What It’s Like to Share a Name With Lord Voldemort from 'Harry Potter'

Voldemort
Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort. An informal survey finds that most guys named Tom Riddle don't look like this. Warner Bros. Pictures

Previously: What It’s Like to Be Named Taylor Swift in 2014

A LinkedIn search for “Tom Riddle” reveals 123 results. These professionals—middle-aged, American muggles, for the most part—carry around a frightful secret that isn’t really secret at all: For 16 years, they’ve each shared a name with Lord Voldemort.

His given name, we mean. Harry Potter fans will recognize it immediately: The Dark Lord, we learn in 1998’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is actually named Tom Marvolo Riddle, which itself is an anagram for “I Am Lord Voldemort.” These men, though, are not Lord Voldemort, they insist, despite the children, bookstore clerks and brothers-in-law who repeatedly mistake them as such. They do not drink unicorn blood or command Death Eaters. Mostly, they occupy mundane jobs as accountants and financial advisers. Still, evil reputation aside, they seemed more enthused about their name than the Taylor Swifts and Lena Dunhams we interviewed.

The Tom Riddles interviewed for this piece include:

  • Tom Riddle of Washington, D.C., a 30-year-old accountant;

  • Tom Riddle of Bangkok, a 63-year-old photographer and filmmaker who takes pictures and makes movies for nongovernmental organizations;

  • Tom Riddle of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the founder and owner of a financial advisory practice;

  • Tom Riddle of Houston, a 61-year-old general manager at Shell;

  • Tom Riddle of Kenton County in Kentucky, a 56-year-old computer software engineer;

  • Tom Riddle of Philadelphia, a 55-year-old director at a nutraceutical company;

  • and Tom Riddle of Marlborough, Massachusetts, a high-tech business consultant in his “mid-50s.”

Each Dark Lord shared their experiences with Newsweek in separate phone conversations, except for Tom Riddle of Bangkok, who replied via email. Here is what it’s like to be named Tom Riddle in the 21st century. 

Tom Riddle Tom Riddle of Marlborough Photo via Tom Riddle

On how they first learned they shared a name with Lord Voldemort:

Tom Riddle, Bethlehem: I recruited [a woman] who is now my senior vice president, who had some young children when she started to work for me. The second day she came on board, she said, “When I went home and told my daughter who I just interviewed [with] for a job, my daughter got concerned and afraid and said, ‘Oh, mommy. You’re not going to work for Tom Riddle?’” That’s when I found out that this was something that was going to hang around for a while.

Tom Riddle, Kenton County: It was my daughter that pointed it out to me after she had read the Harry Potter book. That was probably around the year 2000. I said, “Well, that's kind of nice.” She was a counselor at a YMCA camp and one of the things that she put in a trivia question was the fact that her dad was Lord Voldemort.

Tom Riddle, Washington: A cousin of mine is just a couple years younger, was right at that age when the books were coming out. I was over at his house one day and he said, "Hey, your name's in this book!" I said, "Really?" I'd never heard of Harry Potter at the time. But he told me, and I said, "Who is that guy?" "Well, he's kind of a bad guy."

Tom Riddle, Houston: Not a day goes by that someone doesn't say something. And it's really pretty funny. It's all spectrums of "It seems like I've heard that name somewhere" to kind of embarrassed "Are you aware that your name is a major character in Harry Potter." Other people are more direct, like "What's it like to be Lord Voldemort?"

Tom Riddle Tom Riddle of Houston Tom Riddle

On the strangest experiences caused by being named Tom Riddle:

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: The one thing that was really spooky was we watched one of the movies and when I saw the gravestone that said Tom Riddle, it gave me a shiver up my spine. Just the spookiest feeling I’ve ever had in my life.… It's like you're meeting your mortality. It hit me in a way I never expected.

Tom Riddle, Washington: My wife’s younger brother, when we started dating, had me in his phone as “The Dark Lord.”

Tom Riddle, Bethlehem: I probably had the most crowd presence in Scotland when I was over there this summer. I was at a little pub in St. Andrews. They saw my credit card and the waiter came over and said, “Are you really Tom Riddle?” and I said “Yeah” and by the time this swept through the bar, the owner came out, had her picture taken with me and a bunch of other people. Must have been a dozen other people in that picture. I made a joke of it. I said I had a failed romance [with J.K. Rowling] and this is what she did to me.

