Yesterday I wrote about how the Harry Potter books depict the Continental Powers, especially in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Tonight I’ll backtrack to a pattern I've noticed even since the first or second book in the series, about deeply-rooted stereotypes within Britain's wizarding society.
But haven't I already written about how J. K. Rowling has taken pains to include young wizards from many ethnicities within modern Britain? That's true, but in one area Rowling still reflects old--very old--cultural fault lines in British culture.
Almost all the English Hogwarts students in Harry's generation have first names that today's young readers would easily recognize. In the recent past, some wizarding families used such names, too: James and Lily Potter, Arthur and Molly Weasley. But many other families favored old-fashioned Latinate given names: Albus, Sirius, Remus, Severus, Minerva, etc.
The nice characters with Latinate given names have Anglo-Saxon family names, like Black. Many of the good guys' surnames connect to rural life, as in Lupin (a plant, though also wolfish), Dumbledore (bumblebee), and Granger (farmer or farm steward). This pattern fits well with the books' preference for life in Britain outside metropolitan London.
In contrast, the nastiest characters have Latinate or French surnames to go with their Latinate given names: Bellatrix Lestrange, Lucius Malfoy (shown above, as impersonated by Jason Isaacs). Harry's class rival is Draco Malfoy, which translates as "dragon bad-time." The series' chief villain was born Tom Riddle, a solid Anglo-Saxon name, but--showing his villainy--demanded that people call him something that sounds deadly French and aristocratic: Lord Voldemort.
That pattern reflects an old Whig preference for the Anglo-Saxon yeomanry over the Norman aristocracy. I quote from Scott's Ivanhoe:
At court, and in the castles of the great nobles, where the pomp and state of a court was emulated, Norman-French was the only language employed; in courts of law, the pleadings and judgments were delivered in the same tongue. In short, French was the language of honour, of chivalry, and even of justice, while the far more manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon was abandoned to the use of rustics and hinds, who knew no other.It would be hard to find a more "manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon," working-the-good-English-earth name than Harry Potter.