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What is the etymology of the name Voldemort? He's the main antagonist character from the Harry Potter books.

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  • To add another speculations to the exclusive set of speculations here, someone I know once interpreted it as "death of world" ("world death") for something like a sound change on world/Welt/värld and Morte/Mors for death, and perhaps French "de". This was of course an ad-hoc informal conversation with no involvement of Rowling whatsoever. – n611x007 Aug 11 '15 at 12:08

16 Answers 16

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There is nothing on the English Wikipedia but I found something on the Italian one.

I'll translate it for you:

Vol de mort means "theft of death/death theft" in French; a possible reference to the bloodlust that characterises the dark Lord or a reference to his attempt to escape death through the Horcrux.

As the ghost of Riddle explains (at the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), his complete name is Tom Marvolo Riddle, which, when anagrammatised, becomes "I am Lord Voldemort".

Riddle chose this name to definitely get away from his "Muggle" descent. In addition, Riddle in english is "enigma", a brain-teaser.

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    I always read vol as flight, not theft (they're homonyms in French). I think flight of death makes more sense, but it depends on your reading of the character, and JKR might've leant toward the theft interpretation herself. Of course, it's flight in the sense of a bird's flight, not of fleeing, which would make better sense given his obsession with immortality. – Jon Purdy Apr 30 '11 at 22:53
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    I also read "vol" as "flight", but "de" as "from". Thus, one who flees from death. – Adele C Feb 12 '13 at 21:15
  • nice theory, but doesn't seem to have any identifiable connection to Rowling whatsoever? – n611x007 Aug 11 '15 at 11:40
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    Saaaay... After he steals death does he by any chance eat it? – Misha R Aug 11 '15 at 14:05
  • "Vold" is "danger" in Germanic languages, such as Norwegian. "Mort" is "death" in Latin. I always assumed the name was supposed to indicate danger and/or death, in two different families of languages. As such, a large number of people would get an "inherently dangerous/deadly" connotation from the name, regardless of their mother tongue, even before they're familiar with the character. – Meower68 Apr 11 '16 at 18:45
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"Voldemort" is made up from French "vol de mort", literally meaning "theft of death". This makes sense since the character has evaded death through the dispersal of his soul in several artifacts called horcrux.

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    We've established that, the open question is whether JKR knew about the French meaning when she decided on the name. – user56 Apr 30 '11 at 18:57
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    Since her Degree was in French I'd guess that she would know the meaning of the name when she made it up although whether the idea of the Horcruxes had already occurred to her or whether Voldemort's name suggested the idea is another question. – Amos Apr 30 '11 at 19:44
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Source : here

There are many rumors saying that the name Voldemort came from an evil wizard named Voldermortist, which means "Lord of Evil" or "Dark Lord". They even went far on to say that Voldemort once tried to kill Merlin, but was caught and fed to a monster with many heads.

-OR-

Lord Voldemort may be taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s character M. Valdemar, who died under hypnosis and came back as a squishy mass of rotting flesh, which is what Voldemort was like, until he regained his human form in the 4th book.

NOTE: "Vol de mort" means "Flight of Death" in French. But.......J.K. Rowling said that she made the name up!

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    “vol de mort” could also be “theft of death” in French, and that's a more likely meaning. JKR undoubtedly liked the “mort” connotation; it would be nice to have a citation for her not having purposefully chosen the first part. – user56 Apr 30 '11 at 17:34
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    you are the first answer I read that claims any quote from Rowling, finally, even if it'd serve better as your main claim. Could you source the claim that Rowling supposedly have said that she made the name up? – n611x007 Aug 11 '15 at 11:44
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In 2009 Rowling actually apologised to French readers for naming an evil character Voldemort as the following source shows:

http://metro.co.uk/2009/02/04/rowling-sorry-for-voldemorts-name-416158/

The article starts out like this:

JK Rowling has apologised for giving Harry Potter’s arch-villain the French name Voldemort, claiming she meant no offence to our friends across the Channel.

The name means “flight of death” in French.

