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My name was down for Eton, you know, I can't tell you how glad I am I came here instead. Of course, Mother was slightly disappointed, but since I made her read Lockhart's books I think she has begun to see how useful it'll be to have a fully trained wizard in the family.

I don't quite get the meaning of "My name was down for Eton"? What does it mean exactly?

~ From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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    And NOBODY who answered this picked up on the quote being from Harry Potter - Who WOULDN'T prefer to go to Hogwarts over Eton or ANY other Public school and most certainly over any State School?! :-D – kiltannen Oct 31 '18 at 6:15
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Eton is a prestigious British public school for boys. As an aside - in the British education system, a public school is a privately run school that people pay (large) fees to attend - normally a fairly old one. They're called 'public schools' because when they were established, schools were generally owned and operated by groups like the church or trade guilds, and they only educated their own members. Public Schools were open to anybody who could pay. A British public school is equivalent to a private school in the US; schools owned and operated by the government and free to all children are called state schools in the UK, public schools in the US.

Eton College is a particularly well-known and prestigious public school. Both of the current Prince of Wales's children, William and Harry, attended Eton; Nineteen of Britain's Prime Ministers have been Old Etonians; Foreign royal families have been sending their children to Eton for generations. Eton is also one of the most expensive Public Schools in Britain, currently charging about £39,000 per year.

Traditionally, parents would apply for their child's admission at the child's birth - that's no longer required, but it's still common for wealthy or prominent families to register their child early. Registration is commonly referred to as "putting one's name down" - not just in this context, but in any context. One might put their name down for the football team, for volunteer work, etc. It's a contraction of sorts, derived from "Putting (or writing) one's name down on a waiting list"

Justin Finch-Fletchley is saying that he is from a prominent and wealthy family - most likely minor aristocracy, going by his name - and that they had applied to Eton on his behalf when he was born, but he's more excited to be going to Hogwarts.

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    Probably worth pointing out that you are using the BrE meaning of "public school" (private, fee-paying, prestigious), and not the AmE meaning of "public school" (state-run, free). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Oct 29 '18 at 16:18
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    Note that in the context of the Harry Potter series, this has further meaning. I don't remember this passage specifically, but it's reasonable to assume from this that Justin comes from a family that is prominent in the muggle world, and he hasn't quite caught on to how little that means in the wizarding world. – Acccumulation Oct 30 '18 at 14:59
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    @AzorAhai The schools are not paying fees to anyone. The parents of the pupils are paying fees to the school. – Simon B Oct 30 '18 at 23:12
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    @AzorAhai It is a bit of a strange wording. It is the families that are fee-paying, but it's an oddity of English that you can describe the school as "fee-paying" as a result; the qualifier describes a requirement (or possible usage opportunity) rather than a first-person action. Consider also a "drinking glass" - the glass doesn't drink, you use it to do drinking. Or a smoking jacket, which you wear when smoking cigars - unless you drop your cigar on it, the jacket itself doesn't smoke. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 31 '18 at 10:35
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    @insanity Double-barrelled names are fairly uncommon in the UK. Most often they are used when a family name would have died out otherwise, for example if the bearer of a famous family name has only daughters. Such families are most likely aristocracy of some kind - for example the Harding-Rolls family, where the Harding family changed their name after inheriting the Rolls barony and estate. – Werrf Oct 31 '18 at 13:02
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To add on to Werrf's answer: "I was down for Eton" is a very British and a very posh way to say that the speaker was supposed to attend school at Eton when he was old enough. It immediately identifies the speaker as a particular nationality and social class (so much so that I can practically hear the speaker's accent in my mind as I read it).

Americans and other English speakers do use the similar expression "put [someone] down for" to mean "join" or "enroll" in some organization or activity. Example:

Are you going to be in the tennis tournament this afternoon? Put me down as well.

Once she had put herself down for the drama club in high school, that was it for her. The rest of her life would be spent on one stage or another.

Notice the difference in phrasing between "put down for" and simply "down for". Small differences in dialect can have large differences in nuance.

  • I love the drama example. Is that a quotation? – Scott Sauyet Oct 29 '18 at 17:58
  • @ScottSauyet No, it's original -- but I probably "borrowed" the phrasing from some source I can no longer remember. – Andrew Oct 29 '18 at 17:59
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    Good answer. Just a clarifying comment: the reason "putting one's name down for something" means to join it, comes from the practice of writing down one's name on an application form, or entrant list. Therefore my name was literally written down on the list of pupils scheduled to start at Eaton. – Chris Melville Oct 29 '18 at 18:35
  • @Andrew: Then well spoken! – Scott Sauyet Oct 29 '18 at 18:42
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    While it's true that Eton is associated with the upper crust of English society, it's worth remembering that a large proportion of Eton's students are from overseas, including the children of foreign royalty. – Werrf Oct 29 '18 at 19:15
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To have one's name down for something means: to have one's name on some list for some purpose.

It could be for anything that requires being part of a list. Either a list that anyone can be on (volunteering) or some type of elite list where some institution is making a choice about who to choose for some job, training, education, etc.

Here, Eton is an elite British secondary school. Private schools in the Uk are called public schools.

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    Only some private schools are public schools. Specifically those where the headmaster or headmistress is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. (In the 70's, that was restricted to 200 schools, but it has risen since then). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Oct 29 '18 at 16:13
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    The name comes from the school's foundation as non-guild, non-trade establishments, thus catering to the needs of the general public. This name was written into law in the Public Schools Act (1868) which regulated seven of the top boarding schools of the day. This was all several years before education became compulsory for all children. – origimbo Oct 29 '18 at 17:30
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    @Martin I don't think you're right about that conference. The very-definitely-not-public "independent" school I went to in the 80s is on that list of members, in fact at one point its headmaster was the chair. – Daniel Roseman Oct 29 '18 at 20:55
  • My day school, Alleyn's, was an HMC member from 1919, but we never gave ourselves airs about it. – Michael Harvey Oct 30 '18 at 12:52
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_school_(United_Kingdom) The H & H Conference does not change that in normal discourse, regardless of particularities. It's like saying: a (private) prep school in the US. It is still coded language for one of the snotty, expensive, hard-to-get into independent schools. as opposed to those schools funded by the state. I know because I attended a private prep school (in the US) and we had some British teachers who were always going on about this. – Lambie Oct 30 '18 at 16:14

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