What is the etymology of the name Voldemort? He's the main antagonist character from the Harry Potter books.
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.
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.
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!
In 2009 Rowling actually apologised to French readers for naming an evil character Voldemort as the following source shows:
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.
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"
"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.
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.
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 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.
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.