There's no denying it: J. K. Rowling is a genius. Every Harry Potter fan knows that she puts an incredible amount of effort into every detail of her wizarding world. Even character names carry deeper meaning! Some are obvious: for example, 'Lupin' is a clear signpost to the Latin for 'wolf', a perfect fit for this lycanthropic character. Others are more subtle; 'Dumbledore' is an archaic name for 'bumblebee', picked because Rowling found the word sweet, while his first name 'Albus' comes from a Celtic word for 'noble'.
With the release of Fantastic Beasts, #HarryPotter fans are already scouring the screenplay for the meaning behind the character names. One selection of names are surprisingly accurate; at first glance, they're a gentle nod to the late, great British fantasy author Terry Pratchett. Look a little deeper, though, and one name reveals an entire character journey...
The Terry Pratchett Reference
Samantha Morton's Mary Lou is a terrifying figure, leader of the Second Salemers — a movement dedicated to uncovering, and presumably killing, witches and wizards. She has a habit of taking in orphans, and using them to spread her message of fear. Significantly, though, she renames these orphans. In the film we see:
- Modesty (played by Faith Wood-Blagrove)
- Chastity (played by Jenn Murray)
- Credence (played by Ezra Miller)
The Puritans, who Mary Lou would surely have admired, loved to name their girls after virtues. But the most famous example in modern fantasy is surely in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, in the remote kingdom of Lancre — where the witches dwell.
In Lancre, the Carter family decided to name their girls after virtues. This being Terry Pratchett, the names were humorous; Hope Carter suffered from depression, Prudence Carter was the mother of 13 children, Chastity Carter launched her career as a Lady of Negotiable Affection in the city of Ankh-Morpork, and Charity Carter was notable for her greed!
Again, this being Terry Pratchett, the Carter family got a bit mixed up and thus decided to name their boys after vices. So their sons were called Anger, Jealousy, Catastrophe (technically not a vice, but he was the youngest, and they were running out), Covetousness, Deviousness, and — perhaps most amusing of all — Bestiality.
Now let's focus in on one of Mary Lou's children, Credence, who plays a key role in Fantastic Beasts. Originating from the 14th century, the word 'credence' essentially means 'belief as to the truth of something'. It's still common to say that a piece of evidence gives 'credence' to a theory, i.e. gives evidence to the truth of it.
This is an entirely appropriate name for Ezra Miller's character. He is the proof of Mary Lou's beliefs; after all, she knows full well that his mother was a witch, and has likely seen countless hints of magic about him. He lends credence to her belief that witchcraft is out there.
Check out Mary Lou and Credence in action below:
Mary Lou Herself
Of course, Mary Lou's name has just as much thought to it. The name 'Mary' is traditionally associated with blessing (most commonly tied to the Virgin Mary, particularly venerated by Catholics). That said, it actually has a much older origin, and is tied to the Hebrew word for 'bitterness'. 'Lou', meanwhile, is a French name from the Old German. It means 'famous warrior'. So Mary Lou is literally a famous warrior of bitterness — which perfectly suits her character and desire for publicity!
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As you can see, #JKRowling is on fine form with Fantastic Beasts. The character names are invested in just as much meaning as they ever were — and even Mary Lou and her children have surprising depths.
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