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.