Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Surnames, Coats of Arms and Family Crests

Potter coat of arms (I found this picture through Google picture search)

In the sixth book, The Half-Blood Prince, the surname Peverell is mentioned in connection with a ring that belonged to Tom Riddle's=Lord Voldemort's mother's family (i.e. the Wizard side of his family). His mother's family name was Gaunt, but the ring (which Voldemort turns into a Horcrux) bears the Peverell family crest. (Or so they believe.)

We find out about this in a Pensieve scene, from the memory of a Ministry of Magic representative who once paid a visit to Marvolo Gaunt, Lord Voldemort's grandfather. Marvolo shows him an "ugly, blackstoned ring he was wearing on his middle finger", and says:

'See this? See this? Know what it is? Know where it came from? Centuries it's been in our family, that's how far back we go, and pure-blood all the way! Know how much I've been offered for this, with the Peverell coat of arms engraved on the stone?' (HBP10)

This got us Potter-fans (while waiting for book 7) to search the internet frantically for the name Peverell; and it turned out that there is one William Peverel mentioned in the Domesday Book, who was said to be the illegitimate son of William the Conqueror (but took the surname Peverel from his stepfather). The Domesday Book is a great land survey from 1086, commissioned by William the Conqueror to assess the extent of the land and resources being owned in England at the time, and the extent of the taxes he could raise. (William the Conqueror invaded England from Normandy in 1066.)

I went a bit further and looked up a lot of other surnames as well, which led to the discovery that actually most of the surnames that J.K. Rowling uses in the Harry Potter Books are very old names, with their own family crests and coats of arms (link to Wikipedia article about coats of arms in general), and Peverell is far from the only name that goes back to the Domesday Book or even further.

An interesting webpage if you want to look further into the history of surnames, coats of arms and family crests is House of Names. Unfortunately, one cannot copy images from their page. But using their search engine, you will find for example that…

The name Potter was brought to England by the Normans in 1066. The crest on their coat of arms is a wyvern, a sort of dragon.

The name Evans (Harry's mother's maiden name) goes back to the ancient Celts. The crest on their coat of arms is a stag. Remember that Harry's father took the form of a stag as animagus, and that the stag is also Harry's patronus.

Interestingly, the crest on the Snape coat of arms is also a stag's head. In the last book, we learn that Snape's patronus is a doe, because of his feelings for Lily Evans.

Snape's mother's maiden name was Prince; this name goes back to Anglo-Saxon times, and on the shield there is a cross of ermine (white with black spots), which is associated with crusaders.

Granger, Hermione's surname, is also an old one, and the family crest is a portcullis, associated with castles and a symbol of protection.

The name Weasley is of Norman origin and arrived in England with the conquest in 1066. Their crest is a wyvern, their motto is "God is Love", and on their shield there are three sea shells. (In the seventh book, Bill and Fleur Weasley live in Shell Cottage.)

The motto over the Riddle coat of arms is "I hope to share". Too good to be a coincidence, I think, since Tom Riddle=Lord Voldemort split his soul into several "shares"…

The Dumbledore coat of arms has a red shield with two golden lions, and a bend of ermine across it. (The bend signifies defense or protection.)

On the Black coat of arms shield, there are three stars. Sirius is the name of a star, and in Rowling's Black family tree, there are several other "star" first names as well.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Names: Cho Chang

Sometimes a book can be more helpful than the internet. It was in a Swedish book on Chinese mythology and history (by Alf Henriksson & Hwang Tsu-Yü) that I found Chou Chuang-tzu, also sometimes spelled Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher in the 4th century b.c. (Chou is the first name.)

There are especially two stories about him (out of the few I've glanced at) that I think sort of relate to the story in The Goblet of Fire (GoF); which is the book where we are first introduced to Cho Chang (who becomes Harry Potter's girlfriend in the next book, The Order of the Phoenix).

One is this:

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn't know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (Quoted from a website about Taoism)

In GoF, we have Rita Skeeter transforming into a beetle. Before GoF, we had only been introduced to "mammal" Animagi. A butterfly is a kind of insect, and so is a beetle. (It always seemed to me a very risky kind of transformation...)

With the name Cho Chang, Rowling might also want to indicate subtly that Cho will not be Harry's lasting female companion. Cho is a "butterfly", who does not quite have the endurance that Ginny later shows...

The other story I haven't been able to find on the internet, but Alf Henriksson & Hwang Tsu-Yü include in the Swedish book:

This is a story about Chuang-tzu, from the 17th century collection of stories Chin-ku Ch'i-kuan. In this story, Chuang-tzu lies dead in his coffin, which is still kept in his house. His widow falls in love with a prince who used to be his student. On the night of their wedding, the prince falls ill, and says the only thing that could cure him would be a piece of a human brain. Chuang-tzus widow does not hesitate; she breaks open the coffin of her former husband. But when she does, the body of her husband wakes up, and the prince disappears. It turns out the prince was just another incarnation of Chuang-tzu. The wife hangs herself, but Chuang-tzu beats a drum and sings a happy song about death.

In GoF, we have Lord Voldemort rising from the dead by digging up the bones of his father in a graveyard, and using these (and a few other things) for a sort of second incarnation of himself.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Professor Dumbledore's full name is:
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.

"Dumbledore is an old English word meaning bumblebee. Because Albus Dumbledore is very fond of music, I always imagined him as sort of humming to himself a lot." J.K. Rowling

AlbusLatin for "white".
Albion is an ancient poetic name for Britain which the Romans connected with the Latin "albus" referring to the whiteness of cliffs seen from the sea, but which is more likely of Celtic origin.

After Dumbledore's death, he was buried in a white marble tomb. (HBP 30)

Percival - one of King Arthur's knights whose virtue was so great that he alone could retrieve the Holy Grail, the chalice from Christ's Last Supper.

Wulfric - Anglo/Saxon, meaning wolf power, or wolf ruler.
(Wulf = wolf. Ric = power, rule.)

Together with Dumbledore's victory over the magician Grindelwald, his middle name Wulfric might be a hint towards the 8th-century Norse epic Beowulf and Grendel. See my previous post about Harry Potter and Beowulf.

Brian (Celtic, Irish, Gaelic) "High, noble; strength."
Brian Boru (10th century) was a warrior who became High King of Ireland, and one of its greatest national heroes. His reign was unique in that he mangaged to establish himself as King of Ireland in more than just name, by forcing all other challengers to swear allegiance to him. After his death, Ireland soon fell back into chaos and anarchy.

Albus P W Brian Dumbledore's achievement as Headmaster of Hogwarts could possibly be compared in some ways to that of Brian Boru as High King of Ireland. For a long period of time, Dumbledore managed to keep the four Houses of Hogwarts together, in spite of the differences. When he is not there, chaos and anarchy break out. This is seen both during his shorter absences in the earlier books, for example under the temporary "reign" of Dolores Umbridge in Book 5, and especially in Book 7, after Dumbledore's death.


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