75

Look at the first names of the Hogwarts staff we know of:

Albus, Minerva, Severus, Filius, Remus, Pomona, Quirinus, Gilderoy, (Argus), ...

Most of these sound like ancient Roman or Greek names. Compare with the names of students:

Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Fred, George, Neville, Seamus, Dean, Luna, Vincent, Cedric, Ernie, Pansy, Millicent, Hannah, Percy, ...

All of these are perfectly ordinary modern English names. Even the names of adults who aren't Hogwarts teachers:

Molly, Arthur, Cornelius, Amos, Tom, James, Lily, Peter, ...

A couple of these sound quite old-fashioned but still plausible as modern English names.

Why do Hogwarts professors have such archaic names while other people don't?

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  • 72
    Probably a job requirement. If you're going to teach as a wizard then your name must sound positively wizardly.
    – Xantec
    Oct 6, 2015 at 12:50
  • 9
    Are you looking for an out-of-universe answer? Cause I doubt an in-universe one exists.
    – DavidS
    Oct 6, 2015 at 12:59
  • 14
    The actual name of Ginny is Ginevra - again an unusual name.
    – vap78
    Oct 6, 2015 at 13:21
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    The list of students is skewed by the inclusion of five Weasleys, whose father, as mentioned by RCB, has an unusual propensity for Muggle names. Some of the others are Muggle-born, and so their Muggle parents would naturally have given them ordinary Muggle names. Oct 6, 2015 at 15:37
  • 59
    asks "rand al'thor". Oct 6, 2015 at 16:13

6 Answers 6

106

Out of universe, JKR quite obviously wanted to show their personalities.

  • Albus is the Latin word for white, whose defining visual trait is his white hair and beard
  • Severus coming from severe, he's very severe and strict. As Null points out in the comments, there is also a strong parallel with the Roman emperor Severus
  • Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom, she's an extremely wise woman
  • Filius is the Latin word for son, my interpretation of this is simply that Flitwick is described as being a very small man
  • Remus is one of the founders of Rome, who was raised by a wolf, demonstrating his condition
  • Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruitful abundance, suiting her post as herbology teacher
  • Quirinus was another name for Janus, the Roman god of two faces (no need to explain that freaky little connection - thank you Alarion for this contribution). It's also a Latin adjective meaning wielder of the spear, as he is the defense against the dark arts teacher
  • Gilderoy was the name of two different highway men who were both described as being very handsome, which JKR found in a book (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable). Gilded is also a good connection to this name, a gold plating or a front, which is Lockhart all over (thank you again Alarion for this contribution also)
  • Argus comes from Greek myth, Argos was a watchman with hundreds of eyes (much like Filch and his cat).

As you can see from the books, these names are all very linked to the characters' personalities.

As for an in-universe answer, the students are much younger than almost all of the professors at Hogwarts, who are mostly at least 2 (maybe even 3) generations older than the students. This archaic use of names can simply be down to this generation gap.

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  • 5
    Severus Snape's name always reminded me of Septimius Severus. I don't know enough about Harry Potter to judge if there might be a deliberate connection between the two. Is it possible?
    – Null
    Oct 6, 2015 at 14:01
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    @Null it seems very possible, Severus killed and deposed the true emperor of the time to become emperor himself. This is a very strong parallel with Snape's murder of Dumbledore, even if it was pre-arranged. Nice comment, thank you!
    – ZenLogic
    Oct 6, 2015 at 14:05
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    Quirinus was also a name for Janus, the two faced god. I'm thinking that's probably the better connection.
    – Alarion
    Oct 6, 2015 at 14:16
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    The little linguistic things make Harry Potter fun on multiple levels. When you introduce a character called Raised-By-Wolves Wolf, an educated adult will take one look at that name and say "oh, he's a werewolf, isn't he?" and then look forward to the reveal. But kids will go on reading, cheerfully oblivious until suddenly we find out that *gasp* Lupin is a werewolf! Same goes for Mr. Dog Black, who turns out to be a black dog... Oct 6, 2015 at 14:56
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    Also Fenrir Greyback is named after the wolf son of Loki from Norse mythology. Oct 6, 2015 at 23:15
45

Name choices in wizarding families will be different from non-wizarding ones. In addition, names go in and out of fashion, and we can expect different naming trends in different generations. Bear in mind that teachers such as Dumbledore are at least a generation older than Harry's parents.

There also appears to be some variation between wizarding families. Arthur Weasley is fascinated by Muggles, so it is not too surprising that he gave his children plain Muggleish names. By contrast, the Blacks (Sirius, Bellatrix, Phineas) and Malfoys (Draco, Lucius) go in for more archaic and wizardly sounding names.

