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“I collect unusual names from all sorts of different places. ‘Dumbledore’ is an Old English word meaning bumblebee, and ‘Hedwig’ as a medieval saint. I've even used street names for surnames. Some words I made up, like ‘Malfoy’ and ‘Quidditch’.”
“I still love graveyards--they are a great source of names.” (Conversations)
Animal Names Hedwig - Hedwig’s name comes from a German saint who lived in the 1100s. An order of nuns established under her patronage educated orphaned children. Harry is an orphan.
Fawkes - Guy Fawkes was a Catholic terrorist from around 1600 who tried to blow up the English Houses of Parliament. On Bonfire Night in England, Guy Fawkes is burned in effigy on a bonfire. Fawkes, Dumbledore’s pet phoenix that is featured later in the series, is named after Guy. Fawkes is a phoenix and therefore rises from flame, hence his bonfire- associated namesake. On a side note, it’s very possible that Harry will eventually inherit Fawkes from Dumbledore.
Scabbers - “scab” is a slang term for to a worker brought in to replace a striker.
House Names Slytherin - “sly therein,” “slither.” The mascot is a snake.
Gryffindor - means “Griffin of Gold” in French. The French d’or, “of gold,” is also found in Dumbledore’s name. A Griffin is a half-lion and half-eagle creature that makes a nest of gold. Gold is one of the Gryffindors’ house colors. Gryffindor’s house animal is a lion. Gryffindor’s first name was Godric, and Harry lived in Godric’s Hollow when his parents were killed. Perhaps Harry is a descendant of Godric Gryffindor.
Hufflepuff - hard workers, like those students chosen for Hufflepuff, “huff and puff” when they work.
Ravenclaw - ravens have historically symbolized wisdom (“wise old Ravenclaw”), especially in Norse mythology. Odin’s ravens Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory) help him keep a watch over his world kingdom.
Miscellaneous Smeltings - The school Smeltings could be a play on words. “Smelting” is the act of refining metal ore. If so, then maybe “Smeltings” is a place where students are refined. Or perhaps the name comes from the word “smelt,” which is a small fish. Or perhaps the “smelt” of Smeltings comes from the past participle of “to smell,” for in Britain strong verbs are not fading so rapidly as in American English. With the fish and smelly connotations, having such a ridiculous word as Smeltings being treated with such reverence by the Dursleys is amusing to the reader.
Diagon Alley - Diagon Alley’s name is a play on “diagonally.” Knockturn Alley, which is introduced in book two, is a play on “Knockturnally.”
Rowling uses color frequently in her descriptions: Dumbledore has silver hair and a purple cloak, McGonagall has black hair and an emerald cloak, and Harry tends to be associated with his black hair and his (mother’s) green eyes. Later in the book, each of the four schools at Hogwarts will have colors associated with it: Gryffindor is scarlet and gold, Ravenclaw is blue and bronze, Hufflepuff is yellow and black, and Slytherin is green and silver.
The fact that Harry is going to Stonewall while Dudley is going to Smeltings is another contrast in the way they are treated by the Dursleys. Color is also important in that Dudley gets a colorful uniform while Harry is adorned in gray-dyed hand-me-downs.
Rowling uses metaphoric language and color in this sentence: “His face went from red to green faster than a set of traffic lights...Within seconds it was the grayish white of old porridge.”