My wife Sarah is fascinated by names — the traditions associated with naming a child, the trends that names go through, and the meanings of names and their various translations in different languages.
All interesting stuff, but why is this relevant to Star Wars? Sarah joined me for this first time at a toy fair in New York early last year, and she noticed something that I hadn’t — in fact, it was something that nobody else outside the Lucasfilm Story Group had, that the character names from Star Wars Rebels seemed to be inspired by historical and biblical names. I wasn’t able to confirm this directly with Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg until the press conference at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim in April.
Upon asking the question, about where the names for the Rebels characters came from, Simon Kinberg was the first to respond: “One of the things we did say consciously was that there was a biblical sense to the naming and to sort of seriousness of purpose of the original movies. The cloaks themselves have a form or religious feel to them. We were aware that there was an element of that from the original films that we were trying to connect to.”
Dave Filoni continued: “I like to point out when I get in the room with the writers that the names in Star Wars are very purposeful, but when you get into the Expanded Universe, they become often become very odd and contain a lots of x, y’s, and z’s and hyphens and that’s all fine, but when you’re in a medium like we are, you know Han Solo, the guy’s pretty much by himself — and that’s kind of the genius of George [Lucas], and he would disguise this stuff and I didn’t think about that when I was a kid.
“Names have a purpose, if you know someone’s full name in folklore then you have a power over them, because to know their name gives you an understanding of who they are. To make up a name that is odd, you know just for the sake of it that sounds like a space world name, isn’t really what Star Wars does. I think having these names, like Hera, a very purposeful name for the type of character she is, Chopper is a very destructive little character that causes problems and chops things up — yes it’s blatant, but when the characters work and you like the characters it doesn’t matter and you just accept them. Ezra was definitely a connection to the fact that I liked the name Luke and it was a real kid’s name. We [Simon and I] both actually know a kid named Ezra in our lives, and I’m like ‘that sounds like Star Wars to me.’ There was a slight in intention around Bridger in that the character is a bridge between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy — there is a bridging of topics.”
Also during the answer, Freddie Prinze Jr. asked where Chopper’s name came from, “Was it Old Testament or New Testament?” So it’s possible that not all the names came from the Bible. I spoke to Pablo Hidalgo of the Lucasfilm Story Group about the naming of the characters over lunch at Lucasfilm last month, and he confirmed what Filoni and Kinberg had said, but added that Kanan’s name, whilst it might sound biblical, actually came from a road in Malibu called Kanan Dume Road!
Here are the meanings behind the names in Star Wars Rebels, and you can see how they directly relate to our favorite characters in the show.
Ezra means “help” or “helper.” The biblical Ezra was a priest who established an assembly of scribes, prophets, and sages to formalize the religious law. Maybe this indicates how Ezra will grow in Season Two and beyond?
Hera was the ancient Greek goddess whose name means “protector.” The wife and sister of Zeus, she was the goddess of women, childbirth, and marriage.
The story of the Sabine women is a legend that comes from Ancient Rome. The city was predominantly populated by men, so what did they do? They invited along a local tribe, the Sabians, and abducted their women. When the Sabians later tried to retrieve their women, the wives decided they were happy in Rome. The story was used to good effect in the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which was based on the short story The Sobbin’ Women by Stephen Vincent Benét, which in turn was based on legend.
In various traditions, Kanan means forest or jungle, friend, or guide. It can also be a reference to the biblical land of Canaan. In Arabic, Kanan means trader or merchant. So although his name came from a road in Malibu, it fits very well with his character.
So maybe in a few years, we will see a new cohort of little Kanans, Ezras, Sabines, and Heras, but will they be the children of history buffs, or will they be born to the next generation of Star Wars fans? Thanks to my wonderful wife Sarah who helped me with this article — in fact, her full Hebrew name is “Sara Leia.” Sara in Hebrew means “princess,” meaning I married my very own Princess Leia!
James Burns co-owns and runs Jedi News (with Mark Newbold) — the largest English-speaking Star Wars fan site in Europe — is the co-host of the UK-centric RADIO 1138 podcast, and is a regular contributor to Star Wars Insider and Build the Millennium Falcon magazines. You can also listen to James as part of the monthly Star Wars Collectors Cast, discussing all the latest Star Wars collecting news with Steve Sansweet, a fellow StarWars.com blogger, about the latest goings at Rancho Obi-Wan.