What’s In A Name? Decoding the Symbolism Behind Star Wars Names.
“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare once asked. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The name’s the game and it has tremendous importance in mythology. IF you think I’m bazonkers, you won’t be alone, but you also won’t be right. There is actually a thing about this called “Kabalarians” in which, as their website boldly declares, “Since 1930 proving your names shape your life.” I prefer the mythology, but either way we both agree that names are significant. After the break we’ll take a closer look at the names in Star Wars…
Star Wars as we all know is a fantasy mythology set in outer space, called “space opera.” Mythology and symbolism go hand-in-hand as deep psychological concepts are brought to light through the symbolism of mythology. Symbols are important to the human psyche because they are often visual representations of complex ideas in which people make good, bad or neutral associations. I show you a symbol and you immediately understand the story behind it.
Symbols and their associations are important pretty much in all aspects of artistic endeavor, especially in story-telling — literature, television and cinema. As such words are just as important as visual symbols as they, too, create strong associations which help to represent the character and/or themes of the central saga. It is little wonder that we find so many of these symbolic names within the Star Wars universe and NOT just weird sci-fi “space names.” There is a lot more to these characters than meets the eye and I’m NOT talking “Transformers” here. Screen Crush did their own name analysis, but aided by the Kabalarian “instant name analysis.” I, however, will give you my own thoughts on names in Star Wars.
THE PREQUEL TRILOGY
ANAKIN = We’re introduced to “The Chosen One” who will bring balance to the Force. Anakin Skywalker is the quintessential Star Wars character and essentially the crux of the entire saga as both hero and villain. His name has several interesting facets. For instance, he was called “Ani” as a nickname. Ani is a kind of bird and of course birds are associated with flying or in the case of mythology “Skywalking.” Anakin Skywalker was a great pilot. Anakin has all kinds of connotations associated with his name, too many to list here.
PADME = Sounds similar to Padma, which is Sanskrit for “lotus” flower.
AMIDALA = Back during the PT days, fans claimed that this was an anagram of “Dalai Lama.” It’s not a precise anagram but it seems more than coincidence that Queen Amidala was a child ruler of her people in very similar fashion to how the next Dalai Lama is chosen, identified in childhood as the next ruler of Buddhists.
QUI-GON JINN = Jinn in Arabic mythology were beings that were supernatural, just below Angels and Demons. Jinn is where the word “Genie” is derived from. Genies use magic to grant wishes and in the Star Wars universe Qui-Gon used its equivalent as the Force. For an interesting, but all-too-brief, read on symbols in these names check out kenobi.dk.
NUTE = Or as we know the word “newt,” which is a kind of amphibian meant to elicit an association with lizards and serpents. And of course serpents have been depicted as evil for ages as the king of all serpents, as the story goes, caused the fall of Adam and Eve.
GUNRAY = Is simply “raygun” that has been transposed. As this character’s story plays out we learn that he is used as a weapon by the Phantom Menace pulling the strings behind the scenes.
DARTH SIDIOUS = Darth is a title that means “dark.” Therefore dark side practitioners, (IE Sith) adopt names that reflect their character. This is the height of name symbolism in Star Wars. In Palpatine’s case he was dubbed “Sidious.” This is a shortening of the word “insidious,” which means “causing harm in a way that is gradual or not easily noticed.” The Phantom Menace.
DARTH MAUL = This is obvious as his name is his character: “to attack and injure (someone) in a way that cuts or tears skin : to attack (someone) and cause a bloody injury.” He was used simply as Darth Sidious’ hitman.
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS
STAR WARS: REBELS
KANAN = Jedi Kanan most obviously elicits associations, at least for this Blogger, with the Canaan of the Bible. This isn’t an essay on the history of the word, but briefly Canaan was a land that was derived from a grandson of Noah:
Canaan first appears as one of Noah’s grandsons during the narrative known as the Curse of Ham, in which Canaan is cursed with perpetual slavery because his father Ham had “looked upon” the drunk and naked Noah.
