Here is a quote from the first Harry Potter book, it's a conversation between Dumbledore and McGonagall.

"My dear Professor, surely a sensible person like yourself can call him by his name? All this 'You-Know-Who' nonsense - for eleven years I have been trying to persuade people to call him by his proper name: Voldemort." Professor McGonagall flinched, but Dumbledore, who was unsticking two lemon drops, seemed not to notice. "It all gets so confusing if we keep saying 'You-Know-Who.' I have never seen any reason to be frightened of saying Voldemort's name."

"I know you haven't," said Professor McGonagall, sounding half exasperated, half admiring. "But you're different. Everyone knows you're the only one You-Know- oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of."

So at this point Dumbledore says he has been trying to persuade people to call him his proper name : Voldemort.

But why wouldn't he try to persuade people to call him Tom Marvolo Riddle ? Certainly this name isn't as scary as Lord Voldemort is, and would encourage people to fight against him (because Dumbledore says something like fear of a name leads to the fear of the thing itself to Harry in the end of Philosopher Stone).

Furthermore, we see Dumbledore calling Voldemort Tom in his memories, when Voldemort applies for the DatDA teacher. And in OttP, during the Dumbledore-Voldemort duel, Dumbledore calls Voldemort Tom in front of Harry.

So does Harry during the final duel at Hogwarts, and Voldemort replies something like How dare you ? In my opinion Harry does so to show everyone else that Voldemort is just a man.

So, the question : Why would Dumbledore encourage people to call Voldemort Voldemort and not Tom Marvolo Riddle ?

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    Would have made the climactic scene in Chamber of Secrets a bit less exciting! Commented May 15, 2013 at 13:22
  • 114
    [Tom Riddle] was seduced by the dark [arts]. He ceased to be [Tom Riddle] and became [Voldemort]. When that happened, the good man who was [Tom Riddle] was destroyed. So what I have told you was true... from a certain point of view.
    – phantom42
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 13:31
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    I love Harry Potter books. However, trying to find some logic in them is futile. The universe changed substantially with every new book.
    – Sulthan
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 14:17
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    'Voldemort' is what people know him by. If I started talking about Samuel Clemens, would you know who I was talking about? Commented May 15, 2013 at 19:37
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    @Sulthan Seems to me that SciFi.SE is a good place to ask for the answers to these 'major logical flaws'.
    – Kapler
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 20:09

11 Answers 11


Dumbledore encouraged people to call him Voldemort, rather than You-Know-Who, because there was a lot of fear not just of Voldemort, but merely saying his name. If Dumbledore can remove that then when Voldemort returned - as Dumbledore suspected he would - there would hopefully be a lot more people willing to stand against him.

“Sir?” said Harry. “I’ve been thinking… sir — even if the Stone’s gone, Vol-, I mean, YouKnow-Who —”

“Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17 - The Man With Two Faces

So, why not encourage them to call him by his real name? It's still essentially a crutch; you're replacing one name they're not afraid of ("You-Know-Who") with another name they're not afraid of ("Tom Riddle"). Everybody knew him as Voldemort, that's the name that all the fear - and therefore power - is attached to, and that's what Dumbledore needed to break.

I do, however, find it interesting that in the first book Dumbledore says "Voldemort" is the "proper name" for him, yet insists on calling him Tom in every interaction (I can think of) between them in the later books. I suppose Dumbledore's not against trying to get in Voldemort's head, and knows that he hates anything connecting him to his Muggle past.

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    The question is why Dumbledore wanted people to call Voldemort Voldemort instead of Tom Riddle -- not why Dumbledore wanted people to call Voldemort Voldemort. Commented May 15, 2013 at 10:52
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    @DjangoReinhardt I hit commit prematurely, was in the process of editing. Key point is, as Izkata says, that nobody's afraid of "Tom Riddle". Commented May 15, 2013 at 10:56
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    @Kalissar I think, as far as Dumbledore was concerned, they had to call him Voldemort to get over their fear of both the name and him. They call him "You-Know-Who" because they're afraid; if they keep calling him that, they're still afraid. The same applies to calling him anything else at all, they're still not facing their fear, they're just assigning a replacement name to the thing. Commented May 15, 2013 at 11:12
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    +1. And calling Voldemort "Tom" face to face was probably to deny him the power of his chosen name, and to remind him of his own old (good, or at least better) self and of him facing his old master (teacher), I guess.
    – OpaCitiZen
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 20:25
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    I know this is a bit late, but yeah, Dumbledore was just trying to get in old Tom's head and prompt a mistake that Dumbledore could then take advantage of. If everyone had used the name Voldemort, the reinstated Taboo on the name would have been useless, which may have been what JKR was going for.
    – methuseus
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 17:54

Good question! I expect it's because J.K.Rowling is only human, but you could argue that it's because hardly anyone knew Voldemort used to be known as Tom Riddle. Even if Dumbledore told them, it's unlikely they'd believe him, or even remember the name.

