The Black Family Name
When it comes to names, J.K. Rowling enjoys her symbolism. Remus Lupin is an obvious example. One trend in the series is that the members of the Black family are often named after stars and constellations. I thought it would be interesting to dive further into those names and see what symbolism could be found.
The most obvious symbolism is that Sirius is colloquially known as the Dog Star. It’s a part of Canis Major, the Greater Dog constellation. It’s also known as Orion’s dog, which is interesting since Orion is the name of Sirius’s father. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, which fits for a man who tended to stand out. This brightness is how it got its name, since Sirius means “glowing” or “scorching.” The name might also be linked to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld. Considering Sirius’s time in Azkaban and his fall through the Veil, the underworld connection is interesting. Additionally, the star Sirius was regarded as a bad omen in ancient times, which fits with Sirius’s Animagus form resembling a Grim.
The name “Regulus” means “little king,” and that is fitting for a Black, considering how they seemed to consider themselves to be better than those around them. However, the star Regulus is part of the constellation Leo, the Lion. Furthermore, in Arabic, the name of the star means “the heart of the lion.” It’s unlikely that his two very Slytherin parents would have known about that part. It is somewhat fitting for Regulus, since in the end, he died bravely, proving that he did have the heart of a lion.
Walburga’s name seems to have the most contradictory symbolism. Being a Black by marriage, she is not named after a star, but rather after a Christian saint: St. Walpurga, or as she’s also known, St. Walburga. While St. Walpurga’s feast day, Walpurgis Night, is often associated with witchcraft, that’s where the similarities end. St. Walpurga was said to be able to repel witches and was known as a healer of illnesses. That’s pretty much the opposite of Walburga Black, who seemed to be a curse on all who knew her.
The name “Bellatrix” translates to “female warrior.” This is an obvious fit for Bellatrix Lestrange, who is a formidable foe in the series, often regarded as Voldemort’s most feared Death Eater. In the same vein, another name of this star is the Amazon Star. The Amazons were female warriors sometimes said to be the daughters of Ares, the Greek god of war. Furthermore, the star is part of the constellation Orion, whose mythological counterpart was a hunter, and Lestrange excels at hunting her chosen prey. Less fitting, however, is the fact that an ancient Arabic source names this star as “the lion.”
Oddly enough, Narcissa breaks Black family tradition since she is not named after a star. However, her name does connect with Greek mythology, as many of the other names do. Her name comes from the infamous Narcissus, a man who fell in love with his own reflection and wasted away gazing upon it. This name seems to imply that Narcissa is vain and self-absorbed. However, while Narcissa does seem to be concerned with public perception, she is not self-absorbed. She loves her family deeply, enough to lie to the Dark Lord for them. I think in some ways her name helped make that twist even more of a surprise, since it had encoded a particular view of her within the readers, thus making it more shocking when she went against that.
The constellation Andromeda is one of the largest in the sky, and the name means “ruler of men.” That doesn’t necessarily fit with Andromeda Tonks, who only plays a small role in the series. However, there is a connection with her mythological counterpart. The princess Andromeda was imperiled by her mother’s actions but saved by a kind man, whom she married and had a happy life with. Andromeda Tonks was disowned by her family but still found happiness with Ted Tonks. Just as the princess was one of the few in Greek mythology to get a happy ending, Andromeda was one of the few members of the Black family to do so.
While Draco is technically a Malfoy, his mother was a Black and he is named in the Black tradition, so it seemed fitting to include him in this list. His name means “dragon” or “serpent,” which goes along with his Slytherin nature. Funnily enough, the other name for the Draco constellation, Thuban, means “the head of the serpent,” continuing this theme. The dragon Ladon is often connected with this constellation since Ladon was defeated by Hercules and the constellation of Hercules is right next to Draconis. This connection fits with Draco as well, since he, too, faced off against a hero of mixed blood and lost.