Finally, the names used by some of these teachers may not be the ones they were born with. (Although Gilderoy Lockhart's name is genuine; see comments.)

These factors together may help explain the unusual names of Hogwarts teachers.

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    I'm loving the idea that Lockhart's real first name is just "John" or "Bob" or something. Oct 6, 2015 at 14:01
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    @DrRDizzle Sorry to disappoint you - Gilderoy Lockhart is actually his real name! JK Rowling stated in an interview, "Gilderoy Lockhart isn't his pseudonym. Gilderoy Lockhart is his name. I think that that says something about his mother, who was very ambitious for her son, and encouraged him in the belief that he was a remarkable person. Gilderoy's quite a flashy name, I think." Source
    – Luna
    Oct 6, 2015 at 15:15
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    Don't wizarding children go through normal primary schooling for four our five years before attending Hogwarts? Some of those really outlandish names would make that child a big target for horrible teasing.
    – Xantec
    Oct 6, 2015 at 17:45
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    @Xantec, Some of them, but some of the more pure blood loving types segregated their children from the very beginning and they never attended 'normal' school. Like the Blacks and Malfoys.
    – Ryan
    Oct 6, 2015 at 17:53
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    @ryan Not just the pure-blood loving types - the Weasley were homeschooled too, according to JKR. I assume that homeschooling is mainly an option to try and keep your magic hidden from Muggles - in which case an outlandish name is the least of your worries.
    – Luna
    Oct 6, 2015 at 18:56
34

This is a combination of generational shifts in naming fashions, and you picking and choosing your evidence. :)

In the generations that are older than Harry, there are lots of names that don't occur, or are very rare, in the muggle population:

Sirius, Bellatrix, Andromeda, Rodolphus, Xenophilius, Bathilda, Regulus, Mafalda, Bartemius, Mundungus, Marvolo, Merope, Morfin...

Not a Hogwarts professor in the bunch1. Even in Harry's own generation, there are some unusual-for-muggles names: when's the last time you met someone named Nymphadora? Or Lavender, Luna, or Draco? And neither Ginny's full name, Ginevra, nor Hermione, are what you'd call run-of-the-mill.

In the other direction, not all Hogwarts professors have unusual names. The librarian is Irma - old-fashioned, perhaps, but totally mundane. The Muggle Studies professor's first name is Charity, which spiked in popularity in 1970, and hasn't completely tapered off yet. There's a substitute teacher named Wilhelmina, which as a baby name would cause my name-geek sister and her like-minded friends to go into ecstasies of adoration. And while calling a divination professor Sybill is almost too apt, it's still a perfectly normal name (albeit it's usually spelled Sybil).

1 OK, OK, so Barty Crouch Jr. technically taught for a full year before being caught, but that wasn't under his own name.


To try to put numbers behind my opinions, I went through Wikipedia's list of Harry Potter characters and categorized each name as "mundane" or "strange/unique", and then counted how many of each belonged to Harry's generation (roughly) vs. an older generation, and how many of the older generation were Hogwarts professors.

Age group      Total    Mundane   Strange
Kids/teens        54    43 (80%)  11 (20%)
Non-professors    72    26 (36%)  46 (64%)
Professors        28     9 (32%)  19 (68%)
All adults       100    35 (35%)  65 (65%)

The proportion of strange/unique names among Hogwarts professors is slightly higher than in the adult population as a whole, but I wouldn't call it a significant difference.

(My categorization wasn't based on anything other than my knee-jerk reactions to each name, so take all this with a huge grain of salt. Also, note that I only included names of human beings — sorry, Dobby and Griphook —, and excluded muggles like the Dursleys — their naming practices are hardly indicative of wizarding-world practices, after all. However, I included muggle-born wizards, since I figured they'd be equally distributed in all of the groups, so they probably wouldn't skew the results in any particular direction.)

