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Given that Barty Crouch Sr. was apparently a close colleague of Arthur Weasley, with whom he was on a first-name basis, how could Crouch have mistakenly believed Percy Weasley's last name was Weatherby?

In the Goblet of Fire, Crouch mis-names Percy in the middle of a conversation with Arthur in front of several members of the Weasley family:

“Oh,” said Mr. Crouch, looking over at Percy in mild surprise. “Yes — thank you, Weatherby.”

Fred and George choked into their own cups. Percy, very pink around the ears, busied himself with the kettle.

“Oh and I’ve been wanting a word with you too, Arthur,” said Mr. Crouch, his sharp eyes falling upon Mr. Weasley.

And moments later, during the same conversation, Crouch says:

“Thank you for the tea, Weatherby.”

I gather this is intended as a humorous moment by the author (and it is), but it's hard to accept as remotely realistic.

How could Crouch possibly mistake the son of a close colleague with such distinctive features (red hair and freckles), especially in such an obvious context?

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Perhaps he would have called him Weatherby, too, if he hadn’t used the first name? – chirlu Feb 3 at 0:30
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Apparently, people named Karen are often called Laura, and vice versa. Compared to that, saying Weatherby instead of Weasley is almost not even a mistake. – Martha Feb 3 at 4:18
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I've never worked with high profile politicians, but I do work with professors at an R1 university that often make this mistake with names of people they should know for one reason or another. No lie: I've heard this explained as a logical allocation of mental resources. That is, they intentionally don't remember people's names so they can spend energy focusing on other matters in the conversation. (Of course I've also met professors in the same department that make a point to learn everyone's name, so this is really a case-by-case thing.) – user1717828 Feb 3 at 13:09
    
My first thought was Imperious related senility but that's not possible because Jr. hadn't done his thing yet. – ratchet freak Feb 3 at 17:16
    
@user1717828 that's truly just an excuse used by otherwise intelligent people to avoid admitting a deficiency in their ability. It's not like it's a conscious choice to not remember someone's name, it's a lack of a conscious choice to remember their name - because they don't naturally have the ability to remember names, it takes enough effort that they would literally miss the next part of the conversation, and heaven forbid there are two new people to remember. This excuse falls flat with repeated contact, eventually names sink in unless you just want to make others feel unimportant. – Jason Feb 4 at 13:42
up vote 57 down vote accepted

I think Sirius has an answer for this in chapter 27:

Sirius shook his head and said, "Hermione has got the measure of Crouch better than you have, Ron. If you want to know what a mans like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."

Bartemius doesn't care enough about his assistant to even know his name.

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I think this answer most convincingly explains why Rowling may have wanted to add this particular personality quirk despite it being hard to believe, other than simple comedic effect. The quirk helps to establish not just Barty's character, but his character toward underlings, which is relevant to the plot. – Todd Ditchendorf Feb 3 at 4:49
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@Benubird, Sirius says this in reference to Winky, but it applies to Weatherby as well -- and it's a recurring theme in the series. Sirius died because he didn't treat Kreacher properly ("I do not think Sirius ever saw Kreacher as a being with feelings as acute as a human's"); Regulus betrayed the Dark Lord after what he did to his elf; evil Voldemort never cared much about killing or hurting his DE; Golden Fountain: how wizards see others species; Young Dumbs and DE views towards muggles (their inferiors); Dursleys and a small child at their care; Bellatrix killing a fox for no reason etc etc – David Banner Feb 3 at 12:04
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I don't get why it would also necessarily apply to percy. There's a lot in the books about the treatment of elves, but I can't think of any other cases where a difference in rank is in any way highlighted or relevant - the adults are all pretty much treated as equals. It seems likely that this was just one more elf-related example, rather than the sole reference to rank. – Benubird Feb 3 at 13:46
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@Benubird e.g.: Vernon Dursley sucking up to his boss at the beginning of CoS -- this is the same man who put the nephew in his care in a cupboord for 10 years. Percy is another one who likes to praise his boss/the ministry etc and spite his family (whom he probably see as losers). And I doubt anyone would like to work under Dolores Umbridge... – David Banner Feb 3 at 18:01
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@Benubird David Banner is right here, this idea is a major recurring theme in the book (it's one of the main reasons Voldemort was defeated) and doesn't just apply to elves. This quote specifically was about an elf, but note that he doesn't say "elf", he says "inferiors". "inferiors" in this sense means anyone who doesn't have as much power as you, be it legal (Crouch and Umbridge), monetary (Malfoy), strength (Voldemort and early Dumbledore), social (Snape)... For a clearer example, look at how Crouch treated captured prisoners during the first war - sometimes he didn't even give them trials. – DavidS Feb 4 at 9:56

Arthur has a big family – seven sons and a daughter – and Barty Crouch doesn’t strike me as a family man (especially after what happened to his own son). I don’t think he was ever introduced to Arthur’s children, and perhaps doesn’t realise that Percy and Arthur are related. Even if he had been introduced to the clan, it’s hard to blame him for forgetting.