There is some ambiguity in this though: while it does indeed mean 'flight of death' in French she points out that it is meant to be English. However for those who don't know she's actually part French. She elaborates in this article too (as well as the potential ambiguity):

"I want to thank my French readers for not resenting my choice of a French name for my evil character," she said in fluent French at a ceremony during which she received the award from President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I can assure you that no anti-French feeling was at the origin of this choice," she said. 'As a Francophile, I have always been proud of my French blood. But I needed a name that evokes both power and exoticism," she said of Voldemort, Harry Potter’s nemesis in the seven episodes of the bestselling series.

"Voldemort himself is 100-percent English," she added.

Rowling said she was in fact part-French as she had a French great-grandfather who fought in World War One and was honoured for that in 1924 with the Legion d’honneur, the same honour she received for her services to literature.

"I like to think that he would be happy to know there is a second Legion d’honneur in the family and that the books written by his descendant have given some pleasure in his native country," she said.

So the answer is this: the etymology of the name is that in French it means 'flight of death'; however it's meant to be an English name in Harry Potter. Whether she says this after the fact because she doesn't want to cause offence who can say but she? Whatever the case 'flight of death' makes perfect sense for Voldemort, doesn't it? Think about it: he's terrified of death (Rowling stated his Boggart would be his own corpse) and sees it as a sign of weakness, he made Horcruxes and he said to Dumbledore (I might have the quote off a bit - this is from my memory):

'Nothing is worse than death, Dumbledore!'

At first he was contemptuous of his mother believing his father was the wizard since why else would his mother not save herself if she was magical?

English or French it means 'flight of death' and this is what Voldemort wholly embodies.

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    This is a beautiful answer. Thank you for quoting Rowling and for being clear about the answer to the question. :-) – ShiningLight Mar 27 '18 at 13:45
  • @ShiningLight Thank you! That means a great deal to me. :) I do try my best and I'm glad it's appreciated (though I will always try my best whether it's appreciated or not). – Pryftan Mar 28 '18 at 0:16
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    This is an excellent answer, it’s actually based on clear evidence rather than theories or dubious sources! :) – Bellatrix Apr 20 '18 at 5:34
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    @Bellatrix Thank you Miss Bella! Much appreciated comment. And although I'm obviously biased I couldn't agree more with your other point; they're speculation, theories and dubious sources. Much like Dumbledore, right? I mean even if Skeeter is a snoop and a liar..and even if she manipulates the truth even more than politicians (she does doesn't she? Well maybe not more but equally) and lives for sensationalism. It has to be said that Dumbledore had a dubious past. Yes he grew beyond it and tried and made amends. But still. Thanks for the comment! :) – Pryftan Apr 21 '18 at 20:12
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    @Bellatrix Thank you! :) That would be nice but I admit it doesn't bother me if it isn't; when I contribute to a community it's not for fame or glory but because I enjoy it and if it helps or enlightens anyone then all the better. If it doesn't it isn't a loss for me. I find also that even if nobody makes use of something you do it doesn't mean that it's useless; I learnt some things with writing the answer myself! And that's a valuable enough reason to do it. I do agree it should be the accepted answer (and here it's not bias so much as logic) but it won't upset me much either way! :) Thanks! – Pryftan Apr 21 '18 at 20:58
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I see people saying that Voldemort comes from French which looks to fit quite nicely, but remember that French has a lot of Latin in it and if you break the name down into "volo de morte"

Volo = verb; I wish
De = preposition; away from.
morte = ablative form of mors; death.

Volo de Morte (vol-de-mort) would literally mean "I wish away from death" or you could translate it into something like "I wish to get/be away from death"

  • another nice theory, one I rather like, and seemingly with no identifiable relation to JKR whatsoever. – n611x007 Aug 11 '15 at 11:43
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"Vol" effectively meant "he/she wishes, desires" or "his/her will" in ancient French (modern "vouloir", "volonté"). Might make sense.

In any case, I believe considerations as "all right, but did the author know?" miss the point, especially in the google age when you can find any cultural reference anywhere. I mean, you could invent a character with a name meaning someone in old Persian, without of course knowing a word. Anyway: a writer is a (wo)man like any other: she/he has read or heard a lot of story in her/his life, and thought she/he doesn't remember the names of those characters, they remain in some unconscious part of the memory.

