How did the biggest and baddest werewolf come to have such a well-fitting name? This has bugged me for a bit, but I have only now tried to look this up - without success so far. Was this the name given to him at birth, or did he switch his name when he became a werewolf? If this is not a nickname he acquired along the way, then it seems somewhat suspicious: his parents, with the surname "Greyback," name their son "Fenrir," and he subsequently ends up as the werewolfest werewolf.

Arguably, Remus Lupin is in the same boat (both names, Remus and Lupin, have something to do with wolves). But he's just an ordinary werewolf, so I give him a whimsical writing pass. Crazy coincidence, in in-universe terms, why not. But Fenrir is the big cheese, so I figured there might be a backstory.

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    Dumbledore calls him Fenrir. Given his propensity for not using people's nicknames, this presumably indicates that Fenrir is his real name.
    – Valorum
    Nov 23, 2017 at 21:13
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    Nominative determinism is evidently very strong in the magical world.
    – OrangeDog
    Nov 23, 2017 at 21:26
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    Naming seers. There's an answer here somewhere.
    – Adamant
    Nov 23, 2017 at 21:50
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    The Old Norse Fenrir is named after Fenrir Greyback, not the other way around. Same reason magical incantations sometimes sound familiar. As far as magic is concerned, causality can go take a flying leap. :-) Nov 24, 2017 at 0:18

4 Answers 4


It was very likely his original name, and likely that his parents took him to see a 'Naming Seer' as described by JK Rowling on Pottermore to give an in-universe reason for the sheer number of extremely appropriate names that her characters possess.

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.

This obviously wouldn't account for his last name, but as far as I can tell this is the most coincidental part of his name, with the only link to wolves being the colour in it. Fenrir, of course, could have been suggested by the Seer and accepted by his parents.

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    My name-policing ilk must have finally gotten to her :D
    – Misha R
    Nov 27, 2017 at 2:26

We have no reason to believe that it wasn't.

J.K. Rowling is fond of using double entendre and hidden meaning in names. Many of the names of her characters have their roots in mythology and/or have double meanings. Remus Lupin is one of the most obvious. Remus being one of the twin brothers of Rome's founding (they were supposedly raised by wolves). Lupin is derived from the word lupine, which literally means "wolf-like". Sirius, the man who turns into a dog, is named after the "Dog Star". There was a Herbology professor with the name Sprout. Bellatrix means "warrior". Minerva was the roman goddess of wisdom. Snape was named after a half-blood roman emperor named Septimius Severus. And that's just a few examples. There are countless others who, if you look into the meaning of their name, it makes sense for their personality, their appearance, or their back story.

So it is not unlikely that Rowling named a werewolf "Fenrir Greyback". The name Fenrir is a reference to Norse mythology and a terrifying wolf monster that slaughters kids. And Greyback is, as may be obvious, is just an adjective to describe animals with grey backs (such as wolves).

In summary, while it is strange that parents would name their child after a norse myth of a savage wolf, it is keeping in line with Rowling out-of-universe actions.

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    There are many stories that use that device - and most people who've read a book or two are well aware of it. But most writers take a little care utilizing it. It's possible for a Herbology professor to be named Spout without breaking the 4th wall. It's cute, and there's technically nothing wrong with someone with a surname Spout becoming a Herbology professor. But if a genocidal overlord of the world were named Thanatos Dictatorson, you might go "ok, that's a little on the nose." Might want to find out if there's any info on his parents, and if that's the name they gave him.
    – Misha R
    Nov 25, 2017 at 22:08
  • @MishaRosnach - To which I refer you to my open sentence.
    – amflare
    Nov 26, 2017 at 0:17
  • Well, I was looking for some form of objective answer. I suppose it's one of those questions in which there is no definitive negative response - unless someone asked Rowling about it and she refused to answer the question. Which isn't likely, since she tends to answer questions.
    – Misha R
    Nov 26, 2017 at 0:29

This is something authors do and it's something you have to accept and not try to work out reason behind it; or better yet you should learn to enjoy how clever they are! As I noted in a comment there are many examples besides Fenrir Greyback and Remus Lupin. Some of these include Bellatrix, Sirius Black (plus his father being Orion is relevant wrt Sirius), Lily and Petunia (yes!) as well as Harry himself. There are more. Pottermore covers many of them.

I'll list many examples.

Let's start with https://www.pottermore.com/features/dark-etymology-behind-the-black-family-tree

Another name for Sirius is the, wait for it… Dog Star. How fabulously apt is that? The etymology of the word Sirius as a dog is one which is carried across numerous cultures, all seeing him as a protector and a watchman, and each of these ticks the box that made up this remarkable wizarding hero.

That link has several others: Regulus, Bellatrix and Narcissa. What about Orion? If you understand Sirius is the Dog Star then you find out where that star actually is you have the answer. For instance from https://stories.barkpost.com/dogs-in-the-sky-canine-constellations/ you have (Canis Major is the Dog Star which is also known as Sirius):

There are many tales associated with Canis Major, commonly known as one of a pair of dogs helping Orion the Hunter to pursue Taurus the Bull. Canis Major is also depicted as chasing the hare Lepus across the sky.

