Harry Potter Etymology- Pets

I thought it might be nice to move away from people for a bit. This turned out to be a long, but just an average post.


Hedwig- The word Hedwig has the elements hadu meaning ‘battle’ and wig meaning ‘fight’. There have been numerous powerful and noble women named Hedwig throughout history- Hedwig of France (970-1013), Countess of Mons; Hedwige of Saxony (910-965), German noblewoman and mother of Hugh Capet, King of France; Hedwig of Kalisz (1266–1339), wife of Władysław I the Elbow-high and mother of Casimir III of Poland and Elisabeth of Poland; Hedwig Jagiellon (1457-1502), daughter of Casmir IV of Poland and wife of Duke George of Bavaria- all of them faithful, supportive and strong companions to people in power. There were also two saints- Saint Hedwig (Jadwiga) (1373–1399), Queen of Poland, canonized 1997 and Saint Hedwig of Andechs (1174–1243), Duchess of Silesia, canonized 1267. Harry’s owl was named after the latter. This St.Hedwig founded an association for young girls and women, whose chief aim was to educate and harbor abandoned children. This seems a good idea to relate to a school-going-gift for Harry. According to Rowling, Hedwig is a representation of Harry’s innocence- her death signifying Harry’s transformation to a young man, becoming adult in the wizarding world.

Fawkes– The phoenix was named after Guy Fawkes, an English conspirator in the 16th century. Back then, in England, it was illegal to be a Catholic- everyone was required to be a part of the Church of England. Fawkes and a few others were a part of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Parliament in protest. The British still celebrate Bonfire Night every 5th November by setting off fireworks, building big fires and burning effigies of Fawkes in memory of how the conspiracy was stopped. The phoenix’s immortality is also associated with fire and flames. The phoenix bursts in flame and is reborn as quite an ugly bird, not just on its natural Burning Day, but also when it is fatally injured(such as by a Killing Curse). Fawkes’s colors- scarlet and gold are the colors of Gryffindor house as well.

According to me, Fawkes is a wonderful personification of Dumbledore himself. Calm, collected but powerful and fiery when taunted. Fawkes/a phoenix has amazing powers- tears that heal, song that gives hope to the good and instills fear in the hearts of those who are evil, lifting heavy loads, appearing and disappearing at will, teleportation- just like Dumbledore, who incidentally is the only known person other than Voldemort who can apparate/disapparate without the accompanying sound. Fawkes also fought a ferocious battle with the basilisk which is an excellent representation of a fight between Dumbledore and Voldemort themselves. Dumbldore uses a quill of Fawkes’s body feather. The shared core of the wands are tail feathers. There were only ever two. But Fawkes drops a body feather accompanied by a burst of flame for a warning.

After Dumbledore died, Fawkes sang a grief stricken Lament, and left Hogwarts forever. Rowling states that Fawkes’s ownership is non-transferrable, so it was associated ever with only one person and became a wild phoenix. Before he departed, Fawkes conjured the flames that envelop Dumbledore’s body and created the White Tomb. Dumbledore named the Order of the Phoenix after his faithful companion.

Nagini– A nagin, in Hindi and Urdu, is a female snake. It is from the root naga-  in Sanskrit, meaning a snake. The Naga are half-human, half-snake god-like beings in East Asia. The term Nagin (as known from numerous Bollywood movies) is also used for an attractive woman/women who marry/trick into marrying mortals or regular men. Fans of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book might also remember the famous story about the mongoose, Rikki Tikki Tavi, where the names of 2 snakes are Nag  and Nagaina. Nagini is mentioned to be hooded, so she could possibly be a large cobra. Even though Dumbledore speculates that she became a horcrux by the killing of Frank Bryce, Rowling stated that the horcurx was created when Bertha Jorkins was murdered. Her being a horcrux enables communication with Voldemort even when they are separated by a distance(when she calls Voldemort in Godric’s Hollow). There, Nagini hidden in Bathilda Bagshot’s body, was able to see Harry and Hermione even though they were under the cloak because snakes have thermal vision. During that particular instance, when she attacks, her fangs actually pierce Harry, but his wounds heal merely by the use of Dittany, whereas Nagini’s bites kill Snape and injure Mr.Weasley and prevents clotting. This could be due to her ability(like in many venomous snakes) to control the amount of venom discharged. She might not have injected venom into Harry at all because Voldemort always wanted to be the one to kill him personally. But it is also possible that the venom did not affect Harry as he was a horcrux himself, just like her, and hence had Voldemort’s protection.

Nagini is killed by Neville using Gryffindor’s sword, pulled out of the Sorting Hat. The subjects in this action are a mixture of various symbolic representations, it seems to me. Firstly, Nagini vs. the Sword is a classic pictograph of Slytherin vs. Gryffindor. The slaying also takes my mind back to the same sword killing the Basilisk. The basilisk again, was set there by Salazar Slytherin, and controlled by Voldemort(like Nagini was). The sword was impregnated with Basilisk venom, which is powerful enough to kill a horcrux. The same sword was used to kill both the serpents. The basilisk was associated with the first (introduced) killed horcrux, and Nagini, the last. Secondly, in Malaysia, the Naga’s natural enemy is a phoenix- again the pets personifying their masters. Thirdly, the snake was killed by Neville. I’m theorizing that this is a representation of how Neville could have actually been in Harry’s shoes. He ends up killing one part of Voldemort anyway(probably the part that underestimated him!). Fourthly, in both the serpents’ cases, the Sorting Hat was involved, which to me, symbolically represents all the other founders, who eventually side with Gryffindor and disagreeing with Slytherin.

