Doubled Initials Mean What? Ask P-eter P-ettigrew

The only literature class I took in college that wasn’t in Latin or Greek was a German literature course in English translation, a graduate seminar on ‘Mann, Kafka, and Brecht’ I signed up for as a freshman. Talk about fire hoses: I still have bad dreams about the week in which I was expected to read The Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks on top of my other class work. At 17, allowing me to sign up for that class should have cost somebody in the Counseling Office their job. I impressed the teacher with a longish essay on ‘Mother Courage‘ (probably evidence of his charitable side or the low expectations he had for the child in his classroom) and escaped with an ‘A’ to conclude my formal education in better fiction.

David Bevington, Chicago’s resident Shakespeare scholar in those days, told me once at a Hitchcock Hall Sherry Hour that it was his great good fortune never to have taken a Shakespeare class as an undergraduate. Compared to Bevington, of course, my time with Virgil, Homer, and Thucydides and the corresponding absence of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton on my transcripts must mean that I was thrice blessed. I was never exposed to the aesthetic or postmodern schools of literary criticism but got a snoot full of Aristotle and Dante with a dusting of Coleridge and Ruskin. Talk about dodging the bullet.

But somedays I stumble on an item that English literature majors must recognize as a cliche and I blush for the Lake Michigan sized lacunae in my purely providential preparations to one day become a Potter pundit. Today, for example, while reading a list of “50 factoids about the 103 NBA players who have scored 50 points in One Game” (no joke), I ran across this beauty at #43 on the list:

43. In literature, a character with the same initial in both his/her first and last name is supposed to have a narrow or focused personality. Players who were narrow enough to score at least 50 points in a game: George Gervin, Gail Goodrich, Moses Malone, Cedric Ceballos, Jim Jackson, Paul Pierce and Walt Wesley.

“A narrow or focused personality”? Okay, folks, help me out here.

Let’s list the characters in Harry Potter and those in other books we know and love (or hate, no matter to me) to see if this rule plays out. Severus Snape, is a gimme; Piers Polekiss, Peter Pettigrew, and the Patil twins come immediately to mind. Colin Creevy, the hat-tip to Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and The Secret Garden is another.

I’m missing the “narrow or focused” pattern. Did the basketball guru make this up? Please share your favorite doubled initials character names and let me know what you think of the rule.

Comments

  1. John, how could not Humbert Humbert come to mind immediately?! Pretty focused on…well, you know what. Or were you just asking about Potter characters? 🙂

    Of course, there’s also Pansy Parkinson. A bit narrow I would say.

  2. Guess I should read things more than once. You did say other books were fine, so Humbert Humbert’s in.

    If I may be allowed to count comic books as books, there’s also J. Jonah Jameson from Spider-Man. Pretty narrow in his thinking for a news editor & focused on trying to show Spider-Man as a bad guy.

    Of course, there’s Dedalus Diggle. Also Minerva McGonagall. I’ll try to think of more as I can.

  3. Red Rocker says

    Slim pickings, although Googling Dickens did provide a few:

    Benjamin Button
    Bilbo Baggins
    Billy Bones
    Clara Copperfield
    Dudley Do-Right
    Flora Finching
    Helm Hammerhand
    Humbert Humbert
    John Jarndyce
    Major Major Major Major
    Mary Morstan
    Newman Noggs
    Nicholas NIckleby
    Philip Pirrip (Pip)
    Stan Shunpike
    Tiny Tim
    Tommy Traddles

    With one or two notable exceptions (Bilbo, Pip), can’t really say that any of these are what you would call rounded characters. One dimensional, most of them, and one-trick ponies.

