Severus Vs. Snape

by Kristian Caffrey

But somebody else had spoken Snape’’s name, quite softly


The sound frightened Harry beyond anything he had experienced all evening. For the first time, Dumbledore was pleading…. 

Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face. 


Between the time that he sees Snape and is killed, Dumbledore utters only three words. Those three words are of the utmost importance in attempting to divine Snape’s true allegiance and motives: ““Severus…Severus…please.”” Dumbledore is pleading to Severus. In the essays that I have read, our favorite double agent is most commonly referred to simply as “Snape.” Dumbledore’’s use of Snape’’s first name speaks volumes about their relationship and the extremely complex character that is Severus Snape. In this essay I will discuss why “Severus” is different from “Snape,” why different characters address him by different names, and why Severus and Snape have very different attitudes.

Why does Dumbledore choose to say only those three words to Snape? He is trying to persuade Snape to do something–—either to kill or not to kill. In a persuasive argument, some part of the subject must be touched, some weak point used to an advantage. What part of Snape does the word “Severus” touch that makes him take action? By using Snape’’s first name, what part of Snape is Dumbledore appealing to? This question can be answered by examining the use of Severus Snape’’s name.

From what we have seen of Snape’s childhood, it was not a happy one. During Order of the Phoenix, Harry glimpsed a memory in which Snape’’s father was shouting and his mother was cowering. I think it is safe to assume that Severus Snape’’s father was abusive. In Half-Blood Prince we learn that Snape’’s father was a Muggle. We also see that during school Snape tried to get away from his name. Like Voldemort before him, Snape cultivated a nickname to hide behind so that he would not be associated with the name that his abusive Muggle of a father gave him. Voldemort sought refuge with his mother’’s lineage. Snape sought refuge with his mother’s name. Young Severus may have wanted as much distance as possible from his negligent father; rejecting his surname in favor of the “Half-Blood Prince” was an easy way to do it. My theory is that Severus Snape hated his own surname because it reminded him of the man who had hurt him so much.

There is a clear difference in Severus Snape’’s attitude towards those who call him “Severus” and those who call him “Snape.” A highly illustrative example is the chapter “Spinner’s End” in Half-Blood Prince. Bellatrix Lestrange addresses him as “Snape” and is rewarded with rudeness, anger, and contempt. Narcissa Malfoy addresses him as “Severus” and we see a much kinder Snape emerge. Snape’’s conduct toward Narcissa suggests that he actually cares about her and her family. When Narcissa asks “Severus” for help, when she pleads with Severus for help, help is given.

Sirius Black refers to and addresses Severus Snape as “Snape” or “Snivellus.” Sirius never offers the gesture that seems to mean the most to his old enemy: calling him by his first name. When the two men are in direct conversation they call each other by their last names, or in Sirius’’s case, a derogatory nickname.

Remus Lupin does not inspire the same hatred in Snape that his friends Sirius Black and James Potter do. Why is that? Lupin was, of course, not nearly as horrible to Severus as James or Sirius. Lupin knows firsthand what it is like to be in the position of spy. Lupin knows what it feels like to be hated and an outcast. Also, when the two men are speaking to each other, Lupin says “Severus.” When Lupin is talking about Snape, he says “Severus” or “Professor Snape.” And Snape has shown kindness toward Lupin that is unexpected for his character. Snape made the Wolfsbane Potion perfectly for Lupin.

Whenever Harry Potter mentions Snape in front of Dumbledore, the old man is always quick to correct Harry that the Potions master is “Professor Snape,” not merely “Snape.” Dumbledore very frequently addresses Snape as “Severus.” And when Dumbledore and Harry return from the cave, a vulnerable Dumbledore says, ““Severus, I need Severus.”” (page 580) Dumbledore does not seem to need the professional opinion or help of Professor Snape. Dumbledore needs the personal, familiar, and trustworthy help of Severus.

Who is Severus, and who is Snape? Snape is the cruel, angry, humorless, sneering Potions master. Snape’’s students insult him behind his back. Snape became a Death Eater. Snape is the son and image of a possibly abusive, negligent father. Snape goaded, insulted, and teased Sirius Black. But Severus, ah Severus. Severus is the small boy who watched his parents fighting, who was teased at school. Severus is the boy who could have been. Severus is independent of anything his father ever was. Severus helped a mother protect her son. Severus relieved a sworn enemy of monthly horror. Severus represents Snape’’s “good side.”

Dumbledore knows Snape well enough that all he had to do was say “Severus” to persuade Snape to act. By appealing, pleading even, to “Severus,” Dumbledore was reminding Snape of his good side, of his ability to care and love. Dumbledore was reminding Snape of the potential for good that we all have within us. And Severus responded to Dumbledore and did an essentially righteous, good deed.

Just for curiosity’’s sake, a history of Severus Snape’’s namesake, Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus. He was the leader of the Roman Empire from 193-—211 A.D. Severus restored order to the Roman Empire after a period of civil war, but he did so cruelly, using fear, blood, and intimidation to achieve his ends. Severus was born in North Africa and gradually moved his way up through the Roman government quite ably. Severus was a very capable administrator and military leader. In his ascension to the throne, Severus had to defeat a few rivals for the title of Emperor. One was Clodius Albinus. The other was Pescennius Niger (Niger means Black in Latin). Albinus and Niger were both killed in battle with Severus’’s forces.