Harry’s godfather Sirius was – like many members of his family – named after a star. The Sirius star is in fact the brightest in the night sky and is situated in the constellation known as ‘Canis major' (The Greater Dog). Pretty apt for an unregistered Animagus who relied on his ability to turn into a dog to escape numerous sticky situations, including escaping from the allegedly unescapable Azkaban.
Then there’s Sirius’s brother, Regulus Arcturus – a boy named for not one but TWO stars. Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation of Leo and Arcturus the brightest in the constellation of Boötes, so you could argue Sirius’s younger brother was twice as bright. Except that he did throw his lot in with Voldemort, which doesn’t strike us as particularly clever. Still, we’ll give him points for stealing and attempting to destroy the Horcrux locket.
Sirius might have seen his name struck off the Black tapestry when, as a teenager, he ran away and rejected his family’s politics, but he and Regulus weren’t the only Blacks to be named after the night sky. Many more of Sirius’s cousins were happy to embrace the family’s love of Dark wizardry, and Bellatrix Lestrange (previously Black) was no exception.
The Bellatrix star is only the third-brightest in the Orion constellation, so although witch Bellatrix may have succeeded in killing her cousin, in star terms Sirius always burned brighter. But the name Bellatrix does also mean ‘female warrior’, which we have to acknowledge was very fitting for Voldemort’s right-hand woman.
As if our very favourite werewolf Lupin’s first name, Remus, wasn’t wolfish enough (it comes from the tale of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome brought up by a she-wolf), his surname is also derived from the constellation Lupus, Latin for ‘wolf’. Even Lupin’s nickname, Moony, was a nod to the night sky – werewolves, of course, transform during a full moon.
It was the second-century astronomer Ptolemy (who was, incidentally, a real-life historical figure also depicted on the wizarding world’s Chocolate Frog cards) who first identified this constellation as a wolf. Some myths even depict Lupus as a wolf being speared by a centaur in readiness for sacrifice (Centaurus being a neighbouring constellation). In the world of Harry Potter, Lupin always seemed to get on well enough with the centaurs, though, so we hope he never received that treatment.
Malfoy’s mother Narcissa might have been one of the few Black family members to avoid being named for a star, but she returned to the tradition when naming her own and only child. Draco’s name comes from the Latin for dragon, and Draco is also another constellation named by astronomer Ptolemy. Apparently the Draco can be seen all year round – maybe that explains why it’s so rare for Draco to take a day off from his bullying ways.
Dragons, of course, are fearsome and fierce creatures that breathe fire and make very bad pets (are you listening, Hagrid?) which also fits what we’ve seen of Hogwarts’ best-known school bully. But they’re also very protective of their families, as Harry’s experience with the Hungarian Horntail will attest. Similarly, Draco’s motivation for following Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was to restore his family’s standing. So we suppose dragons and Dracos aren’t ALL bad.
There are too many stars (of a type) in the Black family tapestry to pick them all out, but we are rather fond of Alphard, the uncle who left Sirius some gold and was subsequently struck off the tapestry. Apparently, the Alphard star is also known as the snake’s heart – which would be an excellent name for a fully paid-up Voldemort-supporting member of the Black family tree. But given Sirius’s gold and Alphard’s tapestry removal, we like to think that he, like his nephew, rejected this interpretation rather forcefully.
Andromeda Tonks, sister to Bellatrix and Narcissa, was also named after a constellation, itself named for a Greek mythological princess. Tonks’s mother saw her name removed permanently from the Black tapestry when she married a Muggle, and again we quite like the idea of those renegade Blacks rejecting the lofty and ridiculous politics of their ancestors.