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    "Hermione" isn't as unusual (in Britain) as the rest of us might have imagined: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermione_(given_name) Oct 7, 2015 at 1:55
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    @HarryJohnston: in 1996 (i.e. the year before Philosopher's Stone was published), Hermione barely cracked the top 1000 baby names in England and Wales: it was given to 21 babies that year, which tied it for 974th place. It's a name, no doubt about it (unlike, say, Xenophilius), but it's a pretty rare one.
    – Martha
    Oct 7, 2015 at 4:09
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    Nonetheless, not as unusual as people might imagine. (Until a year or two ago, I thought Ms. Rowling had invented it herself.) Oct 7, 2015 at 6:58
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    @HarryJohnston: Rowling actually invented very few of her names. Of the professor names the OP lists, for example, all of them occur as names in other contexts. Some of them only occur as names a couple of millenia (!) ago, but still.
    – Martha
    Oct 7, 2015 at 15:18
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    @JonHanna: as I noted in my caveat at the end, I included muggle-borns because I assumed they'd be evenly distributed, and thus wouldn't skew the numbers in any particular direction. The problem with excluding them would be, we don't always know who is muggle-born. I get why Hermione is not the best example for "Harry generation has strange names, too", but it does help to prove that the OP's impression - that Hogwarts professors have strange names but other people do not - is incorrect.
    – Martha
    Oct 8, 2015 at 15:53
14

Keep in mind there's some sampling bias here. The three main characters are all in Gryffindor, and consequently the vast majority of children introduced in the books, and given enough screen/page time that you remember them are Gryffindors.

So there are some reasons why teachers are more likely to have unusual names.

1) The old families will give old names like Draco. The old families will end up in Slytherin more often, so you are less likely as the reader to find out their first name.

2) In the wizarding world, like here, it's not what you know, it's who you know. Old families are more likely to become Hogwarts teachers

3) Muggleborns are more likely to get on first name basis with the reader, being less likely to be in Slytherin.

4) Teachers are older than the students, considering a lifespan of ~150 years, quite a bit older. Names change over time, and likely this is Muggle culture slowly bleeding through to the magical world. In Harry Potter, how old will a wizard live to be on average?

8

A selection of British muggles grandparents names:

  • Margaret, Wilfred, Winifred
  • Bettie, Doris, Doreen
  • Maivis, Maude, Maurine.... You won't see many young British people with these names either.

Apparently muggle and wizard first names have simply become more similar in the last few generations. Also recall that wizards tend to live longer than muggles: so their names are often relatively older

And let's also remember that a lot of the younger generation are nicknames

  • Ginevra, Ronald, Percival

Or strange

  • Draco, Millicent, Marietta

Even if they aren't wizard born

  • Hemione

In fact outside of Harry's immediate friendship group, there are more strange names than normal ones, by our standards. And I'd suggest that Ron, Neville and Harry weren't popular or normal muggle names before the Potter books.... I don't know a single Harry, and have never met a Neville or Ronald under the age of 70

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    There is a prince named Harry, so there's that. He's probably a muggle.
    – Scott
    Oct 6, 2015 at 19:27
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    As a member of the Royal Family, he's definitely a Lizard... but Harry is one of the most common names from the Potter books. And Harry is probably the most common name for a Royal after his brother William. I'm not saying we don't have Harry's in the UK, but they're hardly common. I don't know one.
    – Jon Story
    Oct 6, 2015 at 19:30
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    You don't know a single Harry?? Where do you live?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 6, 2015 at 20:19
  • @randal'thor: I lived most of my life in the Midwestern US, and I now live in the Pacific Northwest, and I don't know any Harrys, either. (I do know one Harold, though.)
    – ruakh
    Oct 6, 2015 at 23:02
  • @randal'thor - the UK, where Harry Potter is set :) don't get me wrong, I know they exist, but it really isn't a common name here. I know of like one, who I don't know personally, plus Prince Harry
    – Jon Story
    Oct 6, 2015 at 23:21
3

They probably were named by a Seer

Many names in Harry Potter appear to be just a bit too apt. Remus, bitten by a werewolf; Bellatrix, possessed of a warlike demeanor; Minerva McGonagall, having wisdom. There is a reason for this: they were named by someone who could see the future! According to Pottermore:

A certain sector of magical society, however, follows the ancient wizarding practice of consulting a Naming Seer, who (usually for a hefty payment of gold) will predict the child's future and suggest an appropriate moniker.

As to what constitutes an "appropriate" name:

A very great variety of first names are given to children by their wizard parents, some of them being what we might think of as Muggle names (e.g. James, Harry, Ronald), others giving a distinct flavour of the personality or destiny of the bearer (e.g. Xenophilius, Remus, Alecto).

This explains most of the meaningful first names. It does not really explain the meaningful last names, but those are significantly fewer, or more coincidental.

In any case, this applies more to older generations, thus explaining why the teachers have significantly stranger names than the students:

This practice is becoming increasingly rare. Many parents prefer to 'let him/her find his/her own way', and dislike (with good reason) receiving premature hints of aptitude, limitations or, at worst, catastrophe.

1
  • Thanks, this is interesting! (Thanks also for reminding me that I still need to accept an answer on this question. Hmm...)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 14, 2016 at 12:12

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