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Another HP observation - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Another HP observation
I was fairly sure that the time of the founding of Hogwarts was too early for surnames to have been surnames as we know them, so I checked. Apparently, they came over with William the Conquerer, and in 1400, about 75% of England had surnames (starting in the south and working north). It wasn't until around 1450 that it became the absolute norm. Hogwarts would have been founded either in the 900s or 1000s, depending on how precise Binns was in CoS.

Therefore, Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff most likely would not have same-name descendents. (I'm operating on the assumption that the Slytherins, pureblood snobs that they were, would probably hold the name the way noble families held their given names--Whosis, Lord Whatsis--so that may have stayed.) I don't think this is an especially big deal, since I've never thought it was of major import to find out who's descended from what founder (except for Tom and Slytherin), but it does have fanfic implications if you're going to write about descendents. It also means that their names probably had some kind of immediate meaning.

"Gryffindor" (Griffin of gold) is pretty simple--sounds like a heraldic thing. A griffin isn't an uncommon symbol in heraldry--a very quick and dirty image search in Google picks up griffins on coats of arms for Grogans, Lowes, and, not surprisingly, Griffins. I learn on a quick glance that the griffin is probably a source of the cherub, which is a protective symbol. Maybe I'm tainted by my own liking of Godric Gryffindor as either a half-blood or a Muggle-born (I write him as a half-blood, but I like both), but I think it makes some sense, if this is an heraldic name, to think that he might have been a knight or a son of a noble Muggle family that bore this crest. Of course, wizards may also have had their own crests.

"Ravenclaw" (Raven's claw, obviously) could also be heraldic. I found this at Heraldry unlimited, and thought it was interesting in an HP context.
Meaning: Transformation and Improvement, Misfortune and Death. Its black plummage and the fact that the raven feeds on carrion made it a largely negative symbol in many cultures. In Greek mythology it was thought that the raven had once been white but was turned black by the god Apollo for divulging secrets. In the Old Testament, the raven was sent out by Noah to see whether the floodwaters had receded but did not return to report back, and the early Christians therefore saw it as a symbol of people who are so caught up in worldly pleasures that they keep putting off their conversion to Christianity. In the Middle Ages, the raven was thought to prefer eating the corpses of hanged men, and became seen as a bad omen and a bringer of misfortune and death. Despite this, several saints were associated with the raven including St. Vincent, whose body was defended by ravens against vultures. In medieval alchemy the raven represented blackened base matter before the alchemist transformed into the mythical philosopher's stone, and so it could be seen as the starting point on the road to improvement. In heraldry, the raven is mostly found in the arms of families such as Corbet (being a play on the Latin name of the raven - corbus).

I find the double meaning interesting. Transformation and improvement and misfortune and death--an ambigious meaning for an ambiguous house.

However, the crest of Ravenclaw house is not, in fact, a raven, despite the Founder's name. It's an eagle, a symbol "strength, empire, and justice," according to the same site, which may speak about the house, but not the Founder's name.

So the root may not be heraldic. Perhaps her family originated at a place that was shaped like a raven's claw. An outjutting of rock or something. I can't think of a story to suss out from that. Or it could be a nickname--a foundling child with a raven's claw on her person... could be a potion ingredient?

Still, I rather like it as heraldic, even if her house didn't take the same crest.

"Hufflepuff" is almost certainly a "nickname" sort of name, alliterative and onomatopoeic--"huff and puff." You can see her as a little ball of energy, running around on her business, maybe a smidge self-important, but not offensively so. Making herself pant with exertion sometimes. (Heraldic symbolism of the badger that I'd guess she chose, same site: "Meaning: Vice, courage and ferocity. As a creature which lived underground in the darkness, the badger was often seen as a symbol of vice. However, it was also seen as courageous and determined because of its fierceness when defending its home, which is one of the reasons why is it quite a popular charge in heraldry. It is also used as a reference to family names containing the word 'brock' - as brock is an old terms for a badger.")