Tom Riddle, Washington: In my old apartment building, they had put a piece of my mail in someone else's mailbox. I realized that because when I came home someone had left it on top of the mailbox, circled my name and wrote "Voldemort?" And left it there for the apartment building to see.

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: I was at Home Depot one day and there was a customer that had to go to the services counter. They paged somebody named Harry Potter.… It was something that was really cool that actually happened at the Marlborough Massachusetts Home Depot.

Tom Riddle, Bangkok: I went to a museum in Nepal, and they wanted to see my ID. "Do you recognize my name?" I asked the young woman. "No." "Well, in the USA I'm famous—everybody knows my name. Here it's a relief not be so well-known." "Please give me your autograph," the woman said. "Usually I don't like to do that, but for you, it's OK." I then wrote: "Tom Riddle always uses his magic to do good. Good luck always —Tom Riddle"

Tom Riddle, Washington: Sometimes it's just a little weird when people bring it up. I've been checking out at the grocery store, closing a bar tab, and people just see it on the credit card—people who don't know me. And every now and then someone will make me pull out my driver's license to prove it.

Tom Riddle, Bethlehem: I made a reservation once at a restaurant in a suburb of Philadelphia… At the end of the conversation I told [the host] my name and he goes, “Oh come on, who’s pulling my leg? Who’s this really?” I said, “This is Tom Riddle.” He said, “If you show me your driver’s license and it says Tom Riddle, I’ll buy you a drink.” I said, “I’m Tom Riddle, here’s my driver’s license.” He said, “What do you want to drink?” I said, “I’ll take an Irish whiskey.” By the time I was done with that Irish whiskey, there was a little enclave of Harry Potter fans cheering me.

On the unexpected perks of being named Tom Riddle:

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: It turned out to be a real positive from a business perspective. What I do is sales. So it’s a great conversation piece. People are much more likely to pick up the phone if they hear it’s Tom Riddle.

Tom Riddle, Houston: Everybody needs a little bit of brand recognition. Even inside my company, it’s kind of helped. People don’t forget my name. I also am pretty Google-proof. You’ll never find any personal information out about me. That’s an advantage.

Tom Riddle, Bangkok: Often the name creates instant friends. I can be standing in line and showing my ID when someone will say, "Tom Riddle, what a cool name! Is that your real name?"

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: It was a great conversation starter. And a lot more people answered the phone, I suspected, because of the name. You knew that when a senior executive who's making $600,000 to 700,000 a year all of a sudden picks up the phone and laughs and says, “Hey, Voldemort, how are ya!” You know that's the reason they pick up the phone.

Tom Riddle, Bethlehem: Even last night I was giving a presentation about financial planning topics and one woman came up to me after and said, “How do you like sharing your name with Lord Voldemort?” I said, “Well, it’s a conversation piece.”

Tom Riddle, Philadelphia: I first moved to Philadelphia and went to my dentist for the first time. When I walked in, everybody who worked in the office was standing up behind the counter. There were like 10 people behind the counter. They were like, "We are here because we wanted to see what Tom Riddle really looked like." 

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: My wife and I took the kids down to New York City to see a Harry Potter exhibit where they had all the things from the set and the props and all the clothes. It was an hour wait out front. It was really cold. So I went up to the front of the line and showed them my driver's license. And they let us right in and they treated us like kings.

Tom Riddle, Philadelphia: I also think I've been called on interviews just because of my name. I have like 700 or 800 Twitter followers and I don't really do much and I think it's all because of my name.

Tom Riddle Tom Riddle of Bangkok uses a drone with his GoPro Hero3+ camera. Tom Riddle/thomasriddle.net

...and the downsides:

Tom Riddle, Houston: Probably just being asked to pose for photographs. I ask people, “Do you want me to look really mean or evil? What do you want?” Another time I called up Barnes & Noble because a friend of mine wanted me to look for a book. I said, “Will you hold it for Tom Riddle?” It was a person in a bookstore. They almost hung up the phone on me.

Tom Riddle, Bangkok: Only once was having a special name a problem. I wrote a letter of recommendation for a friend who wanted to come to the USA and that friend took the letter to the American Embassy in Bangkok. The clerk at the desk in the embassy saw the name on the letter and thought that it was a joke.

