Secrets of the Classlist
by Diana Summers
Editor’s Note: The following essay entertains speculation about the homes, ethnicities and other biographical data of various students in Harry's year, based on names and demographics in the United Kingdom. It should not be regarded as canon but is highly entertaining and informative — enjoy!
It only took a second. J. K. Rowling had agreed to talk about her writing for the television documentary, Harry Potter and Me. She took random pages from her endless boxes of notes. She flashed up a page with a brief comment, “This is a list of all the students in Harry’s year.” It was a throw-away comment, designed to illustrate how detailed her background notes were. She certainly didn’t expect the fans to take that flash of paper seriously.
But Harry Potter fans, of course, take everything seriously. People who had video-taped Harry Potter and Me were soon extracting stills of their favourite scenes. It was a matter of hours before the list of students had been thrown up on the internet — you can see it here. The classlist had become a matter of all-consuming fascination to the Harry Potter obsessives who literally did want to know every detail about every student in Harry’s year. Fanfic writers stopped inventing names for Harry’s classmates, because the likes of Kevin Entwhistle and Queenie Greengrass were now available to invade every story.
What does this classlist tell us about Harry’s schoolmates?
Firstly, fans’ view of the list is limited. The forty names are spread over two pages, and most of the right-hand page is invisible. So the list tells us very little about students in the second half of the alphabet.
Secondly, it does not have the status of canon. JKR never intended this list to be more than a rough working draft, and she has changed her mind several times since she wrote it. Some of these changes are visible on the classlist itself: we see “Pupp” and “Puckle” scribbled out. Other changes were made a little later: there is no “Trevor Boot” in canon, but Terry Boot is clearly intended to be the same person. So the details on this list are not necessarily JKR’s final decisions; rather, they show what she was thinking during the planning process.
The simple fact that JKR has crossed out and revised names on her list indicates that she has thought a great deal about Harry’s classmates. She evidently has a back-story for all of them, including the ten who have not yet appeared in the canon and the eleven who have so far been the merest walk-ons. The list gives us a great deal of insight into what she might have been thinking while she was planning the back-stories. In Harry Potter’s world, a list of names is never just a list of names: every name means something. Since Sirius is the dog star, a character named Sirius Black must have the ability to transform himself into a black dog. “Lupin” is related to the Latin word for “wolf,” and Remus was a mythological character who was fostered by a wolf, so a character named Remus Lupin must obviously be a werewolf. Pomona was a Roman fruit goddess, and a sprout is the early growth of a plant, so Pomona Sprout is bound to teach Herbology. It’s a fair guess that the names on the classlist are also meaningful.
The list tells us surnames, first names, gender (the black square is male, the white circle is female), blood status (an encircled star for pure-blood, a star alone for half-blood, and the letter N inside a square for Muggle-born) and House (G, H, R or S). From this information, we can deduce a great deal more.
Blood status is very important in Chamber of Secrets. It tells us who is favoured and who is at risk of atack. If we add the information from the classlist to the information in canon, we find five Muggle-borns, twelve half-bloods, thirteen pure-bloods, and ten students whose status is difficult to deduce. This suggests that Muggle-borns comprise about 20% of the student body, while pure-bloods and half-bloods are 40% each.
A closer look, however, shows that these students are not evenly distributed among the Houses. Gryffindor has one Muggle-born, Hufflepuff has two, Ravenclaw has two, and Slytherin has none. Gryffindor has three half-bloods, Hufflepuff has three, Ravenclaw has four and Slytherin has two. Gryffindor has three pure-bloods, Hufflepuff has two, Ravenclaw has two, and Slytherin has six. It’s interesting that nearly half of all known pure-bloods are in Slytherin.
Place the classlist alongside canon, and we learn that there are eight Gryffindors, eight Hufflepuffs, nine Ravenclaws, nine Slytherins and six students whom we cannot Sort. I think it’s reasonable to infer that JKR intended to place ten students in each House — five for each dormitory.
Some people protest that this is statistically unlikely. The probability that forty students, each with an equal chance of four destinations, should be randomly sorted, yet finish in four equal groups of ten — is in the order of 0.03%. However, this is not an exercise in real-life statistics. It’s an exercise in how JKR’s mind works when she invents a magical community. She has confirmed that there are ten Gryffindors, although she has forgotten the names of two of them, which suggests that there are ten Slytherins (to share the twenty broomsticks in that first flying lesson in PS9) and ten Hufflepuffs (to share the twenty ear-muffs in the second-year Herbology lesson in CS6).
It is interesting that JKR changed her mind about some of the Houses. Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein were originally conceived as Hufflepuffs, but they had been moved to Ravenclaw by the time Order of the Phoenix was published. The reason why is obvious — Ron has to harbour an irrational resentment of Michael Corner, so Michael has to be a person with whom he hasn’t shared any classes. It’s also possible that JKR decided she had Sorted too many half-bloods into Hufflepuff. This suggests that, to balance the numbers, two of the original Ravenclaws have since been translated to Hufflepuff. I believe that one of those two would be Stephen Cornfoot, simply because he is next to Michael Corner in the alphabet.
JKR’s point, of course, is that you can find a wizard anywhere. The wizarding community is hiding alongside ordinary Muggles. Wizards are ordinary people in every way except that they happen to have magical talent. One startling fact that jumps out of the classlist is that these children represent the British Isles in microcosm.
This may be difficult for a non-British reader to grasp. But a glance down the surnames shows that some of the names are very common, some are only moderately common, and a few — those designed to have symbolic significance — are rare. The list includes a “Smith,” a “Jones,” and a “Brown,” because these are notoriously the three most common surnames in Britain. Since Brown is in Gryffindor and Jones is in Hufflepuff, I believe that Smith is probably the second Ravenclaw boy who was later switched to Hufflepuff.
Most of the first names are also the kind of ordinary names that British parents were giving their children in the early 1980s, but a few are exotic — just as some real-life parents select exotic names. You may see dated names like “Ronald” and “Millicent,” but you don’t see any blatant Americanisms such as “Kyle” or “Brittany,” or even “Chuck” or “Nancy’” or “Hank” — because British parents weren’t using those names in 1980.
I will now follow for a while the assumption that these forty children represent the entire British population in microcosm, and show you where it takes us.
If each dormitory has five beds, we would expect to find an equal distribution of twenty boys and twenty girls. What we do find is nineteen boys, sixteen girls, and five students whose gender is unknown. I’m willing to bet that only one of those five is a boy.
British society still contains a very uneven distribution of wealth, ranging from millionaires to the destitute. However, census results indicate that 48% of the population is in the middle rank of society — working-class people who are doing well or middle-class people on modest incomes. (The idea of “middle-class” has more to do with education than wealth. Many working-class people are wealthier than some middle-class people, and the wealthiest bourgeois are more comfortable than the “poor nobles.”)
In a group of forty children, we would expect to find two from the upper classes, nine from the bourgeoisie, nineteen from the middle ranks, eight from the working class, and two whose families are living on state benefits. And all the indications are that this is exactly what JKR has given us. The two from the upper class are obviously Draco Malfoy and Justin Finch-Fletchley. I’ll tell you later how we can classify some of the others. However, many of the students are difficult to stratify, because they are simply nondescripts from the middle ranks of British society.
Britain is a densely populated and highly urban society. In a group of forty we would expect to find five from London. We would expect ten from the other major cities — at a rough guess, two from Birmingham, two from Manchester, and one each from Bristol, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Nottingham. Surprisingly, all of these students can in fact be allocated to their correct city.
