Frankel: Crimes of Grindelwald Names

A Guest Post today from Valerie Frankel with her thoughts about the Dickensian Cryptonyms of characters in J. K. Rowling’s Crimes of Grindelwald. Enjoy!

Name Meanings in Crimes of Grindelwald

Leta Lestrange’s refusal to join the forces of darkness must have surprised many, given her shadowed past and Death Eater descendants. Further, her insistence that she is the last of the family line, followed by her death, suggests more will have to follow on this, since two generations after, Rodolphus Lestrange will marry Bellatrix and serve Voldemort. Leta’s name is suggestive, a derivation of the Greek Leda. Originally, Leda was a mother goddess in her own right, who chased down and devoured the sacrificed god-king as a true all-encompassing night goddess (Tymieniecka 213). However, she was co-opted into Greek mythology as a lovely queen raped by Zeus, who was forced to give birth to a generation of heroes including Helen of Troy. While she could have been a mighty goddess, she was quickly reimagined as a pawn by a patriarchal culture. Leta Lestrange’s story appears over (a pity, as she had a complex backstory and much of her engagement and possible penance for her crime was never fully explored) but Greek Leda and her daughter’s status as pawns battled over by heroes (including Theseus!) continues to echo.  

Her fiancé Theseus Scamander is also named from Greek mythology. He is the valiant warrior-hero with whom humble Newt always compares himself. In myth, he famously carries off Helen of Troy, alluded to in the modern Theseus’s sweeping Leta away from his brother.  Also in contrast with his brother, Theseus is most famous for killing a legendary beast, the minotaur. If Newt is savior of the helpless, his brother is its somewhat brutish destroyer. In a scenario that inspired The Hunger Games, in which a dozen Athenian youths were selected to die in a seven-year tribute, mythological Theseus trained them all in warfare and united them against their stronger foe, much as his namesake is doing in this film. At the same time, the Athenian could be insensitive and disapproving of family. He forgot to raise a white sail on returning and his father, on thinking he was dead, leapt into the sea. He abandoned the lover Ariadne who guided him through the labyrinth and later wed her sister Phedre, then murdered his own son when Phedre jealously framed him. The wizard Theseus’s authoritative, wrongheaded cruel approach to family starts off in his failure to connect with Leta and bossy interactions with Newt and may continue in the next films.

French-African wizard Yusuf Kama establishes that there can indeed be pure-blood families from lands like Senegal. His name comes from Joseph (the Bible and Koran contain the same characters and stories). Joseph’s famous story is of being trapped in a foreign land, plagued by prophecies he must interpret. Biblical Joseph succeeds and is promoted to second in the land. Yusuf quotes the prophecy of Tycho Dodonus: “A son cruelly banished, despair of the daughter, return great avenger with wings from the water.” However, he has enough of his beliefs wrong that he is set on murdering an innocent (and the wrong one!) showing he’s as misguided as his enemies.

[Jacob, Tina, Newt, Aurelius, and more after the jump!]

Biblical Jacob was most famous for wrestling with God – interesting because Jacob Kowalski as token Muggle on the team is clearly outclassed. In the final battle, he is less helpful than the Niffler and he knows this, though he’s still determined to battle in a world where he doesn’t fit. Of course, he did great deeds and became a great forefather of the people – one hopes this fate will come to Jacob Kowalski, though misguided Queenie must break herself from serving Grindelwald the evil king.

Her sister’s name Tina can be short for Athena, the valiant (and chaste!) warrior goddess. This goes well with her trousers and ministry work – both progressive though not unheard of at the time. However, as anyone knows who has read Newt’s About the Author page in the original Fantastic Beasts schoolbook, she and Newt are destined for each other.      

Newt’s name is not only reminiscent of animals but goofy, given that a newt is tiny and harmless. Of course, Newt’s power comes, like a House-Elf’s, from being thought harmless and beneath notice. As the Niffler manages in this film, he can save the day mostly by being dismissed and allowed to act according to his nature. Water symbolism of the newt deals with transformation, intuition and motion, all imagery surrounding Newt himself.

