A Rubia by any other name…

September 20, 2015 in On Writing by Irulan Horner

Character names are so important to me, unlike in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, where they believed names didn’t matter, I believe a name defines who you are.

You can love or hate your own name, you can even change it or sometimes learn to grow into it, as I have done.

My characters’ names are often one of the first things I decide about them. Sometimes a character pops into my head fully formed and already named, other times it takes a bit of deliberating.

Rubia wasn’t always Rubia, she was Ruby, taken from a nickname of mine. But when hunting through my Wild Flowers field guide for names I discovered a plant called Rubia Peregrina, commonly called Wild Madder. Rubia derives from the Latin ruber, meaning red and the roots of this plant were used to make red dye. Peregrina possibly comes from the Latin peragrare meaning “to travel” or “to proceed”. So Rubia was the perfect name for my feisty red-haired faerie who must journey into the dangerous world Outside in order to save her clan.

Buckthorn came fully formed and named. With his curly brown hair, cheeky smile and incorrigible behaviour he loves to make mischief all of his very own without any encouragement from me. I often find he leads me down a tangential path that I had never intended to take and often with delightful consequences. As a writer these are the magical moments when your story starts to write itself.

CorydalisWith the twins, Corydalis and Coronilla, I wanted their full names to be similar, but their nicknames to be very different, as are their personalities. Cory is named after a delicate yellow wallflower. She’s blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful and full of understanding and compassion. Nilla is named after a pink ring of flowers. She is a master of camouflage and a genius at mixing potions, with short brown hair and dark eyes.

CampionRubia’s parents and aunt have a dark and mysterious past. Their names needed to bind them together. Mother, Celandine – a bright yellow flower often mistaken for a buttercup. Father, Campion, an intense pink flower that butterflies love. Aunt, Valerian, the roots of the red variety can be used as a sedative. Not only do each of these plant names suit their characters, they are often the first three flowers to emerge in the spring.

For me each character name has been chosen with care. I know the names of all 58 of the clan members who live within my faerie Circle and I know most of the names of the characters Rubia meets along her journey. Some names, like Vetchling, Mezerion and Persicaria, lend themselves to darker character who will trick and misguide her. Whereas other names, such as Ptera, Betony and Gentian belong to those who will help Rubia to find what she’s looking for, the missing Source magic.