The land of Canaan was a very important location in ancient times. Jedi Kanan could be considered cursed in the sense that he is one of the last of his kind — Jedi — being hunted down unto extinction. Although not a slave in the strictest sense, Kanan leads a very meager existence as he and his band of neerdowells attempt to eke out a living while battling the evil Empire.
EZRA = Like Canaan, Ezra has much Biblical significance. It is believed that the name Ezra is derived from “Azaryahu” or “God helps.” In the context of Star Wars we could read Ezra as “The Force helps.”
BRIDGER = Bridge means link, span, or nexus. Ezra Bridger is a hero in Star Wars that bridges the gap between the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy.
HERA = Unlike Kanan and Ezra, Hera is founded in Greek mythology. Hera was a sister and wife to the Uber-God, Zeus. Hera was also the goddess of women and marriage. It then becomes no wonder that she is the love interest of Kanan.
KALLUS = Whereas the hero’s name is usually veiled, some moreso than others, villains often have obvious names. Case in point Agent Kallus. His name is a spelling variant of the word “callous” which is defined as “not feeling or showing any concern about the problems or suffering of other people.” Agent Kallus’ character is his name.
ZARE LEONIS = This Imperial Stormtrooper cadet’s name is quite obvious. Leo is the sign for the lion in astrology. Lions are noble creatures, “kings of the jungle.” Fierce and mighty.
THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY
LUKE = Has Biblical implications as well, but obviously is a play on the creator’s own name — LUC, as in GEORGE LUCAS. Interestingly enough, Harrison Ford was in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in which he also played “Luke,” Colonel Lucas as an homage to George.
SKYWALKER = This is the holy of holies when it comes to Star Wars names. Obviously this grandiose name conjures visions of someone who is so great and powerful, almost divine, that he can walk on air. At the very least the Skywalker lineage are great pilots as they have a great command of air and space (walking above the air in the heavens.) Probably whole books could be written about the significance of this name in the Star Wars mythos.
HAN SOLO = Just as Luke Skywalker has a very fitting name for his character, so, too, does Han Solo. Han Solo was the “space cowboy.” As his name implies he was a loner, at least when it came to his own humankind. He did have a sidekick, friend, and protector named Chewbacca. But this sidekick doesn’t mitigate or lessen the symbolism behind being Solo. Han, at least at first, was a mercenary out for his own neck first and foremost, which is an important trait of the loner archetype.
DARTH VADER = This is the fallen title of Anakin Skywalker — “Dark Father” — the father of Luke and Leia.
YODA = Resembles “yoga” or “yogi” which is defined as a “guru” or spiritual adviser or master. Obviously, Yoda was a Jedi Master and trained hundreds of Jedi during his 900+ years. His last padawan was Luke Skywalker.
THE SEQUEL TRILOGY
And now we finally have some names to go along with the new faces of the franchise, the new characters that were revealed to us in “Black Friday’s” teaser trailer . . .
BB-8 = Like just about every droid in the galaxy far, far away, this one has an apha-numeric designation. In this case BB-8 couldn’t be more on the nose as the letter “B” resembles and 8 which is exactly what this droid resembles — two spheroids stacked atop each other. BB connotes “BB gun” or “BB’s” more round spherical, in this case, projectiles. Does BB-8 contain some secret weaponry? BB also reminds one of “ball bearings” as it rolls across the desert landscape — a real practical prop and NOT CGI. Lastly, eight happens to be my favorite number as it is the only perfectly symmetrical number. Here’s a snippet about 8 in numerology:
It is true that the number 8, more than any other number, puts the emphasis in the areas of career, business, finances and authority. However, as with many other single-digit numbers, the shape of the number reflects its most important attribute, and in the case of the number 8, that is, first and foremost, balance. The 8 is the great Karmic equalizer, a force that just as easily creates as it destroys. When the 8 comes knocking, you can be assured that you will reap what you’ve sown.
Balance . . . Force . . . It appears that 8 has a special place in JJ’s heart as well. Consider that in the epic show LOST, eight was one of the legendary numbers — 4 8 15 16 23 42. Also, JJ Abrams directed a movie entitled Super 8. Oh, and the teaser trailer was 88 seconds long. Hmmm . . .
