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Is JK Rowling Racist? JK Rowling Naming Characters, Explained

Why did we ignore the red flags?

J.K. Rowling arrives at the "Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore" world premiere at The Royal Festival Hall

With the release of Hogwarts Legacy and J. K. Rowling’s ever-growing TERF behavior, everything about the Harry Potter franchise is being re-evaluated. Many former fans are finally coming to realize Rowling’s use of bank-running goblins is an antisemitic trope. A trope that the developers of the Hogwarts Legacy video game kept as one of the central elements of their story.

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Hogwarts Legacy tried to pivot away from Rowling’s transphobic rhetoric by tossing in a transgender non-playable character that fans are less than thrilled with. One point of contention with this new character is her name: Sirona Ryan. The prefix “Sir” seems a little strange. But honestly, it continues the tradition of the terrible name tradition started by Rowling. There are dumb names that are way too on the nose like Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. With her non-British and non-white characters, Rowling goes from silly to completely racist. Let’s refresh ourselves with Rowling’s stereotypical and racist character names.

The racism was all right there for us to read…

Many of the white characters in the Harry Potter book series have interesting and unique names. There is Albus Dumbledore, Hermione Granger, Severus Snape, and Minerva McGonagall. It is like Rowling took time and effort to construct magical-sounding names. She even took the time to name Harry’s owl Hedwig after St. Hedwig, the patron saint of orphans. But when it came to naming the non-white and non-British characters, she lost the thread of decency.

Unimaginatively, she named the French girl Fleur Delacour (which means “flower of the court”) and her storyline is basically just being a pretty girl. The guy from eastern Europe is Viktor Krum. I guess the hard “k” sounds let us know where he’s from. The only two characters of Indian descent are twin sisters named Padma and Parvati Patil, generic names from the region they are supposed to be from. Seamus Finnegan is one of the few Irish characters, so of course, that is his name. He is known for his penchant for blowing things up and trying to turn water into alcohol as a child. I guess that is all Irish people are known for?

Rowling has been accused of antisemitism, so to combat that, she pointed out there was a Jewish wizard. One Jewish wizard around Harry’s age. In the whole of the UK. One (1). Named Anthony Goldstein. In her tweet to describe him, Rowling only said: “Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard.” Not you know, what he does or how he connects to the story or anything relevant other than that she put a Jewish wizard somewhere because he isn’t even in the movies and makes only minor appearances in the fifth and sixth books. She could have said something like: “Of course there are Jewish wizards! Everyone is welcome in the Wizarding World!” But that only occurred in the fanfiction version of the conversation.

The vast majority of Harry Potter characters are white. Any characters of color are regulated to side roles of no real consequence. At Hogwarts, the Black students are Lee Jordan, Angela Johnson, Dean Thomas, and Blaise Zabini. They kind of exist like seat fillers in Harry’s peripheral rather than being central characters. I guess that isn’t the worst. But then Rowling had to outdo herself and named the only Black adult character Kingsley Shacklebolt. Yes, his last name, the name of his pure-blood wizard family that came to England, is Shackle-Bolt.

Then there is Cho Chang. As the only East Asian character, she is probably the most racist and stereotypical character in the entire series. Her name is a combination of two common surnames from two entirely different Asian cultures. If you have any doubts about how much this character was wronged, check out the video of Rachel Rostad’s poem, “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang.” The actress who played Cho, Katie Leung, spoke about racist attacks she faced from Harry Potter fans just for playing the character.

Sadly, there is a long history of Western culture co-opting Asian cultures and dehumanizing Asian women. Rowling continued that fetishization with Cho. She is introduced in the books as a love interest for Harry. She giggles a lot and is known for being cute. And she is in Ravenclaw, the house of all the smart kids. Only Harry can’t have her because she’s interested in a different basic white boy, Cedric Diggory. After Cedric dies, her character vacillates from crying all the time (understandable, as her boyfriend just died and Hogwarts doesn’t seem big on providing trauma counseling) or just being a placeholder for Harry to lust after (before eventually marrying a white girl who he notes “doesn’t cry”).

Many remaining fans of Rowling may argue she isn’t racist and that we are misconstruing her words or taking things wrong. But we should all remember that Rowling was an adult woman with a college degree when she wrote Harry Potter. She could have picked any names and personalities for her fictional characters, yet decided Kingsley Shacklebolt and Cho Chang were the best choices she could make.

(featured image: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.

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