot many of JKR's clues, that I spotted the Lupin=Lupine connection and sussed Remus' lycanthropy right off the bat, even before Snape's lesson which was my confirmation. :)

I agree that names should be appropriate - I cringe whenever I see a Americanised name such as those you mentioned above in Hogwarts. I like to use old names - mythological and biblical especially - but if I spot a name that means something appropriate to a character on a flick through my name book I use it. I make some interesting discoveries in there - I didn't realise until just yesterday when I was name hunting that "Phelan" means "wolf". ;)

And the initial thing - I've seen it suggested that Fred and George may have been initial named for Fabian and Gideon Prewett, Molly's brothers.

I could blather on all day about names so I'll stop now. :)
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: March 14th, 2005 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
So Phelan is the same as Felan...oh, I feel so stupid right now. And I'm Irish. Gah. I've known one Erin in my life (actually, she might have been Erinne), but no Shannons or Colleens. 'Colleen' to me still sounds like 'term of endearment', like calling someone 'Acushla'.
(Deleted comment)
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: March 14th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
And of course, after living in the Jewish community for awhile, my mind immediately goes to first initials, though it kind of threw me the first time I heard, "I'm Michael, named after my grandfather, Mordechai."

So is that why in Fiddler on the Roof, they say, "They named him after my dear uncle, Mordechai; the tailor Motel Kamzoil"?

Nothing useful to say, really. Just that you rock.
mamadeb From: mamadeb Date: March 14th, 2005 09:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Motel" is a nickname for Mordechai. Mordechai-Modcha-Modchaleh-Motel.

sannalim From: sannalim Date: March 14th, 2005 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's nothing quite like a virtue name for lack-of-subtlety. She was born at the deepest part of the war... we'll call her "Hope" to symbolize our hope that things will get better. She was born at the end of the war...we'll call her "Dawn," to indicate new beginnings.

Sigh. People do this. It can't be denied. Especially young parents with a tendency toward smarminess. There's nothing wrong with virtue names, but they can go over the top very easily.


LOL! Some RL friends just had their first baby. They named her... Liberty.
kikei From: kikei Date: March 14th, 2005 08:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's rather interesting to look at your name analysis and actually compare it with real life. a lot of elements that are in the HP books (and a lot of stuff that occurs in fanon) slots in neatly with beliefs and ideals of my own community or else of communities I've seen. This names idea is just one of them... I was having a discussion today about naming customs and such things over lunch and I guess it's very eay for me to relate to what you've said here because we came up with the same things.

It has always amused me that Remus's last name is Lupin. But, coming back to my own experiences, it's hardly surprising. We have a tradition of family names coming from traditional occupations, or else being carried down in the more aristocratic families. with the loss of these occupations, a lot of people simply adopt their father's name as their surname (I'm included in that category) or make up new names. I do have my original surname, Merchant, but it's only in my passport. it's not even in my ID.

so, in my head, I can even imagine that perhaps, for the sake of fanon details, maybe Remus did not have the surname Lupin, but instead, it was fashioned for him after he was bitten. On the other hand, it could be that he's a descendant of an aristocratic family, disgraced by a parent or grandparent marrying a Muggle... with a wolf in the family crest (for whatever reason). yes, I have a theory that he's the HBP ;)

when it comes to character names, though, I rarely write OCs. I do have a book that details names and such, so reading it, I came up with a very weird idea that had the Muggle world against the wizarding world, where Grindelwald was... well, evil, but Hitler was, in fact, a Squib, and so furious at this development that he aligned himself with Muggles and went haywire on all those who went against him. On the way he 'acquired' traits to ensure his strength... mad ideas, but the ferals figure heavily into this, with all mistreated parties coming together as one. simply because Adolf comes from Adophus, meaning 'noble wolf'. the idea is still in the recesses of my brain... see what names can make one think? ;)

-Kiks
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 14th, 2005 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
It never occurred to me that Remus could have been "re-named," so to speak (I don't think so--it would have been one of those big blinking signs if it was standard to re-name werewolves, since it doesn't seem to be for the rest of the community), but the idea that it could come down from an ancestor who also had wolfy connections, coming full circle... that's appealing to me.