Crookshanks – The name literally means ‘crooked legs’. Crookshanks is a part-Kneazle, part-cat. A kneazle is a very intelligent cat-like creature can detect unsavory or suspicious persons very well and will react badly to them. However, if a kneazle takes a liking to a witch or wizard, it makes an excellent pet. The kneazle has spotted fur, large ears, and a lion-like tail. Crookshanks immediately detected that both Sirius and Scabbers were not normal animals. He also looked disapprovingly at Harry and Ron on many occasions, when they weren’t being truthful or were being sneaky. Hermione’s ownership of Crookshanks may be reminiscent to her transformation as a cat about one year prior to his purchase. Hermione was forced to abandon Crookshanks during the attack at the Burrow in 1997, and it remains unknown if they ever reunited after the Second War ended. It is possible Crookshanks came from Arabella Figg, as she breeds half-kneazle and Kneazles.

Rowling on Crookshanks, “When I was working in London in the late 1980s I used to eat my lunch in a nearby square on sunny days and a large, fluffy ginger cat that looked as though it had run face-first into a wall used to prowl around the sunbathers there; I assume it lived in a nearby house. I didn’t ever get close enough to give myself an asthma attack, but I became distantly fond of this cat, which prowled among the humans around it looking disdainful and refusing to be stroked. When I decided to give Hermione an unusually intelligent cat I gave him the appearance of this haughty animal, with the slightly unfair addition of bandy legs.”

Fang– A fang is a long pointed tooth, present in dogs. The name of Hagrid’s pet seems to symbolize all the creatures he likes- fangs are present in spiders and dragons as well. He is a huge Boarhound(also known as a Great Dane), and true to his dog’s breed, he looks ferocious but really is meek at heart. During the Battle at Hogwarts, Fang accompanied Hagrid and Grawp to defend the castle, but was scared by a vase shattering behind him, and bolted off. Hagrid does not mourn after the Battle at Hogwarts, so it is presumed that he reunites with Fang.

Pigwidgeon– He is a Scops owl, that is small enough to fit into a palm. Pigwiggin or pigwidgin  means ‘small’ or ‘tiny’ or ‘petty’. The dictionary describes Pigwidgeon as a word to describe anything miniscule and negligible. Pig and Widgeon are two species of duck. Pigwiggen was the name of a man-fairy in Michael Drayton’s comical poem, Nymphidia.This ‘knight’ was described as ‘errant’, meaning ‘not stationary’(“A Knight’s Errant”, goes the phrase).  The name most likely references Beatrix Potter’s childhood pet, Pig-Wig.

Buckbeak– The name is a simple joint of the two creatures that form a hippogriff. When a horse is angry, it bucks, or kicks its hind legs upward, behind itself. A buck is a male four-footed animal like a deer or a stag. The beak part is pretty obvious. As Witherwings too, the name pretty much signifies the same thing- the withers are the rising part of a horse’s back, towards its neck. Wings again, is simple.

Errol– The Weasley family owl’s Scottish name means ‘to roam’. Rowling could have played on the wandering part of his name, where it is revealed that Errol carried Hagrid’s release papers from Azkaban, but got lost on his path. This eventually delayed Hagrid’s return.

Hermes– Percy’s owl is named after the Greek messenger of the gods.

Trevor- Nothing significant, it’s a regular Welsh name, apparently.

Norbert– The name is Scandinavian for a ‘brilliant hero’. The dragon is a Norwegian Ridgeback, which evidently means it is from Norway, which is to the North. Norbert, in German stands for nord, northern and beraht, brightness, a possible reference to fire.

Aragog– Aragog is a spider, a giant arachnid. Ara- comes from arachnid / aranea, and Gog was the name of a legendary giant in Welsh mythology, another reference to the connection with Hagrid. –agog (like in pedagogue and demagogue) also means a leader. It is possible that Rowling introduced Aragog as a tribute to Tolkein’s Shelob.

Fluffy- Fluffy is a Cerebrus, or a three-headed creature that guards the entrance to the underworld in Greek and Roman mythologies. Fluff refers to the soft feathers on a bird. Fluffy in turn means “soft” or “light.” Rowling gave this ironic name given to the huge three-headed dog as a humorous device – Hagrid loves those dangerous animals and gives them such gentle-sounding names, showing how he adores them! Fluffy was released into the Forbidden Forest. It is speculated that he fought the Battle, since all residents of the forest did.

Arnold– Ginny might have named her Pygmy Puff as a comic reference after her  father is mistakenly referred to as Arnold Weasley by Rita Skeeter. The name’s meaning is also comical, as it means a powerful eagle, and a pygmy puff looks just like a cute, soft, tiny pillow!

Tenebrus– Hagrid’s pet thestral was named after the English adjective, tenebrous, meaning ‘dark, gloomy, obscure’.

Mrs. Norris- How could I omit her?  The cat is named after a character in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. This Mrs.Norris was a very nosy woman and the wife of a preacher. She was always hanging around in the background, just like the cat. It was speculated that she might be part-Kneazle, but Rowling stated she’s just an unpleasant cat.



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