Unlike me, Harry Potter obviously did not learn Latin at his Muggle primary school. If he had, he would have immediately known what damage the sectumsempra spell would inflict, when he used it on Draco in the Half-Blood Prince, by recognising the charm’s etymology, and could have spared himself serious trouble.
Here is a fun roundup of the etymology of wizarding spells, creatures and artefacts: largely Latin, with hints of French, Greek, and English puns.
MARAUDERS BEWARE: Spoilers from the books ahead …
Legilimens – legi –> I read (past) + mens –> mind 💭
Occlumens – occludere –> to close up + mens –> mind 💭
Luna Lovegood – luna –> moon; the moon is often associated with women and madness (hence “lunatic”) and, well, she ain’t nicknamed “Loony” for nothing 🌙
Levicorpus & liberacorpus – levigare –> to lighten / liberare –> to free + corpus –> body
Sectumsempra – sectus –> cut (past participle) + semper –> always 🗡
Expecto patronum – expecto –> I await + patronus –> protector (/boss) 🌬
Confundo – confundo –> I bewilder/confuse
Crucio – crucio –> I crucify, cause anguish 😵
Expelliarmus – expellere –> to expel + armum –> weapons ⚔️
Fidelius Charm – fidelis –> faithful 🤝
Finite incantatem – finire –> to finish + incantatio –> enchantment
Lumos & nox – light and night 🌝🌚
Imperio – impero –> I order
oppugno – oppugno –> I attack
Petrificus totalus – “completely petrify/make into stone”, from petra –> rock + facere –> to make + totalis –> entire
Protego – protego –> I protect
Reparo – reparo –> I repair
Apparition – apparitus –> appeared (past participle)
Victor Krum – victor –> winner; he’s a winner at Quidditch 🏆
Veritaserum – veritas –> truth + serum –> whey-like fluid
Felix Felicis – felix –> lucky + felicis –> lucky (genitive singular) 🍀
Madame Maxime – maximus –> greatest/largest; she is a giant!
Amortentia potion – amor –> love + tendere –> to direct a weapon; Cupid’s bow?! ❤️🏹
Deluminator – lumen –> lamp/daylight + de –> general negative; it de-lights the place ✨
Remus Lupin – Remus and Romulus, the brother founders of Rome, were suckled by a wolf; Remus was eventually killed by Romulus. This is appropriate because Remus is a werewolf and dies in the last book. Lupin is also from lupus –> wolf 🐺
Albus Dumbledore/Potter– albus –> bright/white, symbol of purity
Ignotus Peverell – ignotus –> unknown: he was unknown to death due to his magical cloak
Erumpent horn – erumpere –> to burst; the horn explodes at the Lovegoods’ house.
Horcrux – crux –> cross. Something to do with crucifixion, bringing out the nastiness of the Horcruxes. What about the Hor- prefix? Maybe it comes from horrere –> to dread/horror –> dread?
Draco & Scorpius – draco –> dragon + scorpius –> scorpion. (“Draco” also features in the Hogwarts motto, draco dormiens nunquam titillandum – let sleeping dragons lie). As Slytherins, both characters have appropriately reptilian/repulsive names 🐉 🦂
Bellatrix Lestrange – bellatrix –> female warrior. And she is rather strange
Morsmordre – mordre –> to bite + mors is a homonym for mort –> death or mords –> (I) bite. Appropriate feels for conjuring the Dark Mark, which is typically placed over the site of a murder 👄
Voldemort – “death stealer”, from vol de mort –> stealing of death. Pleasingly, it is pronounced the French way (silent T) in the Cursed Child, but not in the films 💀
Peverell – the name of a Norman family who settled in Britain after 1066. Appropriately ancient for the legendary Tale of the Three Brothers
Beauxbatons – literally “lovely sticks/wands”
Fleur Delacour – literally “flower of the court” 🌹
Malfoy – mal –> evil + foy, old French for foi –> faith. The Malfoys do a lot in bad faith: they got away with Death Eating during Voldemort’s first reign of terror, but managed to convince Voldemort they had been faithful when he returned.
Polyjuice Potion – poly- –> many (as in polyamory). The Potion allows you to look like many different people ⚗️
Merope – in Greek myth, she was the seventh of the Pleiade stars and the least bright because she married a mortal – similarly, Merope has an affair with Muggle Tom Riddle. As such, she seems to occupy the space between mortality and immortality – just like her son Voldemort ⭐️
Sybil Trelawney – Sybil was a Greek seer 👀
Xenophilius Lovegood – “lover of strange things”, from xenos –> stranger + philia –> (brotherly) love/friendship
Marvolo Riddle – After Shakespeare’s character Malvolio? From mal –> evil + volio –> will (“ill will”). I also wondered whether it was to do with marvelling or wonder (eg French merveille –> wonder), since Voldemort broke new magical ground in many ways.
Gilderoy Lockhart – his heart is locked away, he has no heart? He has a gilded exterior, but all that glitters isn’t gold, like his deceptive fame? Crowned with fame (French roi –> king)? 👑
Peter Pettigrew – he grew petty? Or he grew little (French petit –> little) when he transformed into a rat? (Also Peter was Jesus’ disciple but denied him three times, just as Peter was on the good side but betrayed the Potters) 🐀
Severus Snape is severe, and like a sniping snake (appropriately for his Slytherin heritage) 🐍
Gryffindor – griffin d’or (French d’or –> golden); aren’t red and gold the Gryffindor colours?
Slytherin – sneks be slitherin’ 🐍
Durmstrang – sturm und drang (German “storm and stress”), a movement in the arts
Professor Vector is appropriately named because he/she (?!) teaches arithmancy; assume this is something like arithmetic, and a vector is a maths concept
Kreacher is a creature
Peeves is everyone’s pet peeve and can be peevish 👻
Grimmauld Place is a grim old place
The Probity Probe sounds punny, but probity actually means honesty
Mirror of Erised – erised –> desire backwards, just as a mirror gets things backwards
Umbridge often takes umbrage (offence)
Bane the Centaur is the bane of Harry’s life
Dumbledore – Early Modern English for bumblebee 🐝
Hagrid – from hag-ridden, whose meaning changed from ridden by hags/witches –> afflicted by nightmares/sleep paralysis. Both ‘dumbledore’ and ‘hagrid’ appear in the same sentence of Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge
Pensieve – “pensive” means thoughtful, and it’s like a sieve to sift through memories, perhaps even a sieve shape 💭
Deathly Hallows – “hallowed” means holy, like Halloween (“holy evening”) or a hallowed place
Petunia – a little-known flower (like her sister Lily) 🌺
A Bludger will bludgeon you to death
Bonus: Family naming conventions
We don’t just have flower names for Lily and Petunia, but
- Arthurian legend names for some of the Weasleys – appropriately, since their father is called Arthur. Also because their famous red hair is quite Celtic, giving them the feel of an old British family. Ginevra, Percival, Frederick, Ronald sound Arthurian, mixed with a hint of modern British royalty (William, George, Charles).
- Classical names for the three Black sisters: Bellatrix as above, Narcissa (Narcissus: a vain man of legend after whom the flower is named), and Andromeda (a constellation named after the princess rescued by Perseus).