by Jennifer Oakley

In CoS we first see how Voldemort’s name was fashioned from Tom Riddle’s but I don’t believe we’ve paid enough attention to the significance of this chosen name. I’m not talking about the significance of the MEANING of the name, but rather the name itself as a TOOL. From the very beginning Voldemort is referred to as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. How did that come about? Why does everyone still adamantly hold to that? And are those who use his name (Dumbledore, Harry, Hermione) doing so at their own risk?

Dumbledore has said, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself” (SS, 298). But is that the only reason people refrain from uttering the name Voldemort? I believe the tradition of not naming You-Know-Who is rooted in more than simply fear of the evil wizard. The use of his name is restricted. Even his followers refer to him as the Dark Lord. I find that somewhat surprising since Voldemort was a name that Tom Riddle chose. He was (obviously) ashamed of his muggle heritage and wanted to conceal all traces of it, starting first with his name. One would think that he would insist that his new name be used. Of course, I will acknowledge that being referred to as the Dark Lord is a little more all encompassing than the more specific Lord Voldemort. But it is significant that his own followers do not use his chosen name. However, that was not always the case. In CoS (p.314) Tom says, “It was a name I was already using at Hogwarts, to my most intimate friends only, of course.” Despite being a brilliant and powerful young wizard I doubt he would have had the clout to simply go by the Dark Lord back then. He must have been referred to as Voldemort originally. When did the change come about?

I believe the change happened after the Death Eaters were first christened with the Dark Mark. This leads us to another question. What is the purpose of the Dark Mark? According to Snape in GoF (p 710) “It was a means of distinguishing one another, and his means of summoning us to him.” So there is some form of communication between the Death Eater that carries the mark and Voldemort. There has to be more to it than that though. Perhaps the mention of the name Voldemort in front of a person carrying the Dark Mark will trigger a direct communication to the master himself. Maybe uttering the name performs some sort of spell unbeknownst to the one who is doing the uttering. If a member of the OotP was talking with an unknown Death Eater about their plans to thwart Voldemort then the Dark Mark could be a fast means of communication with the boss. If one of the Death Eaters were having doubts about the master and talked to someone outside of the circle that would have been an easy way to weed out the unfaithful. I’m guessing at the beginning even the Death Eater’s weren’t aware of the full significance of the Dark Mark. The tradition of not naming Voldemort must have come about because something would happen to those who did.

The most telling evidence comes during occlumency lessons with Snape in OotP. During Harry’s first lesson, he says the name aloud. Snape responds with, “I have told you not to say the Dark Lord’s name!” (537) During the next lesson, after Harry is frustrated and tired of putting up with Snape’s insults, Harry fires off, “Why do you call Voldemort the Dark Lord, I’ve only ever heard Death Eaters call him that—.” At this point the lesson is interrupted by Trelawney’s cries as she finds out she has been sacked by Umbridge. As others have often pointed out – whenever JKR abruptly changes the subject, it is something important. Here Harry was questioning Snape’s loyalty, which is a fair question. But I think that’s a ploy to distract us from the more important issue of “why won’t Snape call Voldemort by his name.” Snape was/is a Death Eater. He has been in Voldemort’s inner circle. Although he certainly has reason to fear Voldemort (being a double agent after all), he does not fall into the category of the average frightened wizard or as someone who is superstitious. There is a specific reason Snape will not say the name or allow Harry to use it in his presence.

Another clue about the importance of Voldemort’s name comes from Dobby at the end of CoS (339) Harry questions Dobby and says, “You told me all this had nothing to do with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, remember? Well—” Dobby’s response, “Was giving you a clue. The Dark Lord, before he changed his name, could be freely named, you see?” There is something about his name that is dangerous.

The largest argument against this theory comes from Dumbledore at the beginning of SS (11). “I have never seen any reason to be frightened of saying Voldemort’s name.” (But Dumbledore was also the only one Voldemort ever feared and thus less likely to come to harm from uttering the name.) We all like to think of Dumbledore as unfailing, never wrong about anything. Could this be something Dumbledore does not know about? Is this a secret Snape has been keeping from Dumbledore?

The fact that Voldemort has been referred to as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has been under our nose the entire series without much scrutiny. It is subjects like that which seem to be very important to the series. As we are often reminded when analyzing JKR’s clever plots, don’t take anything for granted. This is a subject usually not given a second thought. I think there is more to Voldemort’s name then we’ve been exposed to yet.