But what about the Weasleys? https://www.pottermore.com/features/revealing-etymology-of-the-weasley-family-tree

That has several of the Weasleys listed:

Let’s look at ‘Ronald’ first: quite a common male name that has its roots in Old Norse language, from the name ‘Rognvald’. Rognvald, or Ragnvald, was the name of many old kings – giving a whole new meaning to Malfoy’s ‘Weasley is Our King’ chant.

‘Bilius’ has its origins in ‘bilious’, with bile making up two of the four humours – the bodily fluids that Ancient Greeks thought controlled a person’s health and temperament. Bile was said to indicate anger and melancholy, and Ron was definitely guilty of having a temper, especially when he got a bit jealous of Harry or his siblings.

It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to figure out what ‘Weasley’ means. Weasels traditionally tend to be pretty sly and deceitful, but we’d wager this wasn’t supposed to suggest the Weasley family are in any way devious, but rather that the weasel’s bad reputation is undeserved. It’s also no coincidence, of course, that weasels live in a burrow… as do the Weasleys.

It also has: Ginny, Molly, Arthur, Bill, Percy, Charlie, Fred and George.

Or professor names: https://www.pottermore.com/features/etymology-of-hogwarts-professor-names

It has Flitwick, Trelawney, Slughorn, Grubby-Plank and Sprout and I think the Sprout is a more than obvious: she teaches herbology.

Some I've noticed on my own: Septimus Vector teaches arithmancy which is all about numbers; vector is from maths and septimus refers to seven the most magical number. What about Herpo the Foul? Herpetology mean anything to you? Study of reptiles. And what was Herpo the Foul known for? Hatching a Basilisk for example. I'll also point out that - though I'm not suggesting allegory I am pointing out the circumstance - the Second World War began on 1 September 1939; the fall of Berlin would be 2 May 1945 (and Nazi Germany on a whole would surrender and V-E Day would become 8 May 1945). But the Second Wizarding War began (you might say: the day school started) 1 September 1997 and ended on 2 May 1998.

Lily and Petunia? https://www.pottermore.com/features/lily-potter-petunia-and-the-language-of-flowers

The Victorian language of flowers was used back in the 1800s to send meaningful messages, convey deep secrets and share moments. Nearly every flower has a special meaning and, in times when some words could not be spoken aloud, bouquets would say a 1,000 words. Asphodel and wormwood If his first words to Harry are anything to go by, the language of flowers suggests that Snape deeply regrets Lily Potter’s death. Asphodel is a type of lily and means ‘remembered beyond the tomb’ or ‘my regrets follow you to the grave’ while wormwood is often associated with regret or bitterness.

And Lily:

A lily can be interpreted as ‘beauty, elegance, sweetness’. This striking flower is easy to grow, as long as it is planted in the right place. They also, according to gardening manuals, make wonderful cut flowers.

Enter Severus; his name can be seen to mean to cut or to sever - and this is exactly what he inadvertently does to Lily’s relationship with her sister, Petunia. As two magical children, Lily and Severus had something in common that Petunia could never understand. Compounded by Albus Dumbledore’s kindly rejection of Petunia’s request to study at Hogwarts, Lily’s friendship with Snape set the scene for the future Mrs Dursley’s endless bitterness towards Lily and her son, Harry.

Meanwhile Petunia:

Susceptible to damage and best grown in a container or basket, the petunia needs shelter from the wind and plenty of light. It is also a flower that can, in the language of flowers, mean ‘resentment and anger’. A rather apt description of a woman who never told her nephew how his mother died until she was in a rage: ‘- and then, if you please, she went and got herself blown up…’ In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Harry sees a memory of his mother. She picks up a flower and magically makes it open and close its petals; Petunia is outraged, but filled with hidden longing.

And several more can be found here: https://www.pottermore.com/features/etymology-behind-harry-potter-character-names

Including Harry himself:

The joy of Harry Potter’s name was that it seemed like one so delightfully ordinary for someone who achieved so much. But when we dig a little deeper, it seems to be a very fitting name for the Boy Who Lived.

The name Harry is the Middle English form of the name ‘Henry’, a name which was favoured by many an English king. Leadership runs deep in Harry’s name, as well as the motif of war – which Harry is sadly very familiar with. Harry is also related to the Old High German word ‘Heri’ which means ‘army’. As one of the founders of Dumbledore’s Army, this seems apt.

Dumbledore, Hagrid, Draco, Riddle, Hermione and Remus are all in that link.

As Dumbledore points out words are magic but so are names. Enjoy these things rather than trying to break the logic in naming. If you were to truly analyse the names of characters in stories and try to find out how they could possibly have been named in advance you'll learn a lot about the names but you'll also find out that if you try to reason it you'll destroy some of the magic and that's what reading is about: magic.

It's not something that only Rowling does either; I can think of many examples in Tolkien's work and I'm sure I could in many other books as well. The beauty here is its simplicity. What would you call these characters? Etymologically speaking they're named very well. That means the author did well because she used the proper names just like you'd want her to use the proper words for what she's writing. Or should wands be called 'branches'?


Narrative Causality. Terry Prachett used the idea that the world actually ran on stories. Character naming like this is an excellent example of this. Other names to think about in the Potterverse;

Remus Lupin, Ludo Bagman, Olympe Maxime, Minerva McGonagall, Peter Pettigrew (small-grow), Newt Scamander, Dolores Jane Umbridge.

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