In the U.S., because we've never had the slightest compunction about names, naming traditions are all over the map, and trends come and go very quickly, and differently among different ethnic groups. Looking back across a family tree is actually funny--there was the classical era (John, Hannah, Joanna, Josiah, Rebecca), then the obscure Biblical era (three Elhanans in a row), then the Latinate era (two Electas and--urgh--a Cyaxaras, among others), then the kind of quaint era (Edna, Ora), then the modern era of people named after random songs and so on, then the eclectic era of my cousins and myself, now a return to older names.
purple_ladybug1 From: purple_ladybug1 Date: March 14th, 2005 10:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Have you read the Harry Potter Derviatives at the quill? They're fascinating and cover several things you've mentioned.
kelleypen From: kelleypen Date: March 14th, 2005 10:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, while most of the Weasleys have fairly commonplace names, I don't find Percival common. So why would Percy and Ginny have the distinctive names?
kelleypen From: kelleypen Date: March 14th, 2005 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I forgot to add. I'm sure Narcissa named Draco--because of her Black blood, after the constellation Draco. Maybe she's trying to make up for the fact that she's the only Black without a stellar name.
castaliae From: castaliae Date: March 14th, 2005 10:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've found name popularity lists for Britain on-line which was convenient as an additional source for naming help.
genesse From: genesse Date: March 14th, 2005 10:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's nothing quite like a virtue name for lack-of-subtlety. She was born at the deepest part of the war... we'll call her "Hope" to symbolize our hope that things will get better. She was born at the end of the war...we'll call her "Dawn," to indicate new beginnings.

When I was in the 8th grade, I read a book (which title is lost--it wasn't a very good book) about a runaway boy who meets up with a runaway girl and falls in love with her. Her name? Love Valentine. *shakes head mournfully*

Morning Glory Evans. That's a keeper. ;)
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: March 15th, 2005 04:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Morning Glory Evans. That's a keeper. ;)

LOL!
greyathena From: greyathena Date: March 14th, 2005 11:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
my grandmother was Jewish, so I'm an Allison named after an Annie (and after Mia Farrow's character on Peyton Place, but who's counting?). that made no sense to me for the longest time.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 14th, 2005 11:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've gone through name lists for ages looking for a name that clicks for a character. I've been working on a fic where Regulus Black escaped by living as a Muggle and changing his name, but all of his children have names meaning black (Nigel, Melanthe [black flower], Dee, and Ebony) except for the younger boy whose middle name is Sirius.

I did name a character Hope, but she was supposed to be from more Puritan times when virtue names were big. I picked it more because it was a name that fit the time but wasn't too strange by modern standards.

I was thinking the other day that Death Eaters who were trying to look innocent after Voldemort's fall might have actually made a point of naming their children things like Lily and James (Harry might have been a little too dangerous in case the Dark Lord made a comeback, although shouldn't there be lots of little Harrys about two years behind Harry?).

hughroe From: hughroe Date: March 15th, 2005 12:52 am (UTC) (Link)
One thing I have noticed about the names in HP is that they seem to mirror the older styles of naming.

You have the 'noble/Norman' names, the Blacks, Malfoys, etc. Where many of the names are, well, snooty to phrase it such.

Then you have the 'Saxon Yeomanry' names, the ocupation/location type last names, such as Potter, Longbottom and Granger, Here the names can be pretty much anything, from the formal - James, Neville, Hermione, to the informal - Harry.

Now it gets tricky - the others - those that don't really fit in with the above.

And here there seems to be two types as well - The Celt, with first names of Minerva, Seamus and Walden - nothing too unusual, could pass in either society.

And the Old Saxon nobility line, of which Dumbledore is the most well known, but which I would place Mundungus Fletcher in as possibly a 'Man-At-Arms' line.

But all this above leaves one entire family out. And the flaming red hair indicates Celt, Dane or Tinker.
imadra_blue From: imadra_blue Date: March 15th, 2005 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
fernwithy sits under the Sorting Hat and without hesitation, it cries, "RAVENCLAW!"

Brilliant logic, impeccable thinking. Many people have some funny ideas about names in the Potterverse, when they told me I was going over the top with one of my OMCs, Rufinus Quirinius Tiberius IX. I was like, pureblood wizard from rich family, quirky character, yeah, it's supposed to be. Then they said, "It's ridiculous in Potterverse." And I said, "Um, hello, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Hermione Granger, Minerva McGonagall, Dolores Umbridge, Albus Brian Wulfric Percival Dumbledore (is that in the right order?), etc. Sod off."

You came up with my argument, only made it sound intelligent and reasonable. I wish I was a Ravenclaw. *mopes back off to throw another party with the Weasley twins in Gryffindor tower*
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