Newt Scamander: What’s in a name?
Newton “Newt” Artemis Fido Scamander is the star of the upcoming film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them written by J.K. Rowling. Jo is known for packing a lot of meaning into a name (e.g., Lord Voldemort or Albus Dumbledore), so what could be behind Newt’s (rather long) name?
Well, “Newton” could be named after Sir Isaac Newton, a Muggle trailblazer. As Sir Isaac Newton laid the foundations for classical mechanics, Newt laid the foundations for magizoology.
“Newt” as a nickname is named after the amphibian, which has long had an association with witches and wizards. “Eye of newt and toe of frog” was mentioned by the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and was later adapted by John Williams for “Double Trouble” for the soundtrack of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
J.K. Rowling is known to have admired Monty Python. In fact, she had wanted Monty Python’s director Terry Gilliam to direct the Harry Potter movies. A famous line from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail mentions newts: A man accuses a woman of being a witch by exclaiming, “She turned me into a newt!” before adding, “I got better.” This might be a subtle homage to that scene.
NEWT is also the acronym for the exams Hogwarts students take in their seventh year, possibly alluding to Newt Scamander’s intellect.
Newt’s name might also tie him to another famous naturalist. David Attenborough, like Newt, displayed a keen interest in the natural world as a child and had collected fossils, stones, and other natural specimens by the age of seven. Newt at the same age “spent hours in his bedroom dismembering Horklumps” (Fantastic Beasts ix).
Interestingly, one of Attenborough’s earliest contributions to zoology entailed newts – Attenborough “aged 11… heard that the zoology department needed a large supply of newts, which he offered via his father to supply for 3d [pence] a newt.” This may or may not have anything to do with Newt’s name, but it is an interesting connection between a great Muggle naturalist and a great wizarding magizoologist.
“Fido” is one of Newt’s middle names and literally means “I trust” in latin. This might underline his connection to Hufflepuff house while also being a common name for pet dogs (possibly popularized by Abraham Lincoln).
“Artemis” is the second of Newt’s middle names. Artemis was referred to by Homer as “Artemis of the Wildland, Mistress of animals.” Artemis was also known as the goddess of the Moon, possibly hinting at Newt’s later work with the Ministry in creating a Werewolf Register.
Lastly, “Scamander” ties up Newt’s name nicely. Scamander sounds a lot like “salamander” – which has both a Muggle and magical meaning. According to Fantastic Beasts, Salamanders are “small fire-dwelling lizards that feed on flames.” In the Muggle world salamanders are amphibians; it is important to note all newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts — “salamander” is the name for an entire group of animals, whereas newts are a subset of that group.
It is possible that the magical world may have been remiss in allowing Muggles to continue to be aware of salamanders. They have a unique property among (Muggle) vertebrates in that they can regrow entire limbs. If that doesn’t seem like a magical creature to you, I don’t know what is.
Overall, there is a duality to Newt’s name that ties in with a medieval view of witchcraft. Newts were usually associated with water, while salamanders were associated with fire. Salamanders innately possess the duality of being able to survive on land and in water – this ties back to medieval ideas about witches. One of the tests to “discover a witch” was to throw a woman into a pond to see if she floated or sank, that is, to see if she possessed the dual nature of amphibians – and could survive both on water and on land.
This ties back to the origin of “Scamander.” Scamander was a Greek river god, and here, once again, J.K. Rowling has made a reference to Homer. In the Iliad, Homer mentions that the river Scamander has two springs: one that produces cold water and one that produces warm, further highlighting the dual nature of Newt’s name. The god Scamander fought in the Trojan War, which might be a hint that Newt was instrumental in either the war against Grindelwald and/or the war against Lord Voldemort.
Also, Scamander sounds a little bit like “scamper,” which might refer to Newt “scampering” about the world looking for interesting new magical creatures.
What do you think of Newt’s name? Do you think there are any other meanings or conclusions to be drawn?