Name Meanings: Fantastic Beasts

In the past, I’ve written about the many Harry Potter names that come from flowers and astronomy. Let’s take a look today at the new Fantastic Beasts characters’ names.

Newt Scamander: Newt’s name was set in stone over a decade before there was any thought of making a movie, but it’s certainly significant. Newts, of course, are an ordinary muggle animal often connected to magic, much like owls and cats. His surname was the name of a river god in The Iliad, so it has connections to nature as well as a common origin with the creatures from classical mythology in the Harry Potter world. I think it’s also interesting to note how much it sounds like “salamander”, which is both a real creature and a magical one documented in Newt’s book.

Porpentina Goldstein: I didn’t know this until I started looking for name meanings, but “porpentine” is an archaic word for “porcupine”, used by Shakespeare in Hamlet. Much like a porcupine, Tina is small, easily underestimated, and a bit prickly. Goldstein, of course, is the surname of Anthony Goldstein, a Ravenclaw classmate of Harry’s, so they may be distant relatives.

Queenie Goldstein: I can only assume that, like Tina, Queenie goes by a nickname. It’s an odd name, but she wears it well, and it suits both her bubbly cheerfulness and self confidence. On a different note, minor Slytherin character Daphne Greengrass was originally called Queenie Greengrass, and is also one of two sisters.

Jacob Kowalski: Compared with Newt, Porpentina, and Queenie, the most obvious thing about Jacob’s first name is how ordinary it sounds. The name’s meaning – “usurper” – is probably less important than the fact that it’s one of the few names in the movie one might actually find in 1920’s New York. His surname is a Polish name that means “blacksmith”, again probably less important for its meaning than its sound and origin.

Credence, Modesty, and Chastity Barebone: The surname is obviously intended to be creepy and perhaps a reference to the family’s bare, dismal way of life, as well as being the surname of a real puritan family known for naming their kids things like “Praise-God” and “If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned”. I’m not kidding. Virtue names like Credence, Modesty, etc. were not as common among the Puritans as some people assume (Biblical names were more popular). However, the New Salem cult exists in the 1920’s, not the Salem Witch Trial era, so it makes sense that their imitation of the Puritans would draw on popular ideas about them as much as reality.

Percival Graves: Percival is one of Dumbledore’s middle names, as well as the name of one of the Knights of the Round Table from Arthurian legend. It’s a fitting alias for someone who sees himself as a heroic figure on a quest for powerful legendary items. Graves, obviously, fits the same naming trend as Lestrange, Malfoy, etc.: a vaguely sinister-sounding name that hints a character is not to be trusted.

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