Only eight of the students would live rurally. Statistically, a very British distribution would be one each from Eire, the Highlands, the Lake District, north Wales, the south-east Midlands, East Anglia, the South and the West Country. And there is no real problem with identifying who lives where.
The other seventeen students would all be from smaller towns with populations of less than 200,000 inhabitants. I can’t tell you for certain where most of these towns are, but I can give you a rough idea of a plausible distribution.
The population of the British Isles is very unevenly distributed, with a third of the people concentrated in the south and east of England. (This is the area where there are no local Quidditch teams — evidently professional Quidditch is played secretly in areas of low population.) I don’t think JKR obsessed about regional distributions the way I have (I had a great deal of help from genealogy sites), but by taking the rule of “Britain in microcosm,” it has been surprisingly easy to locate the home turf of each student.
There should be four students of Irish ancestry: two from Eire, one from Northern Ireland, and one having moved to a city in Great Britain. I have only been able to identify three: Seamus Finnigan, Gregory Goyle and Miss Moon. Perhaps JKR didn’t bother to highlight the Irish family who had migrated to Great Britain.
There should also be four students from Scotland — and indeed there are. They are Stephen Cornfoot, Morag MacDougal, Ernie Macmillan and Zacharias Smith. One should be from Glasgow, one from a city in the East, one from the Highlands, and one, perhaps, from a town in the Lowlands. And it will be very short work to decide which is which.
There should be eight students from the north of England: three from the urban sprawl between Liverpool and Manchester, three from Yorkshire towns, one from the north-east, and one, perhaps, from the Lake District. And that is what we find: our eight northerners are Hannah Abbott, Michael Corner, Kevin Entwhistle, Neville Longbottom, Pansy Parkinson, Lisa Turpin, and the obscure Roper and Runcorn. Most of these can be placed so precisely that we can allocate an approximate home to the others. The only local Quidditch team for this whole area is the Appleby Arrows.
Seven of the students should be from the Midlands — two from Greater Birmingham, one from another city, two from towns in the North Midlands, one from the Welsh Marcher lands, and one from the rolling East Midlands countryside. And seven students perfectly fit these profiles: Terry Boot, Mandy Brocklehurst, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Parvati and Padma Patil, Sally-Anne Perks and the unknown Spinks.
We would expect to find three from the central South of England; one of these is Draco Malfoy, and the others are most likely to be Millicent Bulstrode and Hermione. There should also be three from the West Country (this expression actually means the south-west of England). They are Ron, Vincent Crabbe and Theodore Nott.
London, a city of seven million people, will supply five students, and the city’s population is evenly divided among the north, south, east and west. After eliminating all the students who clearly belong elsewhere, few ambiguities remain: our Londoners are Tracey Davis, Anthony Goldstein, Su Li, Dean Thomas and Blaise Zabini. There should be three students from the south-eastern counties that surround London. We already know that Harry is one of these; by default, the others are Lavender Brown and the unnamed Rivers.
In modern Britain, immigration is a hot issue on every political platform. But in fact the population is at least 92% Anglo-Celtic. The largest ethnic minority, migrants from the Indian sub-continent, are only 3½% of the total. In our sample of forty, there should only be three students from non-white families. JKR has given us a slight over-representation of four, but she has cleverly reduced the impact of this over-representation by making two of them identical twins from the same family.
Half of these migrant students should be Indian (Parvati and Padma Patil), one should be black (Dean Thomas), and one should be of some other race — most likely Chinese (Su Li). Half of these migrants live in London (Dean and Su), and the others live in other major cities (since Manchester is already full of students who fit the Manchester profile better, let’s say that the Patils live in Birmingham). There is only a one in five chance that any student would be Jewish — an Eastern European rather than a Semite. In this case it is Anthony Goldstein. It is also possible that we would find a German or Italian surname. Hello, Blaise Zabini.
Britain is a society with a strong spiritual heritage but little everyday practice of any formal religion. If we ran a census on religion past Harry’s classmates, we would expect eighteen to declare themselves Church of England, eight to be Catholics (Seamus Finnigan among them), one to be a Scottish Presbyterian, one to be a Protestant non-Conformist from England, one to be a Muslim and one who had a different religion (in order of probability, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism or Buddhism). Seven would claim to have no religious beliefs at all (one of these would live in East Anglia and another in Scotland), while three would decline to answer, probably because they were vague or uncertain about their beliefs.
However, daily practice is very different from the census declarations. Among Harry’s forty classmates we could reasonably expect one Evangelical Christian who believes in grace and reads the Bible (I will tell you later who he is), one more liberal Christian who attends church semi-regularly (a person rather like JKR herself), and one student who attends church only at Christmas. There is a better than even chance that one of these three would be a Catholic — yes, we do have Evangelical Catholics in Britain!
JKR has under-represented Islam, since there isn’t a Muslim in Harry’s class, but she has over-represented non-Christian religions in general, since we apparently have two Hindus as well as one Jew. We wouldn’t expect all three of these students to be active practitioners, but nor would we expect them all to be purely nominal.
The affairs of the Trio have already been discussed at length, so I shall only make a few brief points about them.
The name “Ronald” is a diminutive of “Reginald,” a Germanic name meaning “counsel” and “ruler,” and therefore highlights Ron’s position as the hero’s first counselor. “Weasley” means “weasel meadow.” A weasel is a ferret-like animal with red fur: weasels and snakes are mortal enemies who will fight one another to the death. “Weasley” is a real surname, albeit a very rare one, and it suggests an Anglo-Saxon family. Mrs Weasley’s ancestors also have a very Anglo-Saxon name (“Prewett” means “proud”). However, the red hair of both families suggests Gaelic ancestry. To make it more complicated still, their location in Devon implies that previous generations of Weasleys have intermarried with the Brythons. It seems that the present-day Weasleys are the product of a mixing of all the native peoples of Britain — they are the ultimate British family.
The name “Hermione” is Greek and literally means “belonging to Hermes.” Since Hermes was the god of language, this draws attention to Hermione’s verbal fluency. In Shakespeare’s play A Winter’s Tale Queen Hermione suffers from a jealous husband, which reminds us of Ron’s jealousy over Hermione. A “granger” was the superintendent of a large farm or “grange” — a very respectable, middle-class sort of person.
Harry, Ron and Hermione all live in the south of England. Ron’s village, Ottery St. Catchpole, is imaginary, but there is a real River Otter running through Devon, with real otters in its waters. JKR loves otters; by placing the Weasleys in their homeland, she has set her seal of approval on this family. By giving Hermione an otter Patronus, she has perhaps appointed Ron as Hermione’s special protector. Little Whinging is also an imaginary town, and its name suggests pretensions — “Whinging” means “complaining” and “Little” implies that is not as important as it thinks itself. Surrey, which is commuting distance from London, has no major cities but many small to medium-sized towns. Little Whinging is supposed to suggest such towns as Guildford, Camberley or Haslemere.
Hermione must live further west than Surrey because her parents cannot make the trip to London as easily as the Dursleys can. I will tentatively suggest that she lives in Winchester, the ancient capital of Wessex, and the home city of the great King Alfred. Alfred was the patron king of truth, justice, learning, order and bad cookery, so this location would have inspired Hermione’s interest in history early in life.