"Slytherin" also strikes me as a nickname, a mix of "sly" and "slither," referencing his wiliness and affinity for snakes. I'd take that to mean it was a name given to him by others. "Salazar" is a Spanish and Portuguese place name. A stranger in England, given a suspicious nickname?

(Snake heraldry, same site: Meaning: Death, resurrection, healing, cunning and wisdom. The snake is one of the most important and complex symbols in many cultures. Because so many snakes are poisonous, serpents often represented death and destruction and because they lived underground they were linked with darkness and the underworld. The fact that the snake was so small and yet so deadly also made it symbolic of cunning. In the Old Testament it was Satan, in his guise as a serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and brought sin and death into the world.

On the other hand, the fact that the snake sheds and renews its skin was seen as symbolic of resurrection and healing. In the ancient world it was linked with the Greek god of healing Asclepius, and a snake was found wrapped around his staff. In the Old Testament, the Israelites became diseased through the bites of fiery serpents, but they were cured by looking at a serpent of brass on a pole, showing the snake's ability both to kill and cure. The serpent was also thought to be very wise - the positive interpretation of the snake being cunning.

The serpent was a symbol of the procreative male force and of energy in general, but also of female secrecy and intuition - many goddess in ancient cultures were portrayed with snakes. Snakes and their cousins dragons were also seen as guardians of treasures, both physical (i.e. dragon's hoards) and spiritual (e.g. hidden knowledge).")

Anyway, I don't know that I have any great thematic statements to make from this, but I'm interested in the names.

3 comments or Leave a comment
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: May 25th, 2004 07:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Alan and I, I shall confess, took what's probably a slightly simpler tack with the surnames, but it has been a lot of fun. When the matter of surnames being unusual occurred to us, we kind of associated the surnames with their House mascots and decided that it would seem reasonable both for four such talented (according to the Hat) wizards and witches to have been Animagi, and for that sort of magical accomplishment to be one that was customarily announced by adopting a related name. (We haven't decided whether the Marauders followed the old tradition on purpose or it just seemed like a natural thing to do.)

So "Gryffindor" is perhaps a tad bit exaggerated for a lion, but then, "Padfoot" is technically a magical beast too, if I remember right. "Ravenclaw" was a black-taloned eagle. And "Hufflepuff" also indicated that Helga had a sense of humor. :)
chasehunts From: chasehunts Date: May 25th, 2004 08:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Badger. Vice, courage and ferocity.

That gave me an odd view of Hufflepuffs; especially that first word.

Those quiet Hufflepuffs. I wonder what their collective secret vice is?

From: (Anonymous) Date: May 26th, 2004 11:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Stopped by intending to read "Shifts"...

...and then got consumed with curiosity about your Quibbles. I do love your song about the Founders, and the speculation on the meaning of their names.

Something about the surnames Hufflepuff and Slytherin has always struck me as odd--they're somehow so...undignified. Hufflepuff sounds deliberately silly (and like a breakfast cereal), while Slytherin ("Slither in"?) sounds as if it was bestowed in the same spirit as Grima naming Gandalf "Lathspell." It makes me wonder if these surnames weren't originally given by someone else, in mockery or anger or dislike. They sound a little like the surnames you encounter in sagas--Mord Fiddle, Onund Treefoot, Olvir Hump, An Twig-Belly, Thorstein the Galleon, Eystein Fart. (The last-named being the great-great grandfather of King Harald Tangle-Hair, who also had an ancestor known as Halfdan the Mild and Meal-Stingy...I swear I'm not making this up!)

It's a safe bet that nobody went by a name like Eystein Fart from choice--the surname would have been bestowed by others, and no doubt there was a story that went with it; if the story was good enough, the name stuck. What if Salazar was given the name of Slytherin by someone who disliked him? On the other hand, Helga might have adopted a surname that was given her in mockery, just because she had that kind of a sense of humor.

One day, I swear, I'm going to start a Live Journal. (Kellie was after me to start one, last year; I begged off at the time, but I think I've finally succumbed.) I've procrastinated long enough! When I do start one, may I friend you?

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