We uncover the interesting etymology of the names of the witches and wizards who took the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The word ‘quirinus’ has its origins in Roman mythology and is loosely translated to ‘spear’ or ‘wielder of the spear’. As we know, Quirrell wielded something even more deadly under his turban.
Quirinus was also the name of the Sabine god of war and is referred to as the ‘oak-god’. In short, the name is synonymous with battle and domination: certainly a good fit for Lord Voldemort, the man who dominated him.
The Professor’s surname, on the other hand, is also linked with oak from the Middle High German word ‘eichhorn’ or ‘oak horn’. In Old English it was written as ácweorna, which loosely translates to squirrel. In modern linguistics squirrel has several meanings beyond the description of an adorably fuzzy animal – it describes someone who has a limited attention span, and the action of ‘squirrelling away’ food or items for later use. Professor Quirrell was notoriously twitchy and hard to pin down, and you could say he had Voldemort squirrelled away beneath his turban. It is a name as aptly suited to his personality as his actions.
Professor Gilderoy Lockhart was one of the funniest of the Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts. His unending vanity and ridiculous pretences at bravery were pretty much the theme of all of his books. Gilderoy’s popularity with the ladies made his forename very apt indeed: it was also the name of a famous Highland outlaw who had poetry written about his exploits with women and penchant for breaking the law.
‘Gilderoy was a bonny boy,
Had roses till his shoon;
His stockings were of silken soy,
Wi’ garters hanging doun,
It was, I ween, a comelie sight
To see sae trim a boy;
He was my joy and heart’s delight,
My handsome Gilderoy.’
While Professor Lockhart’s first name managed to capture his startling good looks, it was his surname which really sealed the deal. Lockhart is of Scottish origin and is said to mean ‘brave’ and ‘hardy’. Can anyone say irony?
The most loved of all the Dark Arts professors, Remus Lupin was also one of the most tragic. Cursed from a young age to transform into a werewolf at every full moon, Lupin was as his name suggested: wolfy. Lupin is from the Latin ‘lupinus’ which translates to mean ‘wolfish’, and is also the name given to a series of spiky but brightly coloured flowers called Lupinus. In America, these plants were so named because they were seen as damaging to the soil – wolfish in their need to consume. However, in Portugal this was perceived as an advantage and the plants are used to choke out weeds. For our professor, both the wolfish curse and his utter dedication to rooting out evil defined who he was, just like his surname.
Remus, on the other hand, is from Roman mythology, and the original owner of the name was the brother of Romulus, the son of Mars and one of the founders of Rome. He was also, wait for it, raised by a wolf…
Seeing as it technically was not Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody who was the Defence Against the Dark Arts tutor in Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts, we will instead look at the name of Barty Crouch, who stole Moody’s place.
Barty is a variation taken from a number of different names, the most common of which is Barry. This has Gaelic origins and is often considered to come from the Irish name ‘Ō Beargha’ which means ‘plunderer’. Well, that is pretty appropriate for this so-called professor.
Crouch is said to be a late 14th-century word with its origins in Old French, and is given to mean ‘become bent or crooked’. And who better to fit the bill for being ‘crooked’ than Barty Crouch Jr?
Dolores Umbridge was the professor we didn’t just love to hate, we hated. She was mean, she was vindictive, she was cruel and she hated children. She did things so nasty that we all shivered with horror. Wasn’t Dolores just the pits – and wasn’t her name just perfect? ‘Dolores’ is taken from the Spanish description of the Virgin Mary — Maria de los Dolores — which translates to ‘Mary of Sorrows’. She definitely created many ‘sorrows’ during her time as Hogwarts High Inquisitor. Her surname, on the other hand, looks very likely to be a variant of ‘umbrage’, and the phrase ‘to take umbrage’ is to be displeased and unhappy about something.
Professor Umbridge was pretty much always upset about something, unless it was said by Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge. However, it is worth mentioning that umbrage hasn’t always meant displeasure – it was originally taken from the Latin word ‘umbra’, which means ‘shadow’. This has an ominous overtone when it comes to Dolores Umbridge and her affiliations with the Dark Lord. Also, we imagine a lot of Hogwarts students threw plenty of shade whenever she was around.
Snape brought sarcasm and wit to the daily grind of the schooling year, but his secret bravery was kept hidden until the very end of the story. His first name, Severus, has its roots in Latin, directly translating to mean ‘stern’ or ‘harsh’. This was exactly the front that Snape put on as he swept down hallways like a bat and berated Harry for every wrong: a stern and harsh façade to hide what lay beneath. It was also an accurate description of the desperately lonely and unhappy childhood he had with a harsh father who didn’t hold back when it came to the whip.
As for his last name, Snape, this comes from the Old Norse word ‘sneypa’ which means ‘to outrage, dishonour, disgrace’: three words that definitely seem relevant to the old Potions professor.