Harry and Hermione both belong to the bourgeois class: their families drive smart cars and take holidays in Europe. While Hermione’s parents are educated people — qualified dentists who gave their daughter a Classical name — the Dursleys are nouveaux riches who show off about their possessions. Ron is a cut below Harry and Hermione socially, but he isn’t as poor as he thinks he is. His parents live in a five-bedroom house in Devon, which is quite an expensive area. If the Weasleys had had fewer children, or if Mrs. Weasley had chosen to return to the workforce, they would definitely be middle-class. Instead, they placed the joys of a large family ahead of unnecessary material possessions. So what if the children wear hand-me-downs, expensive toys are limited, and the holiday to Egypt was a once-in-a-lifetime excursion? Harry would trade every toy in Dudley’s extra bedroom for a family like the Weasleys!
Neville Longbottom is a major player in the Harry Potter canon, and there are sure to be more revelations about him soon. But what specifically do we learn from the classlist? The name “Neville” (literally “new town”) was somewhat trendy a few decades ago, but it sounds dated to Harry’s generation. Like his wand and his memory, Neville’s name doesn’t quite fit with current reality. “Longbottom,” meaning “man from the long valley,” has a humorous sound, an additional burden to top off Neville’s social disadvantages. (JKR originally thought of calling him “Pupp,” which is hardly better. It is not surprising that she struck out this name, since it is in fact German and almost unknown in the British Isles. One European student is all we need to represent European immigration fairly.)
Neville’s origins are expanded in this essay on the Lexicon: it is a good essay, but I have one quibble. It claims that “Longbottom” is a Lancashire surname; in fact the name is about twelve times more common in Yorkshire. So let’s compromise by saying that Neville lives in a textiles town such as Halifax, which is close to the Lancashire border and culturally very similar. That would explain why he spends his summer holidays in Blackpool, the favourite resort of ordinary people from that area. This actually puts Neville in the same social class as Ron, but Neville is never teased for his poverty. This might be because his family, with only one child, can make the money go further; but it may also tell us that Neville, unlike Ron, doesn’t worry about being poor.
The name of Dean Thomas is almost invisible on the classlist, but he is introduced to us in canon as “a black boy even taller than Ron” and “Dean the West Ham supporter.” These two statements tell us a great deal about him. His grandparents would have been West Indians who settled in Britain in the 1950s, when his parents were very young or perhaps unborn. By 1990 this ethnic community was very well-integrated into mainstream British society, although disproportionate numbers of them remained poor. Dean is indeed a working-class boy. JKR originally meant to call him “Gary” (a Welsh name meaning “white hawk”). We don’t know why exactly she substituted “Dean” (meaning “valley” or perhaps “man”), but what these two names have in common is that both are extremely popular among working-class Britons. “Thomas,” which literally means “son of the twin,” is a very commonplace British surname. Further, the home of the West Ham football team is the East End of London, exactly where you would expect to find new migrants, ethnic minorities, and other groups of poor people — many of them, unfortunately, living in slums. It would have been extraordinarily difficult for Dean’s mother to live there as a single parent; and after she remarried, there would have been all the challenges of a blended family.
In a word, Dean’s background is singularly uninspiring! Yet in fact he is presented as a remarkable boy. He stands up for what he knows to be right, even when his best friend tries to discourage him; he wisely keeps his mouth shut when he must; he is cheerful and never complains about his poverty; he has managed to develop his artistic talent.
It is not surprising that Dean bonds with Seamus Finnigan. Seamus is also an open, cheerful person — perhaps initially less brave than Dean, but still brave enough to admit it when he’s in the wrong. And Seamus is probably a working-class boy too. Although Ireland is now an affluent country, as recently as 1990 being Irish implied being poor. Seamus mentions that it was a “nasty shock” for his Muggle father when he realised that his wife was a witch. We are not told whether Seamus’s parents still live together, but only his mother is mentioned at the Quidditch World Cup, and only his mother has an opinion about whether Seamus should return to Hogwarts for his fifth year. If this implies a family breakdown, nobody would understand Seamus better than Dean.
The basic point about Seamus’s origin is that he is Irish. “Seamus,” a very common Irish name, is the Gaelic form of “Jacob,” literally meaning “heel,” but with the implications of “usurper.” In the Bible, Jacob was born holding onto his twin brother’s heel, and spent his youth trying to usurp his brother’s rights by trickery. “Finnigan,” meaning “fair-haired,” is a common Irish surname, most often found in the Galway-Roscommon area. So Seamus is probably from the heart of the peat-bog land among the fertile hills and lakes of Connacht (western Ireland), where elderly neighbours still speak Gaelic inside thatched peat farmhouses, and leprechauns still hide gold at the rainbow’s end. Seamus would live in a stone house and speak only a token smattering of Gaelic, but he would ride a Connemara pony as easily as a broomstick, and his mother would still boil her cauldron over a peat-fuelled fire. In honour of St. Patrick, I hope JKR will give Seamus a 17 March birthday.
In multicultural Birmingham Indian spices can be bought at the local supermarket and traditional Indian dancing lessons are a stone’s throw away. The name “Patil” (usually spelled “Patel”) means “chief,” and it tells us that the family of Parvati and Padma Patil was originally from the north of India. It also suggests something of the grand lady about the twins’ approach to life. Their parents and grandparents would have been new immigrants in the 1960s, but the girls would have been born in Britain, and would probably speak English more easily than Hindi.
JKR originally intended to give the Patil sisters forenames beginning with M, but the change was inspired, since Parvati and Padma are the names of Hindu goddesses who were twin sisters. “Padma” literally means “lotus”; in Buddhism the lotus is a symbol of truth and of the equality of all living things. The original Padma, a river-goddess, was the patroness of learning, so it is not surprising that Padma was Sorted into Ravenclaw.
“Parvati” means “mountain girl” — its Hebrew equivalent would be “Magdalene.” In Hindu mythology Parvati falls in love with Shiva and, overcome with grief over his indifference, she runs to the mountains to hide. Shiva seeks her out in disguise, extracts her confession of love, reveals himself, and marries her. Since Shiva is the death-god, Parvati is the girl who “courts death” — which may be an interesting foreshadowing of her eventual role in the Harry Potter drama.
Lavender Brown is something of a mystery. “Lavender,” another of JKR’s many flower-names, is a very uncommon first name, yet this unusual choice leaves us cluelessly guessing — especially as Lavender seems to be a Muggle-born. (She listed as pure-blood on the classlist, but, along with Harry and Dean, she always looks bewildered when the finer points of the wizarding world are mentioned.) The lavender is a sweet and hardy plant with many healing properties, but it is also considered untrustworthy because lavender bushes were favourite hiding places for snakes. We don’t yet know whether Lavender Brown will turn out to “hide a serpent,” perhaps unwittingly, or to “heal.” In the code of flowers, lavender stands for “negation” and sends the message, “I like you but I do not love you.”
Lavender is the only student who offers no direct clue about her home turf. Because “Brown” is a very, very common surname — it literally means “person with brown colouring” — it can be found anywhere in the British Isles. We cannot even assume that a fox eating her rabbit means that she lives rurally: urbanised foxes are a recognised pest in every town in Britain. However, by a process of elimination (every other student on the list can be placed), it seems that Lavender is the student from Sussex. Perhaps she lives in a seaside town such as lively sophisticated Brighton or sunny slow-paced Eastbourne. In that case, her parents might work in the tourist industry, perhaps running a small hotel. But Sussex has inlands towns too: historic Chichester, with castle and cathedral and annual drama festival, and the planned New Town of Crawley. Alternatively, Lavender might live slightly north of London, perhaps in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. In that case her parents would be self-employed in a small business.