Plus, people were afraid of the name Voldemort. Telling people to refer to him as "Tom Riddle" is just another euphemism, much like "you-know-who", meaning people would still be afraid of the name "Voldemort".

Dumbledore wanted to encourage people not to fear the name "Voldemort" specifically because that's the name that made them scared.

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    Hmmm, the "not many people knew who he was" bugs me. I feel like it would cause understanding instead of confusion, something like "Oh, Voldemort is just a former Hogwart student and not a mysterious dark wizard ?" Think of it this way : a powerful criminal appears to be a former classmate of yours. Aren't you less afraid than you were before knowing this ? "I knew this guy, we used to eat together, play together... he's just like me" ?
    – Kalissar
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 11:03
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    @Kalissar Not really. In the 7 years since highschool, the pieces of old friends' lives I see on Facebook nowadays make them seem like entirely different people. A couple managed to completely reinvent themselves (looks, interests, everything) such that I wouldn't recognize them if they didn't have the same name.
    – Izkata
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 11:05
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    @Kalissar Also Voldemort wasn't big on friends; he had people he may have called "friends" but they were essentially people he could manipulate into doing what he wanted. There definitely wouldn't have been any thoughts of "I used to play with that guy" because that's not who Voldemort is. I think there would have been more of an "Oh, Tom Riddle is Voldemort? That makes total sense." reaction to it. Commented May 15, 2013 at 11:14
  • @Kalissar Plus, if the word on the street was "Tom Riddle is coming! Run for your lives!", a lot of people might just wonder who they were referring to. That's what I mean by confusion. I agree that if Dumbledore could prove to everyone that he was an old student by the name of Tom Riddle, that would be great, but most people probably wouldn't believe him. Commented May 15, 2013 at 11:26

I think Dumbledore had the highest priority having Voldemort confident about his horcruxes secrets being kept.

Spreading Voldemort's childhood would have most likely put attention on early crimes he committed, and to places/facts connecting to actual horcruxes. He would then have put much security on them. And Dumbledore's plan relied on Voldemort being overconfident about his secret's safety.

Also, I would point the argument already answered in this thread("anonymous"):

Dumbledore was likely just acknowledging this transformation, which was to be expounded upon in later books. Even if Dumbledore knew that there was part of Tom that still existed in Voldemort, this person was not the Tom he knew and had previously chosen to become a student.

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    I have to say i love the first part of this answer ! Such an insight in Dumbledore's vision is greatly approved, let's wait a bit more to see if there are other great possibilities
    – Kalissar
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 18:42
  • Wait wait wait. When did Dumbledore even find out about the Horcruxes? I don't think he knew for sure before OOTP. He learned the number and the likely nature & locations only in HBP. Why would he put so much emphasis on a vague suspicion 26 years earlier? Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 19:31

Voldemort seems to be styled after Satan. Some believe that Satan's name changed from Lucifer (or something other than Satan) to Satan after the fall (due to a few possible misunderstandings mentioned below). This can be paralleled to the name change from Tom Riddle to Voldemort, which also indicated a transformation from the student Tom Riddle, who was part of the larger wizarding community and the student body of Hogwart's, to Voldemort, as part of his split to lead an opposing force (the Death Eaters).

Dumbledore was likely just acknowledging this transformation, which was to be expounded upon in later books. Even if Dumbledore knew that there was part of Tom that still existed in Voldemort, this person was not the Tom he knew and had previously chosen to become a student.

Also, the wizard formerly known as Tom Riddle was calling himself Voldemort and most people knew him as Voldemort and not Tom, so it made sense for Dumbeldore to call him Voldemort.

More info:

In World Book Day Chat in 2004, Rowling acknowledged that Voldemort is not based on any (living) person: "lol No I didn't base Voldemort on any real person!" Additionally, Rowling stated in a later interview, '"To me, [the religious parallels have] always been obvious," Rowling said. "But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going."'

Isaiah 14:12 starts with a modern translation of "How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!", but in the King James Version this was translated as, "O Lucifer, son of the morning!" (Lucifer meaning light-bearer, another name for the morning star, Venus). Though this was written about a king of Babylon, (possible) misunderstanding (seems to have) led to Lucifer becoming one of Satan's names. Since Satan is a verb meaning primarily to "obstruct or oppose", one might believe that Lucifer was "renamed" Satan after his fall from Heaven, because it was his opposition that caused his fall, and some have this belief. Whether or not Rowling believed that Satan's name changed from Lucifer to Satan or whether she was just aware of his various names and surrounding literature, this may have had influence on Voldemort's back-story.