A salamander is much more, as in folklore it’s a fire creature. St. Augustine, Pliny, Galen, and Rashi all write of salamanders existing in fire and regenerating there (Browne and Eason 314). They were considered fire elementals, akin to mermaids, dwarves, and giants. By medieval and renaissance times, this was accepted as fact. The belief likely comes from their hibernating in logs and popping out of them when the logs were brought in to be burned. Medieval experts insisted in fact that the milky substance salamanders leak when frightened was fireproof (Browne and Eason 314). Once again, fluidity and transformation are key. Newt may begin as a humble, well, newt, one expelled from Hogwarts and ridiculed for his creatures, but like Dumbledore and Credence, he is poised to transform.

When Newt tells Tina her eyes are like a salamander’s, he references fire and water, suggesting he means the magic creature and that he feels she’s perfect for him, the mate to a salamander like himself.  “The salamander was thought to be sexless, hence it was equated with chastity. In Christian symbolism it represents enduring faith and the righteous man who cannot be consumed by the fires of temptation” (Cooper 144). All this fits Newt’s character very well. In heraldry, a salamander represents courage unswayed by temptation (Cooper 144).  Dumbledore acknowledges this very trait by saying, “Do you know why I admire you, Newt? You do not seek power. You simply ask, ‘Is a thing good?’”

Finally comes the revelation of the new Dumbledore. “Aurelius” means golden, and also fits among the Dumbledore clan as another Latin name and “A” name. The color is linked with royalty, masculine power, and the phoenix, but also sometimes false coin. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor and philosophical writer. A book of his musings is visible on Rowling’s website. He believed in Stoicism, a philosophy of choosing duty and avoiding luxuries that echoes Credence’s puritan upbringing.  His birth name suggests he was meant to be an heir to the family legacy like Corvus was. More interestingly, the death of Marcus Aurelius heralded the end to the Roman Empire, suggested Aurelius may be the key to Grindelwald’s or the wizarding world’s destruction. Marcus Aurelius ruled with his adoptive brother beside him, suggesting more possibilities in Rowling’s world.  

The Puritan-style name Credence is also fitting for the character, emphasizing not only his religious upbringing but his pattern as a pawn. Without much pause, he believes his adoptive mother and then Graves in the first film. Without learning from his suffering, he’s giving his mind away to Grindelwald this time in the hopes that this time he’ll find protection and acceptance. He’s doomed until he sheds his credulous nature.  

His other possible identity as Corvus, though a blind, should not be ignored as he symbolically bears it through the film. This constellation is that of a crow that betraying Apollo the sun god. In some versions, she’s an unfaithful lover. In another, the crow fails in its duty, by snacking instead of completing Apollo’s task of fetching water. On returning, it blames a snake, and an enraged Apollo hurls the crow (Corvus), cup (Crater), and snake (Hydra) into the sky, leaving the cup tantalizingly out of its reach and leaving it to suffer thirst (Ridpath and Tirion 128-130). Considering that Grindelwald and Dumbledore have solar imagery as the castled kings of their domains, as well as Credence’s counterpart the snake Nagini, much of this has already taken place. His quest for family ends (with this film anyway) leaving it tantalizingly out of reach.

Works Cited

Browne, Thomas and James Eason. “Pseudodoxia Epidemica”. 1672.

Cooper, J.C. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols. Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1978.

Ridpath, Ian and Wil Tirion. Stars and Planets Guide. Princeton University Press, 2001.

Tymieniecka, Anna-Teresa. The Elemental Dialectic of Light and Darkness. Springer Science & Business Media, 1992.

Valerie Estelle Frankel has won a Dream Realm Award, an Indie Excellence Award, and a USA Book News National Best Book Award for her Henry Potty parodies. She’s the author of over 60 books on pop culture, including Doctor Who – The What, Where, and How; Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC’s Series 1-3; Harry Potter and Myth: The Legends behind Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, and all the Hero’s Journeys; and How Game of Thrones Will End. Many of her books focus on women’s roles in fiction, from her heroine’s journey guides From Girl to Goddess and Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey to books like Superheroines and the Epic Journey and The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen. Once a lecturer at San Jose State University, she now teaches at Mission College and San Jose City College and speaks often at conferences. You can read more of her research at


  1. David James says

    Brilliant post Valerie…..

    A couple things to consider things to ponder in relation to the name Credence and the symbolism that may shed light on hi s role in the story yet to be revealed.

    “Belief in… or something of acceptance as true”….

    “a small side table, shelf, or niche in a church for holding the elements of the Eucharist before they are consecrated “.

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