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The reason that Tom Riddle chose to call himself Voldemort was, in part, because he hated his father.

If so, the why did he build the name from the letters of his hated last name (Riddle)? As his diary soul fragment explains to Harry in CoS, "I am Lord Voldemort" is built from letters of "Tom Marvolo Riddle". Shouldn't he have chosen some other phrase not connected to his father to build his super-nickname with?

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Whats up with all the downvoting with no comments? –  DVK May 25 '12 at 1:41
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No canon answer, but I'd guess it has to do with the usual magical significance of a name; even scrambled, it's still his 'true' name. Again, nothing canon for this, it's just a common thing in other stories. And +1 from me, incidentally; it's a good psychological question. –  KHW May 25 '12 at 3:19
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+1 from me, but I doubt the answer will get any better than something resembling the chicken or the egg problem...i.e. Rowling had a name as an anagram from a chosen name, and a background story involving a hated father figure, one came first, the other doesn't necessarily follow, pretty sure canon won't explain this one. –  NominSim May 25 '12 at 3:42
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Since cannonical answers are not possible, my speculation is that it wouldn't make much sense for him to think up a fake name, to use as a base to create his fake name. He warped what he had. –  Gorchestopher H May 25 '12 at 11:30
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@DVK True, I suppose what I meant was "not currently available". I agree with Donald's answer, the question would have to specifically be addressed by JKR. An anagram used in this way would carry little weight if it was built off of a second fake name. I suppose the real question is why he bothered using an anagram at all, if he hated his name. Of course, since he did use one, it makes little sense to use anything but his name within it. I suppose he may have used an anagram because his last name was "Riddle", and thought it was fitting to use a kind of riddle to hide the "Riddle". –  Gorchestopher H May 25 '12 at 15:31

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

As mentioned in the comments, a canonical answer will not be possible unless JKR deigns to speak to the question.

I would speculate that the answer has to do with the nature and perception of anagrams and Voldemort's self image.

Anagrams, puns and other types of word games are often perceived as intellectual pursuits. Since Voldemort sees himself as a genius and thus an intellectual, it would make sense for him to choose, as his new name, something that he perceives as clever. "Vol de mort" being a French expression meaning "flight of death", Lord Voldemort would be a triple win in that a) It set him above the common people; b) It marks him as a bad-ass, but in an intellectual way; c) The name is based on a clever anagram.

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Does Voldemort think of himself as a genius? He definitely sees himself as the most powerful wizard alive, and above others, but is there evidence that he thinks he is a genius? –  NominSim May 25 '12 at 15:13
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Most powerful wizard alive and genius definitely go hand in hand. Wizardry does seem to be a mental thing after all. Also, he may have decided to use an anagram because his last name was "Riddle", and thought it was only fitting to use a facet of his old name to do away with it. –  Gorchestopher H May 25 '12 at 15:33
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@NominSim Like Gorchestopher said, magic is primarily a mental thing. Voldemort not only thinks of himself as a genius, but he wants everyone else to think he's a genius too because in the HP universe, smart and powerful go hand in hand. There are no "levels" or "mana points" or anything like that. Any wizard can pretty much cast any spell that he knows (or discover/create I assume). –  Donald.McLean May 25 '12 at 16:06
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@NominSim Just to clarify - knowing the incantation isn't enough because many spells have mental aspects to them that the caster must understand and master. However, there is no sign anywhere in any of the books that there are any limits to what spells a wizard can cast if they put in the time and effort to fully and properly learn how. Every member of the DA learned every spell that Harry taught them. It may have taken Neville more time, but he got them in the end. –  Donald.McLean May 25 '12 at 16:30
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@NominSim I'm a little surprised there is any debate at all that Voldemort classifies himself as possessing a superior intellect. He aspires to rule the realm, not just so he can soak up fortune, but so he can usher in a new age as per his ideals. Placing values on his ideals in a way that exerts them over everyone indicates that he believes he is intellectually superior. If he didn't think he was a genius he would have just been a soldier for someone else. –  Gorchestopher H May 25 '12 at 16:32

A little bit of trivia: In French, the word "vol" means "flight" or "robbery". "Mort" is "death" in French. If we put the two together, "Vol(de)mort", it means "flight from death" or "escape from death," which is what Voldemort's entire philosophy was: to not die, to live forever, to become immortal. According to J.K. Rowling, the "t" at the end of "Voldemort" was intended to be silent, but nobody else pronounces it that way.

In regards to the actual name itself, translations aside, it's correct that Tom Marvolo Riddle hated going by his father's surname. He hated the fact that a wretched Muggle was related by blood to him. In order to disguise this, he essentially demolished the name by scrambling the letters and coming up with "I am Lord Voldemort," a title which he took up during his school years, once he gathered a following of like-minded allies. He never had any true "friends," just people who feared and followed him and shared the same ideas that he did. He did this to try to shred any connection to the Muggle Riddle, and then finished it off by killing his father (albeit not entirely for that one reason).

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Since no cannon evidence has been provided, and Donald's answer doesn't contain my favorite part of my own little theory, here it is:

I'm sure some pedant will heckle me on this, but let me postulate that an anagram can be used as a puzzle, and may be considered a form of riddle.

Tom Riddle decided to hide his name with an anagram (riddle). A riddle to hide the Riddle. In a sense, his identity is lost by exacting its literal meaning, in a way Tom Riddle is defeating himself (or doing away with his old self) and being reborn as Lord Voldemort.

At least that's what my straining highschool English teachers would have tried to get me to buy.

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I suppose a wizard has some kind of strong bonding with his true name and no matter what he does, cannot emancipate himself from it completely. For example, the Marauders Map shows the true name of Barty Crouch (Jr.) even if he had been impersonating Moody for so long, and shows Pettigrew as Peter Pettigrew although he had been living as Scabbers for many many years. Voldemort, although he hated his muggle lineage, probably had accepted the fact that Riddle was his last name and there is nothing he can do about it, and hence, had used it to forge his new identity. Even his diary said T. M. Riddle instead of just Tom or Tom Marvolo. His diary put emphasis on his last name instead of the first two.

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