An author can't know the reason of everything he/she writes, nor is he/she the best interpreter of his/her own. A published book belongs to its readers.

  • I'm not sure what the second half of your answer has to do with the question. – phantom42 Apr 27 '13 at 21:25
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    I totally agree with you in that a book belongs to its readers and especially like the nor is he/she the best interpreter of his/her own part. However in this case the question features the idea of "etymology", which I think has nothing to do with anyone's interpretation, but rather with history. – n611x007 Aug 11 '15 at 11:50
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From this source,

Voldemort is derived from the little well known evil wizard named Voldermortist, in another language, Voldermortist means "Lord of Evil" or in the simple form of Voldemort means "Dark Lord". The legend is that Voldermortist once tried to destroy Merlin before the time of King Arthur, by bewitching good people, and simply bribing those who already were evil.

Legend has it that Merlin destroyed Voldermortist by using a simple paralyzing charm (full body bind in the case of Harry Potter), fed him to the many headed beast (translated as Fluffy, in the book) of the lake, the Lady of the Lake's pet, freed the bewitched people, and destroyed the evil men. That was maybe twelve, thirteen years before Arthur.

I have read this on other sites before, so it's not simply something this site made up.

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    Googling turns up no non-HP-related reference to “Voldermortist”, so that does sound like something someone made up. The multiple sites have probably just been copying each other. – user56 Apr 30 '11 at 17:32
  • @Gilles:A very valid point. I turned to the site where I had first seen it, mugglenet. They had a verbatim copy of the above text in their name origins section. I think I read this originally before HP went "mainstream", so it seems unlikely people would have made it up but I can't find anything else about it. – apoorv020 Apr 30 '11 at 17:50
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    Unfortunately, I can find no online evidence of this before 1999, even in a Google books search. Given that the most obscure medieval legends tend to be attested, that "Voldermortist" does not resemble "Lord of Evil" or "Dark Lord" in Old English, French, Greek, Latin or Hebrew, and that Rowling has not acknowledged this noteworthy etymology, it seems likely that this is pure fabrication. – Adamant Aug 17 '16 at 21:27
  • @Adamant More like absolutely. – Pryftan Apr 22 '18 at 18:17
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I think it partially comes from the German word Vatermörder, which means 'father killer'.

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    Welcome to the site. Ideally, a reference to something (an interview for ex) from Rowling supporting this would be ideal. Absent that, an explanation of your reasoning would be helpful. – Stan Sep 18 '13 at 11:12
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    @Stan, this should be true to all the rest of the answers here. The people who has more reputation even should have known better themselves. They refer to random HP sites, however reputable, without any single link to Rowling. – n611x007 Aug 11 '15 at 11:42
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    @naxa I was providing feedback on a newly posted answer. While your comment has merit, existing answers don't appear in the review queue. – Stan Aug 11 '15 at 14:00
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Interesting reading all the above comments! I would suggest that as a linguist, and as an author who takes her names very seriously indeed (SIRIUS = a star a.k.a the DOG Star; ALBUS = white; DUMBLEDORE - old English for a beetle; ARGUS = a 100-eyed monster whom Hera set as a watchman; MINERVA = a goddess of both wisdom and war; LUPIN = yes, a flower, but also a hidden link to LUPUS, Latin for a wolf; XENOPHILIUS = lover of strangers; ALASTOR - an avenging Fury in Greek mythology; FUDGE - to do a botch job, make excuses; etc, etc), JK Rowling knows very well ALL the possible translations, etymologies and implications of the names she chooses. Voldemort as a character embodies all three main suggestions for VOL - flight, thief and desire: he desires death for others, at the same time as fearing it and fleeing from it himself, trying to steal his own soul from Death at every turn - unicorn's blood, Philosopher's stone, Horcruxes. That's what's so brilliantly ironic about Voldemort's search for the Elder Wand - reputedly one of the things which could make him Master of Death, and he doesn't even know it!) I love her names - such clever choices which add so much depth and richness to the characters and the world of Harry Potter.