  4. I laughed when I read your post because I started going through all the books a few weeks ago writing down all the names, with a special column for doubles like you mentioned (just to see what I found, not because I knew what it meant). Then I got sidetracked when I read your Unlocking Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Lectures books and went back to re-reread the series for the umpteenth time looking for the alchemical imagery, so I never got through all the books in my name search. Anyway, here are the doubles I had found: Arkie Alderton, Bertie Bott, Bloody Baron, Bellatrix Black (Lestrange), Bathilda Bagshot, Colin Creevey, Cho Chang, Dudley Dursley, Dedalus Diggle, Dilys Derwent, Filius Flitwick, Fat Friar, Florean Fortescue, Gregory Goyle, Godric Gryffindor, Gellert Grindelwald, Gladys Gudgeon (Lockhart fan), Helga Hufflepuff, Luna Lovegood, Minerva McGonagall, Mary McDonald (Lily’s friend), Morag Macdougal (sorted Harry’s first year), Mad-Eye Moody, Moaning Myrtle, Madam Malkin, Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle, Nearly-Headless Nick, Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback (if that counts), Piers Polkiss, Peter Pettigrew, Pansy Parkinson, Parvati Patil, Padma Patil, Percy the Prefect (as he is referred to in SS), Patrick Delaney-Podmore, Peeves the Poltergeist, Poppy Pomfrey, Rowena Ravenclaw, Severus Snape, Salazar Slytherin, Stan Shunpike, Ted Tonks, Vindictus Viridian (author of a book Harry looks at in F&B in SS), Willy Widdershins, Wailing Widow (ghost who came up from Kent at deathday party). There are also many items, stores, curses, Quidditch teams, books (like Lockhart’s), newspapers, etc. with either double initial names or alliterative names. To name just a few: Borgin & Burke, Cruciatus Curse, Forbidden Forest, Felix Felicis, Hog’s Head, Headless Hunt, Hungarian Horntail, Ministry of Magic, Malfoy Manor, Magical Menagerie, Marauders’ Map, Polyjuice Potion, Quick-Quotes Quill, Room of Requirement, Shrieking Shack, Smelting Stick, Triwizard Tournament, Whomping Willow. Many of the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes have alliterative names, e.g. puking pastilles, fainting fancies, fever fudge, canary creams, nosebleed nougat, ton tongue toffee, etc. There are probably more than listed above that I either hadn’t run across yet or forgot about. Hard to say that every person listed above is narrow-minded or narrowly focused, although clearly many are.

  5. I’m still shaking my head over the list – I had to look, being the basketball fan that I am. As for the two initial thing, I think that some authors just like alliterative names, and some have to turn out to be narrowly focused characters. As for basketball players, how did he ever come up with that?

    OT – here’s my favorite fun fact, which I’d actually gotten to before he listed it:

    32. From the “It Pains Me to Write It” department: The University of Kansas is the college responsible for the most 50-point NBA performances with 107. Another Wilt record. After that, it’s 43 by players who didn’t go to any college at all. That’s followed by North Carolina (40), LSU (16) and, surprisingly enough, Seattle (14). Georgetown also has 14. Since I know you’re wondering, Mizzou has never turned out a player who scored 50 in an NBA game. That hurts.

    Yes, Wilt was a Jayhawk and so was Paul Pierce (one of those with the double initial), among some other players who have done quite well in the NBA. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Go KU!!! (It especially made me chuckle that this guy is obviously a Missouri fan, and if there’s one thing that KU and MU can’t stand it’s losing to the other school, so I’m sure it did “pain him” to admit that KU players have done the best.)

    Personally, I think the list maker has way too much time on his hands.

    Pat

  6. The Four Founders (oh, FF): Godric, Salazar, Rowena and Helga.

    The Heads of House (oh, HH): Minerva, Severus and Filius.

    Ghosts: Nearly Nick, Bloody Baroon, Fat Friar.

  7. Oh, I forgot a Ghost from Ravenclaw: Moaning Myrtle 🙂

  8. …to Lily Luna: YIKES!

  9. Thank you for this great research and listing of the doubled initials in Potter names and in other greats of English literature! I think we can accept as an established points that Ms. Rowling has something of a writer’s fetish for alliterative names and, if she is singular in the degree to which she indulges herself in this, she is writing within a tradition of greats who also name characters in this fashion.

    So what? I’ll say three things this morning to take this conversation in a different direction.

    (1) It isn’t just consonants at the beginning of names. Ms. Rowling likes reduplicated consonants and sounds within the names of her major characters as well. Hence Harry and Lily Potter, Albus Dumbledore, and Minerva McGonagall.

    (2) The introduction to literature idea that alliteration and reduplication in initials is a pointer to a “narrow and focused” character tells us little to nothing about its use in Harry Potter. What character cannot be described as either “narrow” or “focused”? Pansy Parkinson and the Patils are probably only narrow because we know next to nothing about them and Severus Snape’s sibilant signature surely means something more than that he is “focused.” This mechanical explanation is as helpful with Potter names as it is in explaining why certain NBA basketball players have scored 50 points (not very much).