In PA/f, Lavender is portrayed by a black actress, but it’s not clear whether this is with JKR’s authorisation. Fanon has traditionally perceived Lavender as a blonde, but probably only because this puts her in picturesque contrast to her friend Parvati.
Lavender, Parvati and Padma have sometimes been portrayed as frivolous, ultra-feminine girls, in contrast to the bookish Hermione. It’s true that Parvati and Lavender believe in Divination and like to giggle about boys, that Parvati and Padma are unduly concerned with social prestige, and that all three of them are fond of dressing up. But this is superficial. Padma is considered responsible enough to be made a prefect. Parvati and Lavender both care enough about Professor Trelawney to bring her flowers when she is disgraced. Lavender loves animals, and she is among those who help Hagrid recapture the Blast-Ended Skrewts while most of the class runs away. And all three of them have been willing to risk friendships. Parvati seems to have tossed away a “friend” in her second week at Hogwarts, as she stands up for Neville at their first flying lesson when Pansy Parkinson torments him. The way Pansy addresses Parvati in this incident suggests they have known one another for a long time, which in turn suggests that the Patils are pure-bloods, since Pansy would not otherwise acknowledge the connection.
Lavender goes to the Yule Ball with Seamus, but she attends D.A. meetings without him. We don’t know if they have had a serious romantic attachment, but they are certainly friends; yet Lavender cares enough about doing right to separate herself from Seamus. When Padma joins the D.A., she doesn’t bring any female friends with her. There are two possible interpretations. One is that Padma doesn’t have a close friend — perhaps she’s quiet, and the odd one in her dormitory of five. But another possibility is that Padma’s friend(s) declined the invitation to the D.A. By putting her support behind Harry Potter, Padma might have lost an important friendship.
The surname “Corner,” indicating a person who lived in the “corner” of the land, is from Durham. Even in Durham, however, the name is not particularly common, suggesting that it has been deliberately allocated to a character to make a point. Michael Corner exists to help Ginny turn a “corner” in her life — she will give up on the unattainable Harry Potter and get to know other boys. When they break up, Michael bonds with the grieving Cho Chang, and offers her too the hope of turning a difficult “corner.” Michael is a Hebrew name, literally asking the rhetorical question “who is like God?” In the Bible, Michael is the archangel who fights for the rights of God’s chosen people. There is something of the righteous warrior about Michael Corner, a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army, as well as the champion of the needs of broken-hearted girls.
By the time the Hogwarts Express takes Michael away from his fifth year, he is so closely bonded with Cho that he leaves his male friends to their own devices. However, he was originally — and perhaps still is — very close to Anthony Goldstein and Terry Boot. When Ginny comes to tell Michael about the D.A., he doesn’t mind that his friends are listening to this semi-private conversation with his girlfriend; and their shared values are obvious, since Anthony and Terry immediately decide that they too will sign up for the D.A.
Anthony Goldstein is certain to be found among the rebels. He is probably named after Emmanuel Goldstein, the leader of the resistance in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Orwell in his turn probably modelled Goldstein on Leon Trotsky, the Socialist who rebelled against Stalin. “Goldstein,” literally meaning “golden stone,” is the kind of name found among Jews from Eastern Europe. Only 0.5% of the British population is Jewish, and they are a well-liked minority; the popular stereotype is that they are good citizens with picturesque customs. However, Anthony is probably a traditional rather than an Orthodox Jew, since his first name is not Hebrew, but Latin. It means “most excellent”; Anthony is indeed an “excellent” person, responsible enough to qualify as a prefect, but the choice of name is probably no more than an example of JKR giving a minor character a common and typically British name.
British Goldsteins live mainly in London; our largest Jewish community is in a comfortable north-London suburb called Golders Green. There Anthony can enjoy the large synagogue and excellent shopping — indeed, it’s quite likely that his parents own a shop. He lives only a few miles from Dean Thomas, but there is a huge contrast in lifestyle.
Terry Boot was originally named “Trevor” (meaning “home by the sea”). “Trevor” was a common name a generation ago, but it sounds slightly dated among children born in 1980; JKR eventually decided to give this name to Neville's toad. “Terry” is a Latin name meaning “tender”; it’s difficult to derive much significance from this modestly popular name, but it sounds more refined than “Trevor.” “Boot” is a profession-based surname from Nottinghamshire, indicating a “shoe-maker” — a useful person who does honest labour. In fact “Boot” is not a particularly common name; perhaps it has personal significance to JKR.
To the casual British reader, however, the association that immediately springs to mind is Boots, the chain pharmacy. If Terry Boot is supposed to be a metaphorical descendant of Jesse Boot the pharmacist, then we actually know a great deal about him. First, he lives in Nottingham; Terry is a city boy. Second, he would be from a middle-class family. Third, he would be a smart businessman, but, fourth, he would have a strong commitment to honesty and social justice. (Jesse Boot accidentally drove all his competitors out of business because he stocked only top-quality products, paid low prices through buying them in bulk, then sold them at the most modest profit he could afford because he believed that poor people deserved access to basic medicines too. That is why Boots is now the leading pharmacist in Britain.) Fifth, Terry would be an Evangelical Christian — this was the spiritual force that underpinned Jesse Boot’s business ventures. Sixth, since he’s a Muggle-born, he would know about Muggle pharmaceuticals – imagine how much re-thinking he would have to do in Professor Snape’s Potions lessons! Seventh, he would approach life with a certain artistry (Boots stocks pretty soaps and perfumes as well as medicines); Terry is exactly the sort of person who would make a sideline of playing the violin, painting watercolours, or researching local history – for example, he could be an expert on Robin Hood.
I’ve said that Terry is a Christian, so it’s interesting that his chosen friend is the Jewish Anthony. Ravenclaws like to sit around discussing abstractions; it seems that what drives the friendship between Terry and Anthony is a shared interest in the Meaning of Life. Their spiritual convictions would give them enough in common, as well as enough differences, to afford a great deal to talk about.
This in turn tells us something new about Michael Corner. He isn’t obliged to spend his time with Terry and Anthony, since there are presumably two other Ravenclaw boys whom he might befriend. If he prefers Terry and Anthony, this suggests that Michael too enjoys a philosophical discussion. While he is likely to be an Agnostic, he apparently agrees that certain Big Questions are important to ask. We can imagine our Ravenclaw Trio forever looking for new questions and then debating the answers, perhaps with a Bible open in front of them.
In the Sorting ceremony in Philosopher’s Stone, we see three girls allocated to Ravenclaw: Mandy Brocklehurst, Morag MacDougal and Lisa Turpin. None of these characters is mentioned again in canon. The classlist also names two other Ravenclaws, Kevin Entwhistle and Su Li, who don’t rate even one canon mention. At first glance, these look like non-characters — whatever do we know about them? The answer is: quite a lot!
“Mandy,” short for “Amanda,” is yet another common British name. It’s Latin and it means “loveable.” “Brocklehurst” is a surname from the North Midlands; it literally means “badger sett orchard,” which sounds very pleasant. However, in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre there is a terrifyingly judgmental and controlling clergyman named Mr. Brocklehurst, so perhaps sweet Mandy has a stern streak. By a process of elimination, Mandy lives in Staffordshire, perhaps in Lichfield or Stoke-on-Trent.
