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The three schools of whose existence we’ve known since the books themselves were still coming out—Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang—all have rather quirky and at least relatively non-obvious and interesting names:

  • the etymology of Hogwarts is obscure (even JKR herself doesn’t quite know exactly where she got the name from), which I personally think fits the place rather neatly
  • Durmstrang is a spoonerism (of sorts) of Sturm und Drang, which ties into a lot of mid-European history, hints at darkness under the surface and, again, fits the place rather well
  • Beauxbatons is probably the dullest of the three, its name (presumably) intended to mean just ‘beautiful wands’ or ‘great wands’ (beaux bâtons) in French1

Recently, of course, we’ve been treated to details on a few more international schools, of which one is in an English-speaking country, and three are not. The one in an English speaking country is Ilvermorny, which—like Hogwarts—seems to be a rather intriguing and non-transparent name. As far as I know, we don’t yet have an etymology (though I quite like the Reddit suggestion that it’s a bastardised form of Île Vert Morne ‘Green Hill Island’2), but it definitely feels like a real place name, one where you might build a wizarding school.

There’s also long been talk of Koldovstoretz in Russia, but that was not among the schools recently revealed on Pottermore (and I don’t know nearly enough Russian to have a clue whether it sounds oldish and ‘namish’ like Hogwarts and Ilvermorny in English), so let’s leave that one aside for now.

My ‘beef’ is really with the three remaining new, non-English schools:

  • Uagadou in Africa pretty much seems to be just a shortened down form of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. That seems like a rather odd and uninteresting name to give to a school3
  • Castelobruxo in Brazil is simple, modern Portuguese and just means ‘wizard castle’—rather dull and obvious
  • Mahoutokoro in Japan is equally simple, modern Japanese (魔法所 Mahō tokoro) and just means ‘magic place’ or ‘place of magic’

Granting that Uagadou may conceal a more interesting story than a first glance would reveal, Castelobruxo and Mahoutokoro definitely don’t.

Given what we know about how the wizarding community works in general (mostly from a British point of view, but we do see the occasional Egyptian Quidditch referee and such things), it somehow very out of line with the other schools to me that they would build a grand, magnificent school of magic on a far-off, invisible island (or deep in the rain forest), protect and nourish it—and then call it… Magic Place. Or Wizard Castle.

In the case of the Japanese school, I would obviously not expect Rowling to know how to create a culturally valid and natural-feeling name on her own—but then, I wouldn’t necessarily expect her to be able to translate ‘magic place’ into Japanese on her own, either. She probably had help from an actual Japanese speaker. And in the case of Castelobruxo… well, we all know where she was (living) when she started the books, so she does have a fair deal of exposure to Portuguese names and the language (and she probably had help from a native speaker here, too, just to be on the safe side).

Is there any explanation (in- or out-of-universe) for why Rowling decided to give these three [possibly just two] schools such boring, unimaginative descriptor names, rather than making up ‘proper’ place names?

Canon explanations are obviously preferred, but if none are available (as I suspect), I’ll take a well-argued non-canon case as well.

 


1 The common, modern French word for a wand is baguette, rather than bâton, but you can kind of see why Rowling would be averse to calling the school Bellesbaguettes or something like that in an English book, where ‘baguette’ has a somewhat more limited meaning. Additionally, wands were sometimes called bâtons in French: according to the French Wikipedia article on wands, Papus described it as an instrument made of wood and iron, “qu’on appelle le bâton ou baguette magique” (my emphasis).

2 Not quite grammatical, unfortunately—île is feminine, so it should be Île Verte Morne to be grammatical, and that sadly makes the ⟨t⟩ pronounced and reduces the probability that Ilvermorny would come from that. But a nice idea nonetheless.

3 There is also the decidedly more interesting possibility that it is really a reference to Wagadu, an old name for the Ghana Empire, literally meaning ‘place of the Wago’, Wago being “the term current in the nineteenth century for the local nobility”. But that’s rather speculative.

closed as primarily opinion-based by TGnat, HorusKol, Au101, Rogue Jedi, calccrypto Feb 14 '16 at 0:04

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Why does a school need to have an interesting name? Heck, probably every city and town in the US has schools named after former presidents, In New York City, schools are called, for example, PS 12, PS 13, and PS 15. I think "interesting" is subjective, to boot. – Slytherincess Feb 11 '16 at 23:55
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    @Slytherincess They don’t necessarily have to have interesting names as such; but even a school named after a president or the town it’s in or the founder or someone who donated a lot of money is kind of namish and has a background story of some kind. But how many schools do you know that are just called “The School” or “The Big School” or “The Sports School”? The system of just numbering schools would logically only apply if there are enough of them to number and seems to be mosty a bureaucratic thing—and wizardkind in general seem to be quite good at avoiding bureacracy. :-þ – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 11 '16 at 23:59
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    Because by the time she'd got to inventing these schools, JKR wasn't bothering to come up with interesting names any more. She'd already made herself a fortune out of HP and didn't need to spend time devising really interesting names - at this stage, all she needs to do is churn out something every so often to keep her fans happy. Citation: common sense :-) – Rand al'Thor Feb 12 '16 at 1:52
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    Hypothetically, maybe "Magic Place" and "Wizard Castle" are the magical worlds's equivalent of "Institute of Technology". – Tom Harrington Feb 12 '16 at 3:59
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    @Vogie Sure it is. It's a gimmick name, but so what? It's interesting (and it JKR had decided to go that rather unusual path, she could have given it a shorter name for common use, like how the Welsh usually just say Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG. But even the American numbering scheme is better than having a high school just called “High School”, which is basically what these new ones are. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 17 '16 at 20:48
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I think the names are what they are because of the fact that it's one thing to give something a whimsical name in your own language, but that it doesn't work the same in another.

As you said, Hogwarts sounds unique and quirky. But, let's take the Japanese school as an example. To try to do the same as Hogwarts, Rowling would have to either:

Make up a random Japanese-sounding word that means absolutely nothing. The school might be, thinking of Scary Movie 4 here and meaning no disrespect to Japanese culture, Mitsubishikaraoke for example.

Or she tries to replicate the Hogwarts formula, maybe using a name that translates to 'dragon pimple' or something. Certainly a better idea, but still unlikely to work. People would work out the translation and just laugh.

Either way, I think Rowling would get far more criticism than the method that she's chosen. She's researched the language and chosen a logical name for realism purposes. Maybe not as imaginative, but I really think it was the most sensible option.

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    You seem to be assuming that Rowling herself would be the one translating in both scenarios, which I sincerely doubt is the case (at least I hope it's not). In my view, the probability that the actual translation—and thus, ultimately, the actual Japanese and Portuguese names themselves—were arrived at in cooperation between Rowling and a native speaker (presumably a translator) of Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese, respectively. And in that case, I don't see why something with a more ‘namy’ name would make people laugh. No one did with Beauxbatons, as far as I know. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 13 '16 at 23:06
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet - I have assumed that you are correct about her use of a translator. Regarding Beauxbatons, is 'great wands' really much more interesting than 'place of magic'? – ThruGog Feb 14 '16 at 6:32
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    The reason is obvious. The other schools at least have meanings. Wizard castle is better than "Hog with Warts." – Smartie Aug 1 '18 at 21:33

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