Their Names Cast A Spell

But Sharing One With 'Potter' Characters Is Not Magical For Some In Maryland

July 12, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

It isn't enough of a coincidence that he shares a name with the most famous literary character on the planet. He would have to have a scar on his forehead, starting between his eyes and snaking up his forehead in a line - just like the boy wizard created by J.K. Rowling.

"Oh my lordy Hannah," says the real-life Harry E. Potter, 76, of Leonardtown. "You have no idea what it is like to have this name. Just 15 minutes ago, I got a phone call from some girls who were about 13 or 14, and who giggled a lot. And you cannot be rude to them, you know that? You cannot be rude.

"That J.K. Rowling owes me something. I'm not sure what, but she owes me."

If having the same name as his fictitious counterpart has begun to weary Potter, you can't blame him. After all, the unsought attention has been going on for 12 years, since the first novel in the seven-book series was published.

And it's not about to end anytime soon; the final movie in the series won't be released for two years.

Many of the names that Rowling chose for her characters - names such as Nymphadora, Gilderoy and Draco - are hardly common. Nonetheless, there are enough Marylanders who share a name with Rowling's wizards to make up several Quidditch teams.

Maryland has or recently had at least three Harry Potters, 16 Hermiones, 3 Siriuses, 13 men named Snape and 15 women named Narcissa. We used to have a Severus, but he's fled north. So has Maryland's only known former Bellatrix.

Though it seems that Baltimore can't boast of any residents named Dumbledore, there appears to be one in Nashville, Tenn., with the all-important first initial of "A."

For these people, the release of each new book in the canon, and each new movie - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is set for release Wednesday - is, to put it mildly, a mixed blessing.

"It was fine for a while," Potter says, noting the seemingly never-ending litany of medical professionals who bring in their children to meet him while he's sitting on their examination tables, or 3 a.m. phone calls from inebriated strangers, or autograph hounds who never tire of hearing the story about the scar. (When the real Harry Potter was 5 years old, he was playing with his cousin, who struck him in the forehead with a hatchet.)

"Each time another book or movie comes out, the phone rings off the hook for about two months," says Potter, who retired from a career in food service management. "It does get tiring. I'm seriously thinking of changing my listing in the phone book to 'H. Potter.' "

Others rely on their sense of humor to cope with their inadvertent brush with fame.

John Malcolm Snape was born in Wales, and he has a refined British accent and rich bass reminiscent of Alan Rickman, the actor who portrays potions master Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.

So when he answered the phone one day, there was a moment of silence on the line, followed by the excited tones of a young lad wanting to know if he were indeed the famous Professor Snape of the movies and books.

"I told him, 'No, that's my younger brother who works at a college in England,' " says Snape, 79, who lives in Baltimore and previously owned retail stores at the Inner Harbor, none of which seem to have stocked Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.

Harry E. Potter and John Malcolm Snape are, in a sense, victims of circumstance. But some Maryland children might have been deliberately named after Rowling's characters.

The Social Security Administration compiles an annual report of baby names, and Mae Novak, the agency's acting regional communications manager for the Philadelphia region, says that historical and cultural developments can trigger a wave of young Baracks or Scarletts.

For example, "Shirley" was the second-most popular name for girls born in 1935 and 1936, the year after Shirley Temple tap-danced her way into fans' hearts in the film Bright Eyes.

In 1978, the year after the first Star Wars movie was released, the name "Luke" rose from a ranking of 222nd in 1976 to No. 139.

Harry has always been, and continues to be, a popular name for boys in this country. To be precise, 644 baby boys were given this moniker in 2008.

Though neither "Ron" nor "Hermione" figured in the top 1,000 names last year, the highly idiosyncratic name of another friend of the boy wizard's did.

"It's very interesting," Novak says. "Luna is a girl's name that increased significantly in popularity when Rowling introduced that character in her later books."

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the first book in which Rowling introduced the big-hearted, dreamy Luna Lovegood, was published in the summer of 2003. Before then, "Luna" hadn't made the list of the 1,000 most popular names for newborn girls since 1921. Yet, in 2003, Luna ranked 890th, and by 2008, the rhythmic, two-syllable appellation had risen to No. 399.

Don Nilsen, co-author with his wife, Alleen, of a book called Names and Naming in Young Adult Literature, points out that luna is the Spanish word for "moon."

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