Choosing Names for My Characters in Brave

Merida Drake and Elinor Keyes, two of the namesakes for the movie "Brave." Photo by David Lanterman/Lincoln Theater 4 via the Lincoln Courier.

I’ve had so many people ask about how I chose the names for my characters in Brave, I figured it was time to write about it. When I start thinking of a story, I always start with my characters. They start with descriptions, like younger sister or dark haired boy, but then that soon gets old to write, especially when their personalities start to peek through, and I want to name them. With the opportunity to create my own characters for Brave, I knew they had to be personally meaningful – just as the inspiration for the story was very personal to me.

As much as I was inspired by my daughter, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to use her name. That would have been a bit too on the nose. I needed two special female names for the mother and daughter of my story. My mom’s name was Ruby. That didn’t sound too European, in fact it didn’t sound European at all – and I wanted to set the film in Europe. (I hadn’t quite settled it in Scotland, but that decision wasn’t too far away!) My grandmother’s name was Oma – which means Grandma in German (so I’m told)… so that wasn’t going to work. Maude (my other grandmother) didn’t quite work for royalty – sorry, Grandma. Great. No help from my family on this front. So now what?

I took myself back in time (in my mind, of course!) to my childhood in my hometown of Beason, Illinois. And it was there that I found those elusive names. Two wonderful pillars of the community. Sweet women who always had a kind word for a chubby little girl with scabby knees and mussed up hair. Always encouraging me when I showed good manners, drew a picture, played the piano and sang a song. One was my Sunday school teacher – whom I can never remember frowning. She always had a sweet smile on her face.

And her name? Elinor Keyes. Elinor. What a beautiful name that felt regal and yet gentle at the same time…but although Elinor Keyes was a small lady, I never doubted her strength of character and conviction. I believe she is still strong and able—she’s in her 90s and still living at home! I loved being able to put the title Queen on the front of her name.

Now the daughter…the Princess…she had to be extra special. And that name, it came very easily. The other sweet lady was Merida Drake. Merida and her late husband, David, were always incredibly supportive and kind to me. David would always crack a corny joke, and Merida would stand by her man with a sweet and indulgent chuckle. I’d never heard the name Merida before or since – I always thought it unusual and beautiful. It was the perfect name for my princess. And I thank the original Merida from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to pay homage to her with her namesake. And although it didn’t originate in Scotland – it became Scottish as soon as Billy Connolly said, “Merrridah!”

Now back to Grandma (I couldn’t leave her out!) Maude – better known as Maudie in Brave. Poor Grandma is probably spinning in her grave about a bear cub diving into her cleavage for a key! Sorry Grandma – we just got carried away – and everyone grew so fond of your name, I didn’t have the heart to change it when your boobs grew on paper. Just know that you’re loved.

Maude (Maudie) Chapman, also known as Grandma Chap.

There you have it. The answers to your many questions about where the names in my movie came from. Hopefully you agree they were perfect choices inspired by three amazing women.

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