Throughout the book, Crouch refers to Percy as Weatherby. I think he really is just too distracted to notice he’s getting it wrong, and Percy is too awe-struck to correct him.

I always assumed that Weatherby was the name of one of Crouch’s former assistants, and that he just hadn’t noticed the change of staff. I didn’t spot the similarity to “Weasley”. I’m sure that was based on more than a hunch, but I can’t find a source right now.

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Weatherby is very clearly meant to be a former assistant. Crouch thinks he's living in the past, as it were—we see him on one or two occasions even having conversations with a nonexistent (or at least non-present) Weatherby. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 3 at 1:15
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@JanusBahsJacquet Yes, although on at least one of those occasions, Crouch is telling Weatherby about Triwizard calculations – which could be talking to Percy. I skimmed quickly; not sure if there's another quote where he's definitely imagining a different Weatherby. – alexwlchan Feb 3 at 3:22
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This reminds me of "Devil wears prada". – cst1992 Feb 3 at 5:31

We have a few things going on in my opinion.

First Barty Crouch is an extremely busy and important person in the ministry. That kind of stress organizing something like the Tri-Wizard Tournament, as well as the Quiditch world cup, is extreme. Remembering 100s if not 1000s of peoples names from across Europe, his department, other departments in the ministry, is taxing. Percy is simply an aid, who has been with the ministry for a mater of weeks at this point, approximately 2 months.

Second we have Percy himself, who would never correct a teacher, or respected figure.

Finally while the first few months its understandable to forget your employee's name, starting right after the world cup this happens

“It was very quick. My father was placed under the Imperius Curse by my master. Now my father was the one imprisoned, controlled.

Leaving him unable to ever fully learn his assistants name, after stress from the world cup was over.

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I think that's the key - to start with it's because he's like the ultimate terrible boss, but then once he's under the Imperius curse it could even be considered a clue that there's something wrong. – Matthew Walton Feb 3 at 14:38

I noticed he called Percy Weatherby and figured it portrayed him as the kind of person who would not bother to remember his devoted assistant's name, and never bother to wonder if he is related to Arthur.

Moments later, that seemed perfectly consistent with calling Arthur by his first name, not out of true intimacy, but rather the kind of fake familiarity people use to insinuate themselves into a group in which they do not truly belong.

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Mr. weasley also actually matters at the ministry, despite that his possition is frowned upon, he regularly is called in to handle disputes at the national level for example carpet importation. So crouch would need to be familiar with Arthur at a much higher level professionally then towards percy his lacky. – Himarm Feb 3 at 21:35

Personally I thought at the time that it was because Percy wanted to move forward with his career without having the name Weasley attached to him.

Hence Weatherby is what he called himself to distance himself from the Wealsey name.

To me that explained why Percy is absent and takes a different view than that of his Family for the middle novels.

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The answers given so far are good, but I have outside material that helps confirm it all:

In Animorphs #54 after the war is over and the kids become rich and famous, Marco gets a big house in Hollywood hills and he has a butler whose real name might have been Jarvis.

Marco always calls him...I forget if it was also Weatherby, or Withers. It was a very similar W-name.

This is what you do when you have someone you want to treat like a servant and you're a jerk.

You call them W-something. Because your rich and you can. That's all there is to it.

There might be an example with Kaiba or Pegasus too

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This is about the Harry Potter series, not Animorphs. – AMADANON Inc. Feb 3 at 20:19
    
Weak answer, but I remember thinking of HP when I read that animorphs book. – ibid Feb 3 at 20:24
    
What AMADANON said, also, the generalization that jerks always call their servants W-something is not convincing. – ab2 Feb 3 at 20:25
    
i actually see where hes going with this, hes saying mr crouch uses weatherby as a stand in name, for anyone whose to low for him to notice, and shows an example of another instance in literature this is done. i think the answer needs some work, and maybe confirmation that this is the case but it is an interesting idea. – Himarm Feb 3 at 21:33

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