When I first heard the name of the wizarding school in America (Ilvermorny), I was unimpressed. When I heard the names of the houses, I was disappointed. Sure, Thunderbird and Horned Serpent are pretty cool, but Wampus? Pukwudgie?? Get serious. So I did what we all do when life isn’t treating us right: I complained on social media. More than one person pointed out that Hogwarts is a pretty awful name, and that’s when I realized what was happening: I hated the names because they didn’t mean anything to me.
How many of us giggled or even rolled our eyes when we first read about Hogwarts? Who in their right mind would name their school after bumps on a pig? None of the images that went with the name were pleasant. But over time, we got used to it. Not only did we get used to it, we came to love it. If you asked me where I wish I had gone to school, Hogwarts is the answer — the very same Hogwarts I reviled when I first heard of it.
Why are we okay with the name Hogwarts? Because of association. I don’t see a bumpy pig, I see a magical castle full of interesting professors and wizarding students. Everything Harry Potter and his friends have done there are associated with the name, as are the characters of Dumbledore, Remus Lupin, Minerva McGonagall, and more. The name now has meaning for me that goes far beyond the words in front of my eyes. Instead of thinking it’s a stupid name, I love it, because I love the story that goes with it.
This realization made me look up Ilvermorny on Pottermore and read about the founding of the school. I think J.K. Rowling has another book here, but she’s made it into a compelling short story. I found out what a Pukwudgie is, as well as Wampus. And as soon as I had read the article, I realized the words look different to me now, sound different. I don’t find them as awkward or weird as I did when I first met them. Now I associate them with things (the story of Isolt Sayre and the founding of a magical school in America) and I like them better because of it.
All of this has reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:
…there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. — Hamlet, Act 2 Sc. 2
For me, this has been a great lesson in remembering that how I feel about something is all about experience and association. Good and bad are judgments and having nothing to do with what is. That thing is just a thing. How I think about it depends on how I feel about what I’ve experienced in association with it. It’s that simple.
How about you? Do you find that association can change your perception of something?
4 thoughts on “Loving Hogwarts: The Power Of Association”
Well said. I was also skeptical about the name “Ilvermorny” because it sounded just like a quaint little cottage, not an awesome school. But her story confirmed it! And the story itself about Sayer risking her life to journey across the ocean is an impressive one; what little we know about her, there’s much to admire about Isolt’s courage and compassion.
It reminds me of times I’ve tried to describe what’s so good about a book or series to a friend yet in the end they just have to dive into it to see if they’ll like it as much. Once you get to know a character and their story, we can associate their name with the admirable qualities that they carry.
I thought it sounded like an illness or complaint! There is an art to giving things powerful names and when you have a world with as many pieces as Rowling does, maybe it’s no surprise she’s got some weird ones in there.
Oh yes, JK Rowling doesn’t choose her character names by accident. “Harry Potter” was meant to be a generic mainstream name but other characters aren’t that. “Malfoy” i.e. malvolent (evil), Draco i.e. Dragon/Dracula. Calling a teacher “Slughorn” sounds unpleasant too.
On the flip-side you have Albus (like Alba, meaning “bright” or white”), Aurelius means “golden”, Newt is short for Newton, makes me think of Isaac Newton, Seraphina is like “Seraph”, an angel.
All good writers think about the names they use… but sometimes you have to wonder if she wasn’t a little too literal. Bellatrix is “female warrior” for example. And of course Remus Lupin’s name is a double dead giveaway.