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    Any source for your first sentence ? I mean, he is evil but why Satan in particular ?
    – Kalissar
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 15:36
  • As far as I know that is an original idea, though it is possible I could have heard or read it. The reasoning is outlined in my first paragraph, but I just did a search and many others consider Voldemort a Satan analog: google.com/search?q=satan+lucifer+voldemort+tom+riddle
    – Anonymous
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 15:41
  • It's not exactly uncommon for an evil character to adopt another name during their transformation, though. Whether that's an allusion to Lucifer's fall I don't know, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to me. Commented May 15, 2013 at 15:49
  • @AnthonyGrist I don't think it is a stretch. In the World Book Day Chat in 2004, JK Rowling acknowledges that Voldemort is not based on any (living) person: "lol No I didn't base Voldemort on any real person!" the-pensieve.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=604 And she would have been familiar with the story for certain from her readings and education.
    – Anonymous
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 16:01
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    Actually the word lucifer originally meant "morning star" (the planet Venus) Satan was a separate entity but was given the proper name Lucifer in Christian tradition. Tom Riddle chose his own nom de guerre, whereas Satan and Lucifer where combinedto be one entity by other people.
    – Monty129
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 17:04

This is highly speculative. In the event of his return, having a great many wizards referring to you-know-who as Voldemort would render the taboo on his name useless.

Perhaps Dumbledore was simply planning ahead trying to take away Voldemort's central tool for identifying adversaries.

Dumbledore uses Voldemort's given name to humble him. As Tom Riddle he is no longer the Dark Lord, but just another former student.

  • The Taboo didn't, as far as I'm aware, exist at all until Voldemort took control of the Ministry of Magic in the final book. Commented May 15, 2013 at 14:02
  • While the Taboo is finally named in the last book its purpose is to explain why the name Voldemort was never spoken. There are many examples of "new" magic introduced as the series progresses.
    – TGnat
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 14:11
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    I disagree entirely. If the Taboo had existed before Voldemort took control of the Ministry then the combined protections of the Ministry and Order of the Phoenix on the Burrow (and other locations) would have vanished the moment Harry, Ron or Hermione mentioned Voldemort's name, and that didn't happen. I can buy that JKR may have been inconsistent between the earlier books and the last one, but such a huge inconsistency within the space of a few chapters seems unrealistic. Commented May 15, 2013 at 14:23
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    @AnthonyGrist My apologies for not being precise. I believe that the Taboo was used during Voldemort's first rise to power, thus instilling the fear of his name. The Taboo was lifted when he fell. I did not mean to imply that it was in effect throughout the series, only that it was used before.
    – TGnat
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 14:30
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    Ahh, that's certainly plausible. I'm still not sure if Voldemort, even assisted by Death Eaters, would be capable of such a thing, but without a Word of God answer I'm not sure we'll ever know definitively. Commented May 15, 2013 at 14:35

In the first book (if you don't believe Rowling had the whole story figured out from the beginning) the obvious answer is that Dumbledore wanted to demystify Voldemort by having people refer to him with his "real" name and therefore make him seem more like a real threat that could be dealt with. The exchange between Dumbledore and Harry in the ward emphasizes this, where Dumbledore tells him that fearing the name makes you fear the person.

When Dumbledore later calls Voldemort "Tom" in their encounters it always seemed to me like he was doing it to mock him. To trip him up and have him make a mistake by reminding him of their previous relationship, and that no matter how far he's gone, Voldemort still used to be that unwanted bastard child. I doubt Dumbledore would have put it like that, but he's definitely reminding Voldemort of his past by calling him Tom.

Voldemort's past is shrouded in mystery for almost everyone except Dumbledore and possibly the rest of the Order. Perhaps it would have been a good tactic to spread the knowledge of Voldemort's childhood and origins, and then start telling people to call him Tom Riddle, but that's a multi part strategy that Dumbledore & Co might not have felt warranted their time and effort instead of something as simple as telling people to stop whispering pseudonyms in the night.


I will give you an example from real life.

Edison Arantes do Nascimento is better known as Pele. Everybody has heard of Pele. But there is rarely someone who knows his real name.

So according to you: is there someone out there who can possibly think that encouraging people to call Pele Edison Arantes do Nascimento would be worth the effort?

