Guest Post: Wizarding World Names! Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them 

fb3A Guest Post from Wayne Stauffer — ‘The Names We Need to Understand in Fantastic Beasts.’

In the Harry Potter series a major theme Rowling explored was the tension between alienation and inclusion–characters who are excluded from a group and who work to be included or start their own group for including others.

In working my way through A Year with CS Lewis, the December 14 excerpt is from Lewis’s “The Inner Ring,” delivered at King’s College, University of London, on December 14, 1944. He makes this point, “… in all men’s lives at certain periods,… one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside….Victorian literature is full of characters who are hagridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society….” (italics mine). And he continues to develop this idea of yearning for one’s place amid one group or another. 

rh1It was the word “hagridden” that caught my eye because of the similarity to our Harry Potter friend, Rubeus Hagrid. (Many of you are already with me on where this is going.) Lewis’s context clues about its meaning give a broad understanding, so I went to the dictionary to find its adjective form. “Worried” and “tormented” are meanings for this word that dates to the late 1600s. Well now, Hagrid most certainly has that yearning for acceptance into the wizarding community, that Ring of his choosing, and suffers his share of torment for his halfblood status as wizard/giant and the semi-ostracism that accompanies it. As with her other choices of words, Rowling isn’t simply tossing it out there simply for the sound or exotic attraction.

fb8Now, in the Fantastic Beasts series, this theme of alienation and acceptance/inclusion continues. And names continue to play a part. During questioning by Percival Graves, viewers find out that Newt Scamander was expelled from Hogwarts for endangering wizarding lives with some allegedly dangerous beast or another. Outside the film, however, we are told that Dumbledore intervened to have the expulsion dropped.

Let’s look at the names in Fantastic Beasts to begin our exegesis of their literal meanings and how that fits into the named character’s role in the story.

fb31Newton means “new town” and Scamander is the name of the river outside of Troy in the Illiad. Newt is awkward among people, rather like Neville Longbottom, and much more comfortable among the flora and fauna of the wizarding world. Newt is breaking new ground (new town) in the wizarding world by studying creatures for the purpose of learning more about and from them, rather than for the sake of exploiting them, even if he does milk the Swooping Evil venom because “it has to be useful for something” later on. This seemingly odd fascination with potentially viscious and deadly creatures puts him on the outs with the rest of the wizarding community, but very much a kindred spirit with Rubeus Hagrid, Professor of Care of Magical Creatures. 

fb22Jacob Kowalski is a fellow who is excluded at least a couple ways. “Jacob” means “supplanter” and “Kowalski” can mean “from Kowale [Poland]” or “the occupation kowal-a smith” ( Jacob is a canning factory worker and feels like he is dying there from the stifling environment. He longs to be part of another way of life and envisions the bakery as his true calling, yet he has no means to follow that calling. And then he is abruptly introduced to the wonders of the magical world and wants to stay there, as crazy and disorienting as it seems. Queenie even tells him, “You’re one of us now” when she takes him out of MACUSA HQ instead of to forced obliviation. Although his eventual obliviation separates him, the last scene gives him, and us, hope for him to come.

fb41“Porpentina” derives from “porpentine,” another word for porcupine (OED). (Some may remember several  Shakespeare references to a pub/inn named “The Porpentine” in his plays). Her initial relationship with Newt and Jacob is prickly, like her namesake, not to mention her situation in the local wizarding community. “Queenie” is self-evident in naming her beauty and skill in Legilimency. And “Goldstein” means “gold stone” both ‘Tina and Queenie are precious, valuable members of the wizarding community, though ‘Tina has put herself on the outs with MACUSA in her work as an Auror. Their situation as orphans also puts them on the outside looking in on the usual family units, another form of alienation. They have each other, but both want more. So far, it seems that ‘Tina is attracted to Newt and Queenie is attracted to Jacob and vice versa.

fb35Credence Barebone derives from “credere,” meaning trusting or believing. And how representative a name is “Barebone” for an extremely ascetic lifestyle amid the extravagance and opulence of the Roaring ’20s of New York? What a contrast! Credence also is on the outside of the wizarding community, looking in, longing for that inclusion in a Ring. He trusts Percival Graves, aka Grindelwald, as he has trusted his adopted mother, Mary Lou Barebone. Adoption is a big statement of inclusion, but in this case, mother Mary Lou has ulterior motives. She wants to actually beat the magic out of Credence. In addition, Credence is experiencing his teenage identity crisis in an abusive, adoptive family environment, so he is particularly vulnerable to being taken advantage of because of this longing to be included. [I do not in the least mean to cast aspersions on adoptive or foster families in general. I am speaking ONLY to this particular situation in this fictional story.] Both people he has trusted have misused him and  left him injured severely.

Then in steps Percival Graves

fb61“Valley piercer,” Percival was Arthur’s knight who sought the Holy Grail, as Gellert Grindelwald searches for the obscurus and the deathly hallows. “Graves” is a kind of self-evident eponym for death, the ultimate exclusion in life. Someone has already pointed out the connection with Albus’s second name and his father’s first name as possible inspiration for Grindelwald to use as a pseudonym in his imposter role. Remember Percival Dumbledore’s anti-muggle sentiments after his daughter Ariana’s abuse by Muggles. (…though this still does not help explain why Grindelwald, as Graves, is so quickly to rise in status with MACUSA after his recent actions in Europe at the very beginning of the film…or if the real PG has been a victim of identity theft or worse.) Graves/Grindelwald is one who has no qualms with exploiting wizard and beast “for the greater good” of wielding wizarding power over No-Majs and Muggles. His exploitation of Credence is predictable and makes Grindelwald that much more a villain for taking advantage of one so vulnerable. 

When it comes down to it, teenagers are not the only ones susceptible to feelings of being left out and alone. During different times in our lives we all go through those times of self-doubt and feeling left out of something important. We also have to be on our guards against those who would take advantage of us and others and step into that Gryffindor courage to be an advocate for others when no one else will. 

I am, as you are, looking forward to how Rowling develops the next four installments of this new wizarding story line.

Wayne Stauffer teaches writing and literature at Houston Community College, Houston, Texas. 


  1. Kelly Loomis says

    Rowling’s use of language has always been a fascination for me. From people’a names, to spells, and even the plant names’ significance which Snape mentions in his first class with Harry.

  2. Wendie L Stauffer says

    Thanks for making the connections you do between days gone by and the here and now! Can related to feeling on the outside! Glad I’m not alone !

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