What’s in a Name?: Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs
It’s no secret that J.K. Rowling loves to play with words within her Harry Potter universe. From places to characters, these names are riddled with meanings and clues. These often form a special bond between the author and reader, little hints and nudges between the two that make the experience of reading all the more interesting. But what about the names given by characters themselves within the series? What extra dimensions are there to Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs?
The moniker “Moony” is all but subtle when you consider it belongs to a werewolf. I mean, come on, guys, the poor kid goes around Hogwarts trying to keep his secret hidden, and you give him a nickname like “Moony”? While I imagine Remus had a few things to say when the name first stuck, the nickname is actually a sign of the deep friendship between Remus and the other Marauders. The nickname is basically a joke, a subtle teasing that reflects the Marauders’ treatment of Remus’s condition. From James’s term “furry little problem” (HBP 317), we can gather that the Marauders made light of Remus’s condition wherever possible, meeting the problem head-on with humor in order to make Remus feel better about this harsh fact of his life. It’s very reminiscent of Fred and George’s attitude to various dark events throughout the books – like their shopfront sign that mocks Voldemort’s return with “U-NO-POO – THE CONSTIPATION SENSATION THAT’S GRIPPING THE NATION!” (HBP 113). The same kind of friendly teasing lies behind the nickname “Moony,” and seeing as “mooning” means to expose one’s buttocks, I’m sure they gave Remus a lot of grief when people asked about the story that led to his nickname.
Peter Pettigrew’s nickname is perhaps the most telling clue J.K. Rowling gives us in terms of his role in the future conflict – that, and the fact that his Animagus is a rat. But apart from a rather direct reference to his Animagus form, “Wormtail” reminds me of the descent he undertakes in his character. It’s very easy to pass Peter Pettigrew off as a straight-up villain, but he’s anything but one-dimensional. After all, as a Hogwarts student, he was one of the best friends to three other people who loved him in their own way. His descent is more of a decay, like an apple infested with worms. It’s also interesting to note that the nickname is used by Death Eaters like Snape and even Voldemort himself, which suggests that nobody ever let Peter Pettigrew forget his traitorous nature.
Given an adorable moniker juxtaposed with the large and intimidating form of his Animagus, the meaning behind Sirius Black’s nickname is nuanced and subtle. The idea of “padded feet” suggests one who embarks on many journeys, and Sirius fits this bill perfectly. In his Hogwarts days, it’s the journey away from his parents’ house, discarding them and their fanatical pure-blood views. Later in life, it’s his journey from escaped criminal back to some semblance of who he was – an Order member, godfather to Harry, and a Marauder. The name “Padfoot” also points to the idea of being “thick-skinned,” a tough exterior hiding strong, complex emotion inside. And if we look at Sirius Black throughout his life, he’s always putting up this kind of exterior.
As the Marauder we perhaps know the least about, “Prongs” still gives us a certain insight into the character of James Potter and the relationship he had with his friends. Like Moony, Prongs’ name is a teasing reminder of his less pleasant attributes. It’s a reminder not to let his pride or a jumped-up sense of importance get in the way of his deeper character. And this is something James outgrows past his fifth year, which is when the three Marauders first managed to become Animagi. Pride is an important part of James’s character, with Voldemort describing him in his last moments as “straight-backed and proud” (GoF 573). And while this nickname acts as a bit of a joke within the group, it also points to the qualities James shares with his Animagus form – those of pride and nobility.