  • I've taken the liberty of emphasising the core sentence of your answer, to make clear to readers that you are actually answering the question. Feel free to rollback my edit if you disagree :-) – Rand al'Thor Oct 7 '15 at 9:56
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There was a Danish king called Valdemar IV who was famous with his heavy-handed methods, endless taxation. He was intelligent, cynical, reckless and clever ruler.

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I take 'voldemort' to mean 'the will to kill' (so as to avoid death). This is made clear by the actions of the character bearing that name in the stories. He literally kills to create the horcruxes, in the hope that by their creation, he will become immortal and escape death. When killing (Snape, iirc) he says 'but only one of us can live forever'. Etymology of invented words is subject to interpretation, as they're just derived from the inventor's imagination. Vol is from Latin, 'volens' (the will) and 'volere' (to will) basically reveal 'vol' as the latin root word for 'will', and as someone already mentioned, is carried over into ancient French as basically the same word voulour.

  • I don't think the etymology should have to do anything with interpretation here. A word attributed to be invented by 'P' should be traced back to 'P', and that's all. If 'P' has nothing to say about it, than you cannot go further. – n611x007 Aug 11 '15 at 13:12
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Another one of the multiple meanings could be the Anglo Saxon "walda" ruler/King and of course mort- so King of Death kinda.

  • Are you just speculating? – Null Dec 16 '14 at 4:51
  • @Null like the rest of them here, if you carefully consider that none of them mentions any [clear] link to Rowling. Thus it'd be quite fitting to say that the answers here so far are a) original speculations b) speculations copied from elsewhere. If I were you, I'd say without a link to Rowling herself, none of them proves anything; and then I could prefer the original ones, at least they have creativity. – n611x007 Aug 11 '15 at 11:56
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    @n611x007 Mine actually does cite a clear link to Rowling; meanwhile someone down-voted my answer (and so be it) but too incapable of offering a reason for it (which is just pathetic even if it was for a valid reason). It amounts to criticising rather than constructive criticism and it says a lot about the person in question (and unfortunately a lot of people criticise without offering any constructive feedback; this isn't a thing just here by any means). – Pryftan Jan 28 '18 at 0:46
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Firstly, I'd like to point out, although it has been stated in other answers, J. K.'s love of the classics, Latin especially. All the spells, many names, and more are all either exact words and phrases from the language or indirect spellings and the like. From this, I have concluded that 'Voldemort' can be split into two parts Volde and mort. Mort, from mors, mortis, would mean death, or perhaps dead from mortus, a, um, the adjectival form of the word. Volde could be derived from the Latin 'valde', meaning very. This theory is the one I prefer; but then, I'm not J. K.

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"vol" means wish or hope and "mort" means death so Voldemort means "one who wishes or hopes for death.. and in this case of others and not his own!

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    In what language does “vol” mean wish or hope, and was JKR aware of that? – user56 May 2 '11 at 18:33
  • not sure =L but that's the definition i got from Google and i wanted to know if its right and if yes, needed the site =/ but anyhow, i don't think JKR was aware that the name had a literal meaning because she just made it up... or she says she did... – Jolly May 3 '11 at 13:37
  • Old but no she didn't just make it up. Or perhaps a better way of putting it is 'it's complicated'. Anyway, it doesn't mean wish or hope for death though death is involved. – Pryftan Apr 21 '18 at 20:54
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Additionally, "vold" is an English noun meaning Violence or Force, derived from the old Norse "vald". Voldemort could mean "violent death", but this may be just an eerie coincidence.

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    Source? Neither Oxford nor Merriam-Webster show any such word. – muru Dec 26 '15 at 20:49
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    Vold is a Scandinavian word meaning ‘violence’ or ‘force’. It also means a moat (at least in Danish). Splitting off vold, however, leaves you with emort, which is nothing recognisable. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '15 at 5:06
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'vol' in french means to defile, 'de'means of and 'mort' means death. According to me Voldemort means defiler of death.

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    Vol means "flight" in French. Defile is défilé. – Valorum Jul 30 '16 at 10:12

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