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: When I signed up for Facebook, they wouldn't let me use the name. I had to go through this secondary authentication process. Because they said my name was not legal or couldn't be used. I've got a lot of people wanting to Facebook me.

Tom Riddle, Houston: I think a lot of times people are too polite when you make a reservation or something. I think they assume you're using a pseudonym, especially for a hotel and you show up with a woman and they think, “Oh, is he having an affair, is this a fake name or whatever?”

On inadvertently frightening children:

Tom Riddle, Houston: My boss decided to have a party one Friday night. It happened to be on Halloween, but it wasn’t a Halloween party because it was a foreign company. She had a son who was about 8 or 9 years old, who knew it was Halloween. And someone, as a joke, told him, “Tom Riddle’s at the party.” He went around asking people until he came up to me and said, “Are you really Tom Riddle?” I looked at him and said “Yes” and he ran away crying. I was like, “Oh shit, did I just end my career?” No repercussions.

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: As soon as the Harry Potter books became famous, my wife and my two boys loved them. They’d read them all the time. My kids were so young that they got a little scared of me.

Tom Riddle, Washington: My wife convinced me to read [the books]. I thought they were good. She thinks I’m afraid to read them to my kids when they’re older because I don’t want them to be too afraid of their father.

Tom Riddle, Philadelphia: A woman who works for me had brought her little son to work. When she introduced him to me by name, he got all shy and started hiding behind her and wouldn't talk. She's like, “Tom, I don't know what's the matter with him, I can't shut him up at home.” The next day she brought in the book and said, “Hey I found out what was wrong with my son. He was reading these books, and you're the most evil wizard who ever lived, so he's afraid of you.”

Tom Riddle, Bangkok: If I am around children they will often be especially fascinated. I often tell them, “Yes, that’s my real name and J.K. Rollins [sic] took it from the tombstone of my great, great grandfather. And she never gave me a dime for it either.”

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: My kids all of a sudden, and their friends, being afraid of me was kind of a weird side effect.... They were young. They were asking me if my last name was really Voldemort, did I have a past life, stuff like that. We assured them it was just a movie and just a book. And they were very relieved.

Tom Riddle A young Tom Riddle, as depicted in 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' Warner Bros. Pictures

On sharing a name with the most notorious character in recent literature:

Tom Riddle, Houston: I think that's cool. I tell people, “This is me at my day job. You have no idea what happens later.”

Tom Riddle, Kenton County: I think that [I am] very different from Mr. Voldemort. It's better to trust the Bible and overcome evil with good. Overcome evil with good. Voldemort, I think, is all about revenge and evil. That's no way to live! It's a constant internal turmoil if you try to get even with people.

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: I'd like to change my name to something else that's a famous character of notoriety. First I thought it was a nuisance, then I loved it, and now I'm sad it's leaving and kind of wish it'd hang around a little longer.

Tom Riddle, Philadelphia: I would much prefer to be the evil one than the other one. It just seems to be more attractive... It's always more fun to be the bad guy than the good guy.

Tom Riddle, Washington: A couple of people have cursed me for trying to hurt Harry Potter. Friends, not strangers.

Tom Riddle, Houston: It doesn't bother me to be a villain. People know it's all a fantasy. I think it's actually helped me.

On what they would tell J.K. Rowling if they met her:

Tom Riddle, Washington: First off, I’m a fan of your books. You’ve given me a lot of notoriety. Most people think it’s a bad thing. I actually think it’s kind of fun sharing a name with someone like that. Makes people wonder if there’s a dark side to me.

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: I loved the character Lord Voldemort. I'd thank her for naming the character Tom Riddle and tell her how great it's been for my life and how fun it is.

Tom Riddle, Bethlehem: When I was in Scotland this summer, I was very close to Edinburgh, Scotland. J.K. Rowling lives in Edinburgh. I said, “Wow, this is pretty close to her.” I’d love to meet her someday and ask her, so what did she think of first? Did she think of the name Tom Riddle? Or did she think of the name Lord Voldemort?

Tom Riddle, Houston: I’d tell her thanks for using my name. I don’t know where you came up with it. But really she did me a huge favor.

Tom Riddle, Marlborough: I wish she'd make another book or two. Or another movie or two. Anything that keeps the character popular.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that "Tom Marvolo Riddle" is an acronym for "I Am Lord Voldemort." We of course meant to say that it is an anagram, not an acronym.