POE = This X-Wing pilot played by Oscar Isaac looks pretty surly, like, he’s all business and his business is kicking ass and taking names. The name “Poe” is most famously associated with the macabre writer Edgar Allen Poe. EAP elicits words such as “dour,” “sullen,” and “gloomy.” It’s hard to tell based on a clip lasting only a few seconds, but this could be the temperament or disposition of Poe Dameron.
DAMERON = Dameron is also an interesting name as it also draws dark associations — DAM, or, more precisely, to be damned or cursed. OR in a more literal sense a dam as in blockage. This character’s name is full of dark symbolism.
KYLO REN = This figure figures to be evil. The caption reads “Kylo Ren ignites HIS lightsaber.” Either that’s deliberate misinformation or this is definitely a man, who we have speculated to be played by Adam Driver. So we should expect this character to be a Sith or dark side practitioner. But what of his name. Of the new characters his sounds, perhaps, the strangest. Well, a “wren” is a small type of bird, adding to the bird motif. NOT exactly a fearsome eagle, falcon, or raven . . . BUT it looks like this name has JJ Abram’s signature all over it. How? Well JJ conceived a book/online experience called “S” (“Ship of Theseus”) in which birds were pivotal clues:
This delicate balance of two seeming opposites or incongruences is reflected throughout S. Signe Rabe (p 361) means, literally, sign of the raven. The raven is also known as the wolf-bird, which represents the balance of the bird-figures of the skies and the wolf-figures of the earth that come together in the creation myth.
But, wait, there’s more! One of our Bloggers, Dekka129, has recognized that the name “Kylo” contains pairs of letters found in Original Trilogy characters — sKYwalker and soLO. AND an anonymous poster astutely commented in the Blog that Kylo Ren in reverse looks like this NEROlyk, or to be precise, Nero-like. Movie buffs will no doubt remember that “Nero” was the Eric Bana portrayed villain in the 2009 Abrams Star Trek reboot. It looks like Abrams has a preoccupation with the infamous Roman Emperor Nero, known for his ruthlessness and debauchery, infamously burned Rome and played a fiddle as his inferno raged. Nero represents contemptible disregard for human life and cunning madness:
He was rumored to have had captured Christians dipped in oil, and then set on fire in his garden at night as a source of light.
This practitioner of the dark side of the Force will be purely evil.
I saved the most interesting names for last. They are NOT interesting for what we see, but what we don’t see, as in LAST NAMES. This, in my opinion, is because JJ et al did not want to spoil the surprise as to who these two characters are. Quite obviously the last names are very revealing I suspect.
FINN = I think of a shark fin. A sharp and angular blade that cuts and slices. His absentee last name is interesting. There are many possibilities obviously. Could it be “Calrissian?” Well, we heard rumors way back that Rebels had some connection to the Sequel Trilogy. Could Finn’s last name be “Leonis?”
REY = My first reactions are the most obvious ones — Rey as in sunray or “ray of sunshine,” or “ray of light,” or “ray of hope.” These are all aporpos as she is surely the heroin — who cuts through darkness — during the Sequel Trilogy. But upon further inspection Rey could also be influenced by Greek myth as a play on the name “Rhea” (Ray-ah.) Of particular interest:
Most ancient etymologists derived Rhea (‘Ρέα) by metathesis from έρα “ground”, but a tradition embodied in Plato and in Chrysippus connected the word with ῥέω (rheo), “flow”, “discharge”, which is what LSJ supports. Alternatively, the name Rhea may be connected with words for the pomegranate, ῥόα, later ῥοιά.
The name of the bird species rhea is derived from the goddess name Rhea.
Recall the wisdom of the ascended Masters:
“Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him” – Obi-Wan
“Yes. A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force.” – Yoda
Rey is also missing her last name. Is this because it’s “Solo?” Rumors of her living alone on a desert planet would be fitting if this is indeed the case. Let us know what you think in the comments below and in The Cantina.