Morag MacDougal has, for a character who takes no part in the action, enjoyed a great deal of her creator’s care, for JKR changed her mind twice about this girl’s name. Her first thought was “Katrina,” a diminutive of “Katharine,” but this was struck out and replaced with “Isabel,” a diminutive of “Elizabeth.” Later still, she became “Morag.” What these three names have in common is that they are all Scottish — and Morag MacDougal is the quintessential Scot. You can see her tartan here.
The original MacDougals were Vikings who in the twelfth century barged their way into Argyllshire and the Hebrides under the motto ‘To conquer or die’, then intermarried with the red-haired, Gaelic-speaking natives. If Morag has remained close to her ancestral home, she lives in the remote Highlands, perhaps in the country of the Loch Ness kelpie, and supports the Pride of Portree Quidditch team. We can picture her as a tall, blue-eyed, freckled girl with red lights in her dark hair. The literal meaning of “Morag” is “the sun,” while “MacDougal” means “son of the dark stranger.” This is a hint that this character is caught between shades of darkness and light. A pure-blood, she wasn’t Sorted into Slytherin, but she is absent from Dumbledore’s Army: she hasn’t yet decided on which side of the fence she wants to stand.
Lisa Turpin also has Viking ancestry, since “Turpin” means “Thor’s Finn” — a “person from Finnland who is under the protection of the thunder-god Thor.” The immediate connotation is the highwayman, Dick Turpin (1706-1739), suggesting that Lisa is an outlaw and a thief! This is in some contradiction to “Lisa,” which is a very common British name; it is a diminutive of the Hebrew “Elizabeth,” meaning something like “God’s oath.” So this is another character who hasn’t yet made up her mind. Lisa would be tall and blonde, and her surname places her in Yorkshire. Let’s give her a home with obvious Viking influence, such as the fishing port of Whitby, which boasts a Dracula museum, or Thornaby-on-Tees — or even York itself.
Su Li has a rather bland name that really only indicates that the character is ancestrally Chinese. “Su” is a common Chinese name meaning “pure,” so it is roughly equivalent to “Katharine.” “Li” is one of the most common Chinese surnames and it is said to mean “plum tree.” This character may have been the prototype of Cho Chang, hence axed for all practical purposes once JKR decided to make her glamour girl unattainable by placing her in the year above Harry.
Assuming that Su is still a real character, we know that she is a half-blood and ethnically Chinese. The Chinese community in Britain is small (about 0.5% of the population), well-integrated and well-liked. Su’s grandparents would have arrived in Britain around 1960 and set up Chinese restaurants in London (the Muggle grandparents in an area such as Southwark, the wizards in Diagon Alley). Su’s parents may have inherited the restaurant business, but they would speak better English. Since a wizarding family who spoke good English might prefer the company of Anglo-Saxon wizards to that of Chinese Muggles, Su might not identify very strongly with the Chinese community; she would probably speak some Chinese but prefer English.
“Kevin,” meaning “handsome birth,” is an originally Irish name, and St. Kevin, a patron saint of Dublin, was a protector of animals. However, our handsome animal-lover does not live in Ireland (although he just possibly owes his first name to an Irish-born mother), for the name “Entwhistle” is found almost exclusively in Lancashire. The village of Entwistle, which literally means “land in the river-fork where water-hens live,” is just north of Manchester, so look for Kevin somewhere in the Greater Manchester conurbation. Since he is a Muggle-born, Kevin may not be aware that his nearest wizarding neighbours are Pansy Parkinson, Neville Longbottom and the mysterious Runcorn.
Justin Finch-Fletchley holds out the hand of friendship to Harry Potter in the first week of their second year, but it will be another three years before this friendship ripens. In a very few words, we have a strong portrait of Justin: to his core, he is an aristocrat of Muggle society, a very English gentleman, whose good manners are as natural as his breathing. His parents are probably a “Sir” and “Lady,” and they almost certainly own a country estate — let’s say in Northamptonshire, where the squires and spires, the green hills and flowing rivers, are a couple of hours (in the Rolls Royce) away from London. Attending Hogwarts means that Justin has to miss out on many of the local community events: the Rothwell Fair and the Crick Boat Show clash with his annual exams, while the British Grand Prix is held in the autumn term. But the Northampton Balloon Festival would remain a highlight of his summer holidays.
Justin was once on the waiting list for Eton College, the ultimate aristocratic boarding school — he would have been two years ahead of Prince William. When he persuades his parents to let him go to Hogwarts instead, he knows he will be entering a world in which his aristocratic connections will be worthless. Indeed, the Malfoys, self-styled aristocrats of the wizarding world, will despise his Muggle ancestry, and even try to kill him. However, Justin is not asking for special treatment. While Draco is always boasting about his wealth and important connections, Justin never mentions money. Not only is it vulgar to refer to one’s own affluence, but money is not a subject that occupies Justin’s mind, because he really doesn’t believe that having Old Money makes him a more important person than someone who has newer money or less of it.
Justin’s prognosis is not very good. “Justin” is a Latin name, indicating the “justice” of this person’s character. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that he was named after St. Justin Martyr (AD c100-165), a very polite gentleman who was murdered for refusing to abandon his convictions. The point of the surname “Finch-Fletchley” may simply be that it’s double-barrelled, a sign of upper-crust ancestry. However, a “finch” is a small bird, while “Fletchley” (which I haven’t been able to find on any list of real surnames) literally means a “field of arrow-heads.” Here is a suggestion of a vulnerable person who will meet a violent death.
Ernie Macmillan is Justin’s best friend. In some ways they are an unlikely pairing. Ernie, with his nine generations of blood-purity, enjoys the favour of the same prejudiced wizards who call Justin a “mudblood.” Conversely, Ernie is a very middle-class boy; compared with Justin, his manners are awkward, and he often sounds pompous. The fact that they choose each other as friends — together with the Muggle-born, middle-class Hannah Abbott — is a strong indication that neither boy is snobbish.
“Macmillan” literally means “son of the tonsured man,” this man being Cormac Bishop of Dunkeld, great-great-grandson of King Macbeth of Scotland. The Macmillans are of mixed Gaelic and Pictish ancestry. JKR tells us that Ernie is “stout,” meaning that he has the typically Gaelic large frame, and probably the bulbous nose too. Perhaps he has the pale skin and grey eyes of the Picts, while his hair could be any colour from red to black. The clan originally hailed from central Scotland, but it spread southwards and westwards as far as Ayrshire, suggesting that Ernie lives in Glasgow. The Macmillan clan, scion of both Scottish royalty and the Celtic Church, holds the motto, “I learn to succour the unfortunate,” which is appropriate for a family that has always thrown its weight behind the likes of Dumbledore. You can see their tartan here.
JKR would have chosen the name “Ernie” with great affection, for it was the name of her paternal grandfather. Ernie is certainly an “earnest” person: very serious — it’s difficult to imagine him making a joke — and very sincere, though not always right. Two terrible misunderstandings mar Ernie’s early relationship with Harry Potter. First, there is the fantastic suspicion that Harry is the evil Heir of Slytherin; later, there is the more understandable assumption that Harry is a show-off who cheated his way into the Triwizard Tournament. Add to this that Harry and Ron make fewer friendly overtures to Justin and Ernie than the Hufflepuffs make towards them, and it is not surprising that they don’t really become friends until their fifth year. By this time, Ernie has had to apologise to Harry twice; when Harry is once again the subject of nasty gossip, Ernie seems determined not to be caught out a third time.