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    The only Pele I know of is the Hawaiian goddess. She doesn't have a "real name", and if she did, I doubt it would be "Edison Arantes do Nascimento".
    – phantom42
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 15:56
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    @phantom42 You must not follow football (American soccer) at all then. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pel%C3%A9 Pele is considered the best football(soccer) player in the world, and was also named the Athlete of the Century for the 20th century.
    – Ryan
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 16:44
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    @phantom42 I sincerely hope you were joking.
    – Rayhunter
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 18:54
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    Apparently, my answer is invalidated because of the existence of the 'muricans.
    – Rayhunter
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 0:54
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    96% of the world's population does not know who Jim Thorpe is. On the other hand 4% of the world's population hasn't heard of Pele. Bravo guys, I guess you are 'special'.
    – Rayhunter
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 1:27

He didn’t want to widely reveal his knowledge of the Dark Lord.

Dumbledore wouldn’t have told everyone to call the Dark Lord “Tom Riddle” because he didn’t want the extent that he knew of the Dark Lord’s past known. That was likely to keep him confident in how well his secrets were hidden, so he wouldn’t suspect Dumbledore knew of the Horcruxes and decide to increase their protection. When Dumbledore started telling Harry about the Dark Lord’s past, he also told Harry to make sure no one else would know other than Ron and Hermione.

“Sir, am I allowed to tell Ron and Hermione everything you’ve told me?’

Dumbledore considered him for a moment, then said, ‘Yes, I think Mr Weasley and Miss Granger have proved themselves trustworthy. But, Harry, I am going to ask you to ask them not to repeat any of this to anybody else. It would not be a good idea if word got around how much I know, or suspect, about Lord Voldemort’s secrets.”
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt)

Dumbledore didn’t want it known how much he knew - so he wasn’t going to tell the rest of the wizarding world to call the Dark Lord “Tom Riddle”. It wouldn’t have helped them much (a Dark Lord by any other name can still cast Killing Curses at those who defy him) and it went against Dumbledore’s “master plan” to show how much he knew.

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    yeah but....Voldemort clearly knew that Dumbledore knew that Riddle was Voldemort. It was hardly a secret between the two of them. Why would Voldemort think it would mean anything other than that?
    – NKCampbell
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 23:28
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    @NKCampbell The Dark Lord knew that Dumbledore knew, but more people knowing means more people possibly looking into his past, and he might start getting concerned about his Horcruxes, rather than assuming that no one would know.
    – Obsidia
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 0:22

Dumbledore was not without pride, and he considered his part in Tom Riddle's rise to power as one of his greatest failures. Whatever his rational reasons are for keeping Voldemort's past in the dark, one reason was to protect himself, and, perhaps more importantly, Hogwarts.

Harry was not burdened by the past, and in fact was intentionally kept in the dark about many matters of the past so as to position him in such a way that he wouldn't be held back by the past, as Dumbledore, Snape, and many, many others were. Thus he had no reason to not use Tom's name, but as the wizarding world knew Tom as Voldemort, it would only be confusing if he were to use it widely. Thus he only used it with Tom himself. The more you know about a thing, the more power you have over it, and Harry used Tom's name to demonstrate that he knew things Tom wanted to keep hidden.

  • Good answer, but if Harry was not burdened by the past, then why is it that when he comes close to a Dementor, he has to relive his past? These include his first encounter of a Dementor on the Hogwarts Express, and then on a Quidditch match, and etc. The memory of his past was that bad that he even asked Professor Lupin for some assistance, and consequently, he was taught the Patronus Charm, which he then used in the next encounters (in the forbidden forest via Hermione's time-turner device, and then most famously in the alley near Privet Drive to save his cousin, Dudley Dursley).
    – Mr Pie
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 1:03

The reason that Dumbledore wanted people to use "Voldemort" as his real name in the first book and then calls him Tom in later books is because "Tom Riddle" had yet to be introduced in the series yet. If Dumbledore had referred to him as Tom in the first book before Tom's "story" was introduced, it would have been more confusing than if he calls him Tom in later books. Also, there were very few people in the wizarding world who knew Voldemort's true name (assuming that Prof. McGonagall wasn't teaching when he was at Hogwarts) so it's best to assume that until the story behind Tom Riddle was thought of, it would be best for Dumbledore to call him Voldemort.


I believe that Dumbledore doesn't want people to fear the name "Voldemort" for obvious reasons stated above and asking them to call him Tom is yet another name instead of using you-know-who.Dumbledore calls him Tom because he disregards the name Voldemort ,he doesn't think much about Riddle's avatar except that he his a sorely misguided wizard using his powers for evil instead of the good ,however as people regard Voldemort with fear he encourages them to get over that fear and start calling him Voldemort

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