Well, this is it — tomorrow the last installment of Harry Potter hits the cinemas. Of course, we all know what happens — but it’s still pretty thrilling, all the same (yes, I am an unabashed Potter fan – and I’m off to see the film first thing tomorrow!).
Last week, I marked the première in London with a look at the names of some of the main characters. Today and tomorrow, I’m going to pick out some more of my favorites from J. K.’s Dickens-esque imagination. Today’s are all well-known characters, tomorrow’s will be my favorites from the hundreds characters mentioned just once or twice — not an easy task, given just how many gems there are.
First up is Draco. I love Draco — the name, anyway. Pre-Potter, it would have made my list for consideration as a name for my Small Child — but even I would think twice about it at the moment. It’s still a strong contender for the next cat or dog!
Draco is the Latin for ‘dragon’, the name of a constellation, as well as the Latin form of the genuine Ancient Greek name Drakôn. The 7th Century BCE Athenian statesman Draco the Law Giver is so notorious for the harshness and severity of the laws he introduced, that he gave his name to the English adjective draconian. The ultimate source of the name and drakôn ‘dragon’, ‘serpent’, etc is a Greek verb meaning ‘to see clearly’; serpents and snakes were associated by the Greeks with clarity of vision, knowledge and prophecy. It is no coincidence that the most famous oracle in the Greek world was the Pythia, the famous oracle of Delphi. The name derives directly from Pythô — the source of our ‘python’ — the great pre-Greek she-snake or earth dragon slain by Apollo, who then took over the shrine.
Minerva has to follow — Minerva McGonagall really couldn’t have had any other name. Well-known as the Roman Goddess of wisdom, and counterpart of the Greek Athene, the origins of Minerva are obscure. It is probably simply the Latin form of Menrva, the Etruscan Goddess of wisdom and war, but whether the name is Etruscan or from another source is impossible to say. Too little is known about Etruscan to even establish what — if any — language group it belonged to. It is tempting, however, to link it to the Proto-Indo-European *men-mn- ‘thought’ and ‘mind’. Mina and Minnie are the obvious pet-forms — not that I could ever imagine Professor McGonagall answering to either!
Pomona follows naturally from Minerva — another Roman Goddess, this one of fruit and fruit trees. The name comes from the Latin pomum ‘fruit’.
I can never make up my mind whether I like Professor Sprout for the character — or because I just love Miriam Margoyles.
Next is Rubeus, a straight-forward name to explain — Latin: rubeus ‘red’, ‘reddish’ and ‘made of brambles’ (the Latin name for the bramble or blackberry is rubus). The bramble is very much associated with the wild and untamed, their vigorous growth means they’re often one of the first plants to colonize waste ground — quickly. It is a plant of paradoxes; loathed for its relentless spread, vicious thorns and untidy habit, but loved for its fruit. All of this suits Rubeus Hagrid — whom Rowling has herself likened to the Green Man — rather well!
I have to finish with Gilderoy, one of my favourite characters — and names — in the book. Forget Voldemort, Gilderoy is the one I love to hate… couldn’t you just imagine him on Celebrity Big Brother? Or, I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here? The name is one of Rowling’s best coinages — as good as anything Dickens came up with — oozing vanity and conceit. Believe it or not, Gilderoy is a genuine name, used in the 19th Century, particularly by the Romany — Gilderoy Scamp was King of the Gypsies in the early 20th Century. Dudley & Gilderoy; A Nonsense was a 1929 novel by Algernon Blackwood — and perhaps Rowling’s source of the name (and also of Dudley)? Or possibly she picked it up from the American expression higher than Gilderoy’s kite, which first occurs in Mark Twain, and derived from an old ballad about an 18th Century Highwayman of the name, who was strung up ‘like a kite’ upon his execution:
Of Gilderoy sae fraid they ware They bound him mickle strong, Tull Edenburrow they led him thair, And on a gallows hong; They hong him high abone the rest, He was so trim a boy. They ‘hong him high abone the rest’..
The same Gilderoy featured in Charles Whibley’s Book of Scoundrels (1897).
As for its origin, Gilderoy started out as a surname — though of uncertain origins. Some claim that is Huguenot, but this is an erroneous interpretation based on the seemingly French ending -deroy ‘of the king’. Gild ‘to gild’, however, is of Anglo-Saxon origin. Gilderoy is in reality a corruption of the Irish Gilroy, from the Irish Gaelic Giolla Rua ‘servant of the red-headed lad’. However, where fiction is concerned, its real mean is definitely less important than its apparent — and ‘gilding of the king’ definitely suits Rowling’s Lockhart best!
He is another strong contender for my next pet!