Hannah Abbott is one person who is not fooled. Sweet-natured and perceptive, she knows that Harry can’t be evil; but she is too highly-strung to trust her own judgment against the contrary opinion of the confident Justin and Ernie. There is nothing complicated about Hannah — she is an unequivocally “good” character. An “abbot” is a spiritual leader, while “Hannah,” meaning “grace,” is the original Hebrew form of “Anne,” the name of JKR’s mother. The surname “Abbott” is found predominantly in the north of England, so Hannah is our most likely candidate for the glorious Lake District area of Cumbria.
Susan Bones is listed as a half-blood, suggesting that her mother was a Muggle-born, since the Boneses are an old wizarding family. Their name predominates in Essex, so perhaps they live in Chelmsford. The surname “Bones” originally implied a “thin” person, but in this case it suggests a literal “skeleton,” since Voldemort has already murdered at least seven members of the Bones family. Susan herself may be next in line, since “Susan,” a Hebrew name, means “lily,” a flower associated with purity and death.
The name of Zacharias Smith is almost invisible on the classlist, but we know from canon that he is in Hufflepuff. JKR originally thought of naming him “Siddons,” meaning a “farmer,” but presumably decided that the connotations of this name were not strong enough to justify keeping it when she realised she didn’t have a “Smith.” The class had to include a Smith, since “Smith” is the most common surname in Britain, literally a “smiter” or “metalworker.” Although the name “Smith” can be found anywhere in Britain, it is particularly common in Scotland. In default of stronger clues, let’s say that Zacharias lives in the Lowlands, in a town such as Melrose, Peebles or Hamilton. You can see his tartan here.
The humorously common “Smith” jars with an exotic first name like “Zacharias,” a Hebrew name meaning “the Lord has remembered.” In the Bible, Zacharias was a sceptic who disbelieved a message from an angel; the angel responded by striking him dumb for nine months. Zacharias Smith is certainly sceptical, and he is momentarily dumbfounded by Ron’s telling him to shut up. Remember we said that we would find a religious sceptic from Scotland? Zacharias sounds like the man.
Wayne Hopkins and Megan Jones have not yet entered the canon narrative, but we can see at once that they have something in common — they are both Welsh.
“Wayne,” meaning “wagon-maker,” suggests a working-class man who does honest labour with his hands; it’s yet another example of giving a minor character a common British first name. And Wayne is indeed a working-class boy, for the name “Hopkins,” which simply means “son of Robert,” is found more often in Glamorgan (south Wales) than anywhere else in Britain. Glamorgan is a heavily industrialised region. Look for the Hopkins family in such towns as Merthyr Tydfil (specialising in aviation and vacuum cleaners), Port Talbot (steelworks and chemicals) or Maesteg (light engineering and cosmetics) — but bear in mind that Wayne’s parents might not be working at all, since the whole area is economically depressed due to the loss of its staple industry, coal. We expect two of Harry’s classmates to be living below the breadline, and Wayne is a prime candidate for one of them.
It is possible that JKR named Wayne after the poet, Wil Hopcyn (fl. 1720), who was also from Glamorgan and also a working-class boy. This unlettered farmhand transformed his personal tragedy into a searing love-song, Watching the White Wheat, which remains one of Wales’s most beloved folk songs. So perhaps our Wayne Hopkins also yearns for a more inspiring life — of music, poetry, friendship or magic? Let us hope he finds it at Hogwarts.
“Megan” derives from “Margaret”, a Persian word meaning “light” that became the Greek word for a “pearl,” which is one of Britain’s traditional names. “Megan” isn’t a traditional Welsh name, but the form sounds Welsh. The name “Jones” is now extremely common all over Britain, but it was originally the Welsh form of “son of John.” “John,” of course, is a Hebrew name meaning “the Lord is gracious.” The message here is that this girl is Welsh!
Megan would be from the north of Wales, making her family more traditionally Welsh than Wayne’s — she would certainly own a complete outfit of the traditional costume, even if she only wears it on festive occasions. Let’s say she lives in the Vale of Clwyd, among the dairy farms and mediaeval castles, not far from the annual International Eisteddfod or the breathtaking mountains of Snowdonia. In that case she speaks Welsh at home, and was taught in Welsh at her Muggle primary school; she would have learned English as her second language in the way other British children learn French.
Megan’s local Quidditch team is the all-female Holyhead Harpies. It is interesting to note that this team’s captain is named Gwenog Jones. While we should be careful of reading too much into the repetition of very common surnames, it is possible that Megan is a sister, cousin or niece of the famously aggressive Gwenog, who is about a dozen years older than herself. (Canon also mentions a Hestia Jones, a member of the Order of the Phoenix — but “Hestia” is the name of a Greek goddess, so she is less likely to be related to Megan.) If Megan’s temperament is as fiery as Gwenog’s, she might well be annoyed that Wayne Hopkins is so anglicised, which would look to her like a betrayal of their Welsh heritage. We can expect conflict between these two classmates unless Megan becomes mature enough to realise that the best chance of preserving Wales is for the Welsh to stick together. Cambria evermore!
Stephen Cornfoot lives a long way from Wayne and Megan, for the name “Cornfoot” is found in eastern Scotland — he most likely lives in Edinburgh. However, these three students would be of the same racial type, for they are all descended from the Brythons (or Picts), who are Britain’s oldest surviving inhabitants. You can imagine them being of medium height, with high cheekbones and straight noses, very pale complexions, dark hair and grey eyes.
“Stephen” derives from the Greek word for “crown” and in Britain this name is popular to the point of blandness. However, it must be remembered that St. Stephen was the first Christian ever to die for his faith. “Cornfoot,” by contrast, is a very uncommon name; JKR probably named this character after Janet Cornfoot, a villager from eastern Scotland who was accused of witchcraft in 1704. Although the court acquitted her (by this time educated people no longer believed in witches), the angry mob hunted her down and crushed her to death. Despite his pure blood, it seems that Stephen Cornfoot is doomed, and that his “crown” will be of the type awarded to martyrs.
It is notable that the Hufflepuffs, famed for their team spirit and solidarity, support so many different Quidditch teams. We’ve noted Megan’s probable affiliation with the Holyhead Harpies. Wayne would support the Caerphilly Catapults (in case you missed it, their colours are derived from the Welsh flag), Stephen the stupendously successful Montrose Magpies, Zacharias the Wigtown Wanderers, Ernie the Pride of Portree and Sally-Anne the Tutshill Tornadoes. Assuming that the Muggle-borns haven’t grasped the importance of Quidditch, only Susan Bones has no obvious local team. How violently Quidditch should be discussed, as well as how violently it should be played, would be a hot issue for these Hufflepuffs.
JKR believed she had coined the name “Malfoy” herself, but there was in fact a Malfoy family living in Kentucky in 1920. One wonders how such an unappealing name was wished on their ancestors, for it derives from the French words for “bad faith.” It is similarly doubtful that any real-life British parents would name their child “Draco,” which is Latin for “dragon.” So what effect did JKR want to achieve by inventing the words “Draco Malfoy?”
