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The four founders of Hogwarts all have alliterative names that give hints as to their personalities (first name) and the values their respective houses seek (surname, through the cultural symbolism associated with various animals, at least in Western Europe):

  • Salazar Slytherin
    Salazar was the name of a Portuguese dictator,1 and Slytherin is of course aimed at the slithering movements associated with snakes, the symbol of Slytherin house, which are frequently associated with evil, poison, and generally badness.
  • Godric Gryffindor
    Godric is an old Germanic name meaning ‘benevolent ruler’ or ‘ruling through goodness’, and Gryffindor is at least a reference to the griffin, a mythical beast half lion and half eagle. The lion (king of the beasts) is associated with bravery and is the symbol of Gryffindor house; the eagle (king of the birds) has similar connotations.
  • Rowena Ravenclaw
    Rowena is probably an old Germanic name meaning something like ‘rejoicing in fame’, and Ravenclaw is obviously a reference to ravens who are associated with intelligence and wisdom (cf. Huginn and Muninn).2
  • Helga Hufflepuff
    Helga is an old Germanic name meaning ultimately just ‘holy’, and Hufflepuff is… well…

Whereas the other three Hogwarts founders have surnames that quite directly reference an animal that is notionally related to both the person and their house (if not actually its mascot), Hufflepuff doesn’t really seem to reference any animal at all—certainly not the house mascot, which is the badger. The Wiki just says that it “could mean ‘huff’ and ‘puff’”, which would at best connect it to the Big Bad Wolf… somehow not likely, I think.

The only thing I can think of that might fit is Puffskeins (or perhaps Pygmy Puffs). They’re at least docile and kindly, and not exactly known for their overflowing intelligence. But then what about ‘huffle’? And what about the fact that what ol’ Helga herself appreciated most seems to have been hard work, dedication, and loyalty?

Has any canon source (the books, Pottermore, Rowling interviews) ever specified what, if any, animal and animal symbolism the name Hufflepuff is supposed to reference?

 

1 The Wiki claims that “Rowling stated that the name "Salazar Slytherin" was chosen after the Portuguese dictator's name”, but does not mention where she has stated this. Considering that Rowling was living in Portugal when the wrote the first bits, though, it doesn’t seem an unreasonable assumption.

2 Why Rowling chose an eagle, rather than a raven, to be the symbol of Ravenclaw house, I cannot fathom—especially since the eagle is symbolically more closely linked to Gryffindor. But that’s a different question.

# Yes, I know I’m misusing the term ‘avatar’ in the title; anyone can think of a better word, please do let me know, ’cause I couldn’t.

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Ravenclaw's bird is a raven, it's just that JKR chose to draw it "displayed", and heraldically speaking, if it's displayed, it's an eagle. Or at least that's how I derive it. – Martha Feb 24 at 4:50
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@Martha That could be the origin, but if you look at the Pottermore crests, the Ravenclaw one definitely looks like an actual eagle, not a raven. Would be neater if it is just a raven that became an eagle for originally purely heraldic reasons, though (I mean, the original crest would have been a thousand years ago, so the crest has probably gone through multiple iterations). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 24 at 4:55
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I have posted before about a great theory involving Ravenclaw (it's not mine). In heraldry, more famous names such as Lionheart mean 'the heart of a lion' or 'brave' - not an actual lion's heart of course. Now, in that style, Ravenclaw would mean 'black claw' which of course an eagle has. That makes much more sense, and things like Pottermore confirm it is indeed an eagle, not a raven. – ThruGog Feb 24 at 20:06
    
@ThruGog Only problem is that that kind of loses the connection with the Ravenclaw values. The intelligence and wisdom part of it definitely fits with the raven, the bird, rather than the colour black or the eagle. We’d be left then with no really discernible pattern at all, which seems unsatisfactory for something like Rowling’s namings. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 24 at 23:40
    
@Janus Bahs Jacquet - The black only refers to the claw of the eagle. I always thought 'Ravenclaws fly high like an eagle' was enough of a link to intelligence. The Pottermore welcome simply says, "Our emblem is the eagle, which soars where others cannot climb." Always seemed enough to me. – ThruGog Feb 25 at 6:51

Maybe a bear

The name Hufflepuff is generally believed to be derived (out of universe) from the idiom "Huff and Puff". (Although I cannot find any official confirmation from Rowling about this.)

Regarding what Hufflepuff's avatar might be, it's worth noting that Rowling originally planned to make Hufflepuff's mascot a bear, before she decide on a badger. This can seen in the annotated Philospher's Stone. enter image description here

Transcription:
Perhaps Hufflepuff house would have the respect it deserves from the fans if I'd stayed with my original idea of a bear to represent it?'source

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@RedCaio She has addressed fans hating Hufflepuff several times in interviews. – ibid Feb 24 at 4:50
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Freehand circles get an automatic +1! If you can find something that links the huffing and puffing itself to that bear, that would greatly improve the answer's direct relevance to the question, though. @RedCaio Yeah, Hufflepuff tends to be treated the same way by fans as by students from the other houses: as the kind of silly little house where all the dimwits go. :-( – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 24 at 4:51
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@JanusBahsJacquet I only posted it as an answer because comments don't allow for freehand circles. I'll continue to look for connections, but I struggle to think past three little pigs. – ibid Feb 24 at 5:04
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That's amusing. Badgers are pretty badass. I wouldn't mess with a cornered badger. – The Giant of Lannister Feb 24 at 8:18
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@RedCaio "I'm a hufflepuff!" (youtu.be/y0Z5_wipT2o) Yes, some fans do disrespect hufflepuffs. – PipperChip Feb 24 at 10:32

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