    (3) I suggest for your comment and correction that the alliteration in Potter names is a pointer or visible reinforcement of the thematic point that each character, every human person, is double-natured, both in the sense of having front-and-back, persona and shadow, and in our having a choice to make between our inner Gryffindor and Slytherin natures. Resolving these contrary fractions by our right choices to become an ‘Albus Severus Potter’ whole is largely the point of Ms. Rowling’s extended alchemical drama in which we participate as much as we identify with and enter into Harry’s transformation ourselves.

    The names in repeating consonants at their beginnings and within their insides give us an echo or doubling effect which corresponds to the books’ most important anagogical message of human spirituality, namely, our potential for apotheosis via sacrificial love and logos purification. It’s a very nice touch, I think, pointing to our having two natures by adding a second sound within the name, and explains why the author uses the repeated initials as often as she does.

    Or could there be another reason? Please share your thoughts.

  10. John, agreement on #1 & 2 of your points.

    On #3, well, I’ve always found that one of the problems with anagogical method is that it can be right on the mark or else it could be something read into the text as well as drawn out of the text. The trick, I suppose, is to figure out which is which.

    Certainly, your points in #3 could be right on the mark & probably are. But all these alliterative names could just be the result of Ms. Rowling liking names like that & be nothing more than that. And then there’s the question, if there is something more to this alliterative use of names, is it a conscious decision by JKR or an unconscious one? Now, that question probably can’t be answered very well. So, the question really is, is there something more to this use of names or is there not?

    We probably couldn’t say with certainty that there is but I think your points on these names, combined with the other elements you’ve identified in the whole text of HP, would point towards something more going on than just a coincidence or just a preference on JKR’s part for these names.

    So, all that goes to say, in a long fashion, is that I think you’re probably right on this.

  11. I suppose another explanation for this repeated alliterative use of names would be that they could be more easily remembered or would stick out more. We already know that names are important in HP & that names often reflect the personality or nature of the person so named. Why could they also not be used to some extent to help the character stand out.

  12. Red Rocker says

    I always thought it was just JKR having fun with names and sounds. Plus kids (who were the original audience) love alliteration. And not just kids: I’ll never forget the way Gary Oldman (aka Sirius Black) pronounced the name Peter Pettigrew in PoA, almost spitting out the Ps.

  13. korg20000bc says

    Many, many superheros and superhero groups have alliteration in their names too.
    Clarke Kent
    Peter Parker
    David Dunn (Unbreakable)
    Scott Summers
    Green Goblin
    White Witch
    Silver Surfer
    Silver Samurai
    Fantastic Four
    Secret Six
    Famous Five?
    Dynamic Duo
    Arch Angel
    Billy Blue Blazes
    Captain Combat
    Multipleman
    Lex Luthor
    Otto Octavius
    Matt Murdock
    I’m sure there’s heaps mor too!

  14. An alternate argument to Rowling’s amazing amount of alliterative use might be found in the marvelous madness of maintaining such memorable monikers throughout the series, thus creating a lyrical and less-likely-to-be-forgotten list of characters living in Potterdom perpetuity.

    In a word (or three): Alliteration is fun!

    Hey…I couldn’t resist 🙂

  15. I agree with all of revgeorge’s comments and those of the other posters of the power and fun of alliteration both among and within words and names, and the need for caution against reading too much into the presence of doubled letters within names, which may just be a function of English spelling, where the doubling of the consonant affects the pronunciation of the preceding vowel.

    Having said that, and not to over-flog Milton like in my post on the Gay Dumbledore thread, Milton used significant and intended spelling variants in his manuscript for Paradise Lost and took pains to get his printer to reproduce them. Specifically he doubled his e’s to make He into Hee, She into Shee, Ye into Yee, etc. in many places throught the poem. The writer of the Preface to my volume doesn’t seem to know what it is supposed to mean, only that Milton thought it significant. Preface by Rev. H.C. Beeching, 1899, to The Poetical Works of John Milton (Oxford University Press 1930), which reproduced Milton’s works in their original spellings. I note, however, that Paradise Lost seems to be an alchemical work, with specific references to alchemy, sulphur, portcullis, and other alchemical images just in the portions I’ve read most recently. So perhaps John is onto something after all.

  16. I always thought that Minerva’s last name was a nod to this man:

    http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/

    The Worst Poet in the English Language. Obviously her squib uncle or great-uncle.

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