First, the sheer outlandishness of the name tells us that this is a family who is totally isolated from mainstream Muggle society. They have their own traditions and they simply don’t care what is culturally “normal” elsewhere. Second, the “dragon” is a dangerous beast, associated with monstrous destroyers, poisonous serpents, and all the symbology of the Devil. There was a brutally cruel ruler of Athens named Draco, hence the word “draconian.” Third, we cannot trust these people who have “bad faith.” They will say whatever is convenient, having no concept of telling the truth or keeping a promise.
Fourth, the use of French suggests that the family is of Norman ancestry. Three hundred Normans arrived in England in 1066, slaughtered the existing ruling class, and took over the government of the country. They did not bother to learn the English language, laws or customs, they simply imposed their own culture whether it fitted or not, and none of the important ones ever intermarried with the locals. Within twenty years, they had killed one-sixth of the native population, while only two of the original Anglo-Saxon land-holders managed to maintain control of their hereditary lands. And this, of course, is exactly the Malfoy attitude to lesser mortals. They exist to be useful to the Malfoys, and those who do not fit the Malfoy perception of reality cannot be allowed to remain alive.
Once again, compare Draco’s attitude with that of Justin Finch-Fletchley, who is also likely to be of Norman ancestry. Justin is always seeking to bridge the gap between wealthy and poor, powerful and weak, pure-blood and Muggle-born. Draco wants to make the chasm wider.
The Malfoys’ mansion is in Wiltshire, not far from Stonehenge — doubtless a place of very ancient magic. The family’s local Quidditch team would be the Wimbourne Wasps, which puts an interesting slant on their relationship with the duped Ludo Bagman.
Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle have no separate personalities. They were even named as a unit, “crabbe and goyle” being a spoonerism for “grab and coil,” the movement of a snake. “Vincent” is Latin for “conquering” and “Gregory” is Greek for “watchman,” but these names should be interpreted in a very limited sense: Vincent will conquer (violently) everything that stands in Draco’s way, while Gregory is his watchman and bodyguard.
“Crabbe” is in fact a real surname, indicating a person who lives near a “crab-apple tree.” Perhaps it’s a pun on a “crabby” mood, or a reminder of the crustacean with the pincer-grip. The word “crabbe” is Norse, suggesting that Vincent’s huge build was inherited from some ancestor who was a Viking berserker. British schoolchildren still shiver at the memory of these brutal pirates who rampaged across eastern Britain in the ninth century to loot, burn and murder. Interestingly, however, the name “Crabbe” is not found in a Danelaw region, but in the heart of Wessex — in Somerset. Vincent might be an unappreciating native of an attractive town such as Taunton, Wells or Glastonbury; but the industrial town of Bridgewater might suit his temperament better.
When JKR named Draco’s second henchman “Goyle,” she was probably thinking of an ugly “gargoyle” — a drinking fountain shaped like a monstrous face. But in fact it is a real name, a corruption of the Irish “Mac an Goill,” which means “son of the foreigner.” Gregory Goyle is the man from Northern Ireland, where there is evidently a thriving wizarding community, since a tiny place like Ballycastle can support a professional Quidditch team. Gregory might keep quiet about his support of the “vampire” team, since both Draco and Vincent would prefer the Wasps. Ballycastle is probably the location of the team practices rather than the home of every player; Gregory might live in a city like Derry.
Pansy Parkinson is clearly Top Cat in her gang of Slytherin girls. Apparently lacking in either brains or beauty, she is nevertheless the girl to whom the other Slytherins defer. The “pansy” is the flower also known as “heartsease,” and it symbolises “thoughts,” which seems altogether too pleasant for the character. (Some of the slang meanings of “pansy” are, of course, less pleasant — but it’s still difficult to see how they would fit.) “Parkinson” is an ordinary surname meaning “son of Peter,” “Peter” being a Greek name meaning “rock.” This form of the name is most common in Lancashire. So Pansy Parkinson lives in Manchester, probably in one of the more affluent suburbs of this great cosmopolitan city. This is the area where there was a total intermarriage of (blond) Anglo-Saxons with (dark-haired) Brythons, so we don’t know whether Pansy is dark or fair. We would imagine, however, that she is petite, because Draco Malfoy is small, but Pansy clings to his arm in a way that indicates he is taller than she is.
Millicent Bulstrode is the only other Slytherin girl about whom we know much, and she is likely to be at the bottom of the social pecking order. Not only is she ugly and ungainly, but she is a half-blood. “Millicent” is a Germanic name meaning “labour” and “strength” — but we already knew that the female counterpart of Crabbe and Goyle would be fit for hard physical labour. Unlike Crabbe and Goyle, Millicent seems quite capable of thinking for herself, and launches the attack without awaiting anyone else’s orders. To elaborate the point, “Bulstrode” means “bull” and “stride”: she’s bull-headed, she’s as strong as a bull, she can straddle a bull, she strides away … this is a veritable caricature of a forceful, functional, unlovable woman. There is a Mr. Bulstrode in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a manipulative, self-important banker. The name “Bulstrode” is from Buckinghamshire. If Millicent lives in the county town of Aylesbury, her family is affluent and her lifestyle is comfortable.
Daphne Greengrass rates only one brief mention in canon, but she would be a prominent member of Pansy’s gang. The name “Daphne” means “laurel,” which is a symbol of victory. In Greek mythology, Daphne was a nymph who was turned into a laurel bush while running away from the amorous god Apollo. The classlist shows that JKR originally called this character “Queenie” (let’s pretend that it’s now her middle name), suggesting royalty or regality. All in all, Miss Greengrass sounds like a girl well able to take care of herself. The name “Queenie” has another connotation, since it was originally derived from an Old English word for “companion.” Certainly Pansy would consider Daphne an acceptable companion, since she is a pure-blood (unlike Millicent and Tracey). So it seems the two of them have negotiated a workable relationship, probably along the lines that Pansy will always go first if she lets Daphne always go second. If Daphne is careful not to challenge her clique leader too often, she might be considered Pansy’s best friend.
The name “Greengrass” — suggesting a person who lives near the village green — is found only in East Anglia, so Daphne’s home is in one of the tiny villages that scatter the wheat-growing flatlands of Suffolk. That makes her of very Anglo-Saxon ancestry, tall, blonde and blue-eyed. She would spend her summer holidays boating on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.
Tracey Davis has not yet made an appearance in canon. When I first saw the name on the classlist, I jumped to the elaborate conclusion that she was a sister of Roger Davies, perhaps so jealous of her clever, athletic older brother that she begged the Sorting Hat not to put her in Ravenclaw. I had to discard this theory when I realised that Tracey’s surname is spelt differently from Roger’s, without an E; “Davis” is such a common name that JKR probably doesn’t remember that she used it twice. (But the bottom corner of my brain still insists that JKR did intend Tracey to be Roger’s sister, and simply spelt the name wrongly on the classlist.)
“Tracey” is derived from a place-name that ultimately means something like “brave.” It was a faddish girls’ name in the 1960s, particularly among the working classes, but by 1980 it was going out of fashion. “Davis,” meaning “son of the beloved,” was originally a Welsh name, but it is so common that it is now found everywhere in Britain. By far the highest concentration of Davis families is found in London, so, in absence of better evidence, we shall let Tracey live in the working-class borough of Camden in the north of London. I doubt she would appreciate the advantages of living so close to the British Museum or Hampstead Heath, but Camden does place her very close to King's Cross Station. It looks as if Tracey has no prestigious connections — among either wizards or Muggles — and she’s also a half-blood, so she will be obliged to laugh at Pansy’s jokes and cater to Pansy’s whims if she wants to survive in Slytherin.
