Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #16: The Name Taboo

I was asked at Enlightening 2007 what I thought of the “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” element in the stories. I said then that I expected we would learn in Deathly Hallows that the Name would bring the Person Named (hence the fear if this had been the case in VoldeWar I). I was wrong, of course, but we did see a Pay-Off for this Set-Up as Janet Batchler would put it; the name of Voldemort becomes a Ministry-enforced Taboo that immediately brings bounty hunters (“Snatchers”) and breaks protective spells. As a writer who understands the difference between invocational magic (“sorcery”) and incantational spells, is Ms. Rowling making a point here about taboos in general, the power of names, and government anointed vigilantes and repression of resistance? Why do we have the Name Taboo, other than accelerate the story-line by making Harry’s capture believable?


  1. sibelius says

    The name taboo seemed like a freedom of speech point to me. The assumption behind the taboo is that only people saying Voldemort’s name are the ones plotting against him, so the Taboo acts as a powerful eavesdropping device to prevent dissent and insurrection. On a side note, the power of Tom Riddle’s pretentious pseudonym is finally shattered in the final duel, when Harry calls him Tom Riddle throughout, to which Riddle initially replies ‘You Dare…’ and responds ‘Yes, I dare.’

  2. It’s interesting that there is another idea about names in folklore: if you speak the devil’s name in his presence you banish him to Hell. Harry’s use of Riddle’s real name has echoes of that in it.

  3. Plus the whole tradition that knowing something or someone’s true name grants you power over it. Admittedly, that doesn’t cut much ice for everyone else, but Voldmort seems to be the kind of idiot who’d believe that stuff.

    I think Harry calling him Riddle throughout the final showdown is just a continuation of Harry’s ongoing lack of respect for the taboos around Voldemort’s name. When everyone else is calling him “You know who”, “He who must not be named” and “The Dark Lord”, Harry calls him Voldemort, continually demonstrating that the name itself has no real power. Then, in the final showdown, Harry refuses to use the name Voldemort chose for himself, and calls him by the name that reminds him of his hated mudblood father.

    Harry is the little boy who points out that the emperor has no clothes.

    I just realised something: Harry – mum’s from muggle stock, his dad (as we learn in this book) is from seriously ancient wizarding stock. Tom Riddle – dad’s a muggle, mums from seriously ancient wizarding stock. More mirroring.

  4. I agree that Harry was using Voldemort’s name to further reduce the dark wizard’s power. But I also think that it set up his final appeal to Voldemort…his final chance for redemption. He was appealing to the Tom Riddle that Voldemort had worked so long and hard to destroy and bury. He was appealing to anything good that could be left in Voldemort to save himself.

  5. And what I do love about the redemption pattern in regards to the Horcruxes, is that IF Tom did feel remorse. He’s probably just die. Hermione said it could kill a person.

  6. Voldemort’s embrasure of that name and the reverence he held it in as evidenced by the Taboo and that clinging to his personal chosen identity ensured that he would never grant remorse. The embryonic or fetal thing that Harry and Dumbledore can do nothing for is the sould that refuses to be other than the center of reality. Not even God can reach those who remove their souls from his reach! Tom Riddle/Voldemort is just such and his entire ability to become is reduced to the pathetic and irredeemable existence pictured by that aborted personhood. A morality play indeed! It is our choices that make us what we are.

  7. Arabella Figg says

    Only those who have the courage to name the elephant in the room will have the fortitude to face, fight and eliminate it.

    This was a very cunning ruse of Tommy-boy’s. Those who used his name would naturally be his enemies. Everyone else was afraid and subservient.

    If we don’t “name and claim” the things we fear or that have negative impact in our lives, we allow them tremendous power and dominance over us. The wizarding world was in bondage to fear of naming their enemy. Harry and friends broke the taboo and were thus free and easily marked targets.

    We must question taboos and the motivation behind them.

    Gads, Fullatricks and Mrs. Fleasley are in a huge cat-fight! Go, Mrs. Fleasley!

  8. Billastro says

    I also think that Harry’s addressing Voldemort as Tom echoes the way Dumbledore did. To D, V was nothing more than a wayward student who’d learned some tricks. Dangerous, but manageable.

    I don’t recall whether he heard D refer to him as Tom, but I suspect he did at some point. Or he absorbed D’s lack of fear early and just took it to the next level.

  9. Harry did hear Dumbledore refer to Voldemort as Tom in the battle in the Ministry in Order of the Phoenix.

    “The headless statue thrust Harry backwards, away from the fight, as Dumbledore advanced on Voldemort and the golden centaur cantered around them both.
    ‘It was foolish to come here tonight, Tom,’ said Dumbledore calmly.”

  10. I must admit I was seriously disgusted when Harry spoke Voldy’s name knowing it was Taboo, thus causing the Fenrir gang to appear. I actually slapped the page and groaned. But, I forced myself continue reading and it all turned out ok (well, except for the Dobby part).

    Musing it over, it was a very clever twist on Rowling’s part using Voldy’s name as the means of discovering the resistors. You knew the Trio could only run around with the tent for just so long and the Taboo was a great set-up for capture.

  11. I also was quite upset when Harry said Valdemorts name after knowing he shouldn’t, but it makes sense that he does say it in anger because that is one of his biggest charecter flaws.

  12. Arabella Figg says

    I think you’re being a bit hard on Harry for using Voldemort’s name. Remember that for years he has used this name, the only one besides Dumbledore to do so. I would suspect not using it was something unnatural to him. His use of it in a heated discussion was natural. Although Ron cut into the middle of the name, Harry was too far gone to keep from completing it. We’ve all done this.

    Ack! The kitties are after the pittisporum again…

  13. In the Bible we are commanded to not take the name of the “Lord Thy God” in vain. Voldemort, like Lucifer himself, is trying his own hand at making commandments. Take my name in vain, and I will find you! I think it is another example of evil presenting itself with Godlike authority, and demanding reverence. It was also a great plot device. As soon as I heard the rule, I knew Harry would break it. He had not grown up with the name avoidance and had been taught by Dumbledore to ignore this politically correct way of referring to the Dark Lord. Aren’t we too guilty of not speaking of evil by name. We say are in “A war of Terror”, doesn’t anyone think that is double-speak. Who are we fighting? Someone is afraid to name the enemy by name. Why?

  14. Arabella Figg, I think, got it right. The willingness to call something what it is, whether it be Tom Riddle, Voldemort, or the proverbial elephant in the room, is the first step to dealing with it. And this is where I see the parallel between Deathly Hallows’ Taboo and politically correct speech.

    If someone is fat then they’re fat. Sure, the measure of being fat is subjective, but using the euphemistic “vertically chappenged” or “full figured” or “big boned” simply avoids dealing with the issue everyone sees is obvious.

    Calling Voldemort He-who-must-not-be-named was engraved as politically correct when it became taboo. In the same way people today are vilified for using non-PC terms so did Taboo vilify and make easily apprehended people using the non-PC term for Voldemort.

  15. Bruce Charlton says

    I had independently (but four years later!) reached the same conclusion as Rhonda here:

    The ultimate reason why Voldemort was evil (beyond his selfishness and enjoyment of torture) is his Satanic pride expressed in wishing to displace God as the single allowed object of worship.

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