The last installment (for now)!
Here, as promised, are some of my favoritest favorites of the obscure names that are to be found within (and in some cases, without) the pages of Harry Potter:
Abraxas. A name with its roots in Gnosticism, Abraxas is a solar deity, who came to be regarded as a demon in Christian demonologies. The original spelling is Abrasax. According to Gnostic belief, the seven letters which make up the name represent the seven classic ‘planets’ known in antiquity — i.e. the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In ancient times, the name was engraved upon stones used as amulets and charms, and numerous examples have been unearthed by archaeologists. As well as getting a mention in Harry Potter as the name of Draco Malfoy’s grandfather, Abraxas has also shown up as a demon in Charmed.
Alphard. Sirius Black’s uncle — and the only member of his family who didn’t disown him. Alphard is the name of the brightest star in the constellation Hydra – the great water-serpent — deriving from the Arabic al-fard ‘the individual (one)’ — a reference to the fact it is the only bright star in that part of the sky. Shortens beautifully to Alfie and offers an interesting alternative to Alfred.
Doris. Two characters in HP are called Doris — Doris Crockford, who introduces herself to Harry in the Leaky Cauldron on his first visit to Diagon Alley (I always expected her to pop up again, but she never did) and Doris Purkiss, who gets a passing mention in Order of the Phoenix. In Greek mytholog, Doris is one of the Oceanids — the sea-nymph daughters of the God Oceanus. In Greek, it is Dôris means ‘a (female) Dorian’ — though it may derive from dôron ‘gift’. It was first used in the early 19th Century, and became hugely popular in the early 20th Century. I suspect it is one of those name just waiting for that spark to return it shooting back into favor.
Hesper. Hesper Gamp appears in a genealogy, and Hesper Starkey, features on a wizard card. Hesper is a poetic name for the Evening Star, from the Latin Hesperus, itself from the Greek Hesperos ‘of evening’, ‘evening’ and ‘Evening Star’. Closely related to Hespera, meaning simply ‘evening’ in Greek, which is the name of one of the Hesperides, the nymphs who guard Hera’s golden apples and the grove where they grew, on islands somewhere in the far west of Greece. Hesper itself is found as a genuine given name from the mid 19th Century. Makes an interesting variation on Hester.
Loxias. One of the previous owners of the imfamous Elder Wand. Loxias is an epithet of Apollo; in Greek, it means ‘the ambiguous’, ‘the oblique’ and ‘the obscure’, deriving from loxos ‘slanting’ or ‘aslant’ and ‘ecliptic’. It is often taken to be a reference to the cryptic prophecies delivered by his oracles, most notably at Delphi, but it could be interpreted as a reference to the fact the sun – identified with Apollo – also traverses the ecliptic obliquely.
Musidora. Occurs only on a famous wizard card, but nevertheless is part of the HP universe. Essentially meaning ‘gift of the muses’, The earliest Musidora I have encountered is a painting by William Etty (d.1849). The name also appeared as a character in the 1914 opera Béatrice, by André Messager, but it is best known as the stage name of French actress Jeanne Roques (1889-1957), not quite the original vamp, but not far from it; her most famous role was Irma Vep in Les Vampires (1915). Used as a genuine given name since the 19th Century, it shortens beautifully to Musie and Dora.
Myron. In Harry Potter’s world, Myron Wagtail is the lead-singer of The Weird Sisters. A rock star who can do magic too — how cool is that? Myron is an Ancient Greek name meaning ‘sweet oil’ and ‘perfume’. The historic Myron of Eleutherae (fl. 480-440 BCE) was a celebrated sculptor.
Orion. Another of my absolute favorites. Ever since I was a child, gazing up at the constellation of Orion, glittering in a winter-dark night sky, I have thought Orion was a seriously good name. Orion was a legendary Greek huntsman who, after being struck either by a blow from Artemis or from a Scorpion (which became the constellation Scorpio) was placed among the stars — he may have been chasing the Pleiades at the time, though, so it might have been deserved. He was also reputedly a lover of Aurora, and the most handsome mortal who ever lived. The etymology of his name is uncertain, but it possibly derives ultimately from the Akkadian: Uru-anna — urru ‘light’ + anu ‘sky’; this was the constellation’s name of the constellation in Ancient Mesopotamia. As a given name in more recent times, it makes an appearance around the 17th Century, and currently seems to be gaining popularity — how much has yet to be seen; in 2010, it ranked 466th in the US, so it has a way to go before reaching ten-to-the-dozen proportions just yet.
Walburga. The name of an 8th Century English-born saint, also known as Wealdburg and Wealdburh, whose cult was established in Germany from the Middle Ages. She is also probably the first known woman writer in England and Germany. Her name derives from the Old English weald ‘power’ and ‘dominion’ + burh ‘fortress’. Because her feast-day was held on May 1st, folklorists have proposed that she was either a pre-Christian fertility Goddess or became conflagrated with a Germanic fertility Goddess — the latter seems most likely, since Walburga as a person does seem to be rooted in historic fact. In Germany, she is also known as Valderburg and Walpurgis. Walpurgisnacht — usually translated to ‘Walpurgis Night’ in English — is famous for its celebrations with bonfires, and its association with Witches. It is fairly well-known that Rowling originally intended to call the Death-Eaters ‘the Knights of Walpurgis’.