Theodore Nott, we are told, is more intelligent and independent than Draco Malfoy, but in appearance he is “stringy” and “rabbity.” His mother has died, and his father is a killer — one wonders in what sense this boy is a “gift of the gods,” as his first name promises. “Theodore” was never a common name in Britain, and it has a rather pretentious sound.
“Nott,” which is a West Country name, really means “smooth” or “rounded” and refers to a short hairstyle, but it also sounds like “night,” suggesting that the family are “dark” wizards. The name could also be a pun on “not,” because Theodore has a somewhat contrary nature, and it’s possible that he will not do what his father tells him. Since Mr. Nott is a “very elderly” pure-blood wizard, he has probably had about a hundred years to build wealth, so stringy Theodore and his nasty father probably live in a classy suburb of Bristol.
Blaise Zabini, summarily assigned to Slytherin in his only canon moment, has fascinated fans because of his exotic name. Some even assumed that “Blaise” was a girl’s name, although its real-life usage is masculine, and in a recent interview JKR referred to this character as “he.”
Fanfic stereotypes of this mysterious character often depict him as a Latin lover — a very good-looking Mediterranean, perhaps one who exploits his charm to ensnare unwary girls. This is doubtless because “Zabini” is the ultimate Italian surname: it means “son of the Sabine,” the Sabines being the original inhabitants of Rome. However, Mr Zabini’s identity is not as simple as “the man from Italy,” for his first name is French (perhaps he has a French mother). So perhaps JKR means him to represent, more generally, “the European.” “Blaise” means “stammerer”; it has obvious magical connections, since the great wizard Merlin learned magic and morality from a master-wizard named Blaise. There was also Blaise Pascal, the mathematician who had a bet with God: we wonder if Blaise Zabini will also turn out to be a betting man, or at least a Machiavelli-style pragmatist.
Blaise’s Italian (and French?) ancestors would have settled in a British city in the nineteenth century. Blaise would have been born to a family completely assimilated with British society, and he probably does not speak Italian. Let’s place him among the theatres, parks, historic buildings and posh shops of Richmond, a borough to the west of London.
Moon is present at the Sorting, but we don’t learn this student’s name or House. The classlist shows that her first name began with the letters “Lil…,” suggesting “Lillian” or “Lilith” (I don’t believe JKR would give a minor character the same name as Harry’s mother). This is a highly evocative name: Lilith was a Persian night-demon, and there are apocryphal but persistent legends that she was the first wife of Adam; while “Lillian” is yet another “lily” name.
The name “Moon” might have been intended to remind us of the moon — it could be that this character was a proto-Luna, hence axed once JKR had decided to put Luna in a different year from Harry. However, the surname didn’t originally refer to the moon: it is probably a corruption of the Irish “O’Mochain,” and means something like “punctual!” That would suggest an orderly, somewhat dull person, in startling contrast to her fascinating first name. Perhaps she is the prototypical quiet student whose reserve hides a wealth of imagination and inner secrets.
JKR apparently considered calling this student “Malone,” which is also an Irish name and means “bald John” — the original John being bald because he was a monk. The names “Malone” and “Moon” predominate in the fair city of Dublin, suggesting that Miss Moon lives in Ireland’s capital, the home of U2 and Riverdance, and the centre of fine linen and crystal. If she hasn’t been distracted by Muggle sports such as Irish rugby and greyhound racing, she would support the Kenmare Kestrels.
Sally-Anne Perks cannot be in Ravenclaw, where the girls’ dormitory is full. Following an intuition about how JKR named her characters, I would say she is unlikely to be in Slytherin (because “Perks” sounds too much like “Parkinson”) and unlikely to be in Gryffindor (because we already have two surnames beginning with P in Gryffindor). The name “Sally-Anne” has an honest, straightforward sound that will work well in Hufflepuff. “Sally,” a diminutive of “Sarah,” means “princess,” while “Anne,” meaning “grace,” was the name of JKR’s mother. “Perks” is “son of Peter,” and indicates a homeland in the West Midlands — let’s say in the historic town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, a good spot from which to support the Tutshill Tornados (located near JKR’s childhood home in Chepstow).
Rivers, denoting a person who “lives near the river,” is a name found in the south of England. After eliminating unsuitable locations, we can place this student among the apple orchards of Kent, surely the county that inspired the song about English gardens, perhaps in the famous cathedral city of Canterbury itself. Unfortunately, the name “Rivers” is too ambiguous to tell us much about the student. It might indicate a person who is elementally necessary in providing the “water of life.” Alternatively, JKR’s first thought for this student’s name began with “Qui…,” so we find ourselves thinking of Professor Quirrell, who quivers and quakes in a mock-fear that hides his lust for power. “Rivers” might also denote a weak temperament, unstable as water — a river is always moving but it cannot hold or define its own shape.
Roper indicates a “rope-maker,” a humble craftsman who performs honest labour. One wonders whether this character is supposed to be “ropable” (gullible), or whether she is a Slytherin who metaphorically holds the hangman’s rope. Her first name begins with the letters “So…”; perhaps this is “Sophie,” from the Greek word for “wisdom.” She would live in Yorkshire, in a town such as Harrogate or Barnsley. These towns thrived on the textile and coal industries, but they underwent serious economic hardships in the 1980s when these staple industries were closed. Barnsley was even dubbed the “worst town in Britain.” Miss Roper’s parents may have suffered the hardships of long-term unemployment, and they certainly taught their daughter to save her pennies.
Runcorn, meaning “wide bay,” is a small town in Cheshire. Since the surname would have been given to a person who had moved away from Runcorn, but probably didn’t move very far, it is not surprising that this name is found predominantly in Liverpool. This industrial and docklands city is the traditional home of working people. The stereotypical Liverpudlian is independent, almost abrasive, and has a talent for survival — it is no accident that this city produced the Beatles.
Spinks. This name is found in eastern England: by a process of elimination, we can place Spinks in Lincolnshire. This county is considered something of a backwater — literally, for of course it is home to the Fens, but also metaphorically. While Lincoln has a glamorous cathedral and castle, Boston hosts a huge annual fair, Gainsborough has interesting historical connections, and the countryside is littered with R.A.F. bases, in general the pretty buildings and flat farmlands are associated with a depressed economy, a slow-paced lifestyle and a general absence of action. “Spinks” means a “chaffinch,” and it was a name given to a cheerful person. Perhaps the student Spinks is even a talented singer. Let us hope he or she can combine magic, music and optimism to create his or her own stimulation.
Any of these theories may be shot to smithereens on 16 July 2005. If JKR decides to tell us that Ernie has always lived in Leicester or that the Hopkins family are millionaires or that Su Li has blue eyes, that is her prerogative. But if she does drop any such startling revelations, I would be very surprised if the total sum of back-stories failed to represent the British Isles in microcosm. And all such revelations will only underscore the basic point: that each one of these students has a back-story.
The wizarding world is now at war, and neutrality is no longer an option for these students. It may be that some of their choices will impact significantly on the final outcome of the war and the plot. What the classlist shows us is that none of them will choose randomly. The students are all well-rounded personalities, each with a genetic heritage, an environment and freedom of choice. Each character will make the organically natural choices of that personality.
As she has always promised, JKR already knows the final destiny of every single one.
© 2006 by Diana Summer