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.

  • Absolutely love their stories — all to make another one! So fun to see where you pull from, and how you adjust it to fit characters rather than vice versa. (Maybe similar to the process of animators drawing inspiration from tapes of voice actors’ performances.) Have you ever worked backwards, starting with a name and then finding the character? Is there anyone specific you’d want to work your magic on?

    • brendachapman

      No – I haven’t ever thought to try it that way. Although, I guess in my book/memoir, I’m kind of doing that. Hmmm… interesting way to look at it. 🙂

  • Claudia.

    What can I say about this? Not only was extremely interesting to read but when I finished reading it…I smiled. It is interesting to see where you’ve got the inspiration for the names of two of my favorite characters of all time! Personally, I have great admiration for the name “Elinor,” –is the name of my grandmother and I was privileged to receive the same name- I love the fact that you’ve got inspired in people who are really important for you. Very inspiring, really … I think I’ll take the same example sometime in the future, I mean…who knows? One of my characters might receive the name “Brenda”one of these days 😉 Thanks for writing this Mrs. Chapman! Totally loved it :))

    • brendachapman

      Aw… thank you, Claudia! I’m glad that the name of Elinor brought even better depth to the character for you! 🙂

  • Such great names and what a nice tribute so such lovely people! Just one more day to go until its showing in UK. I literally can’t wait to see it xxx

    • brendachapman

      Ah… but you must. 🙂 Thank you for your enthusiasm, Sian!
      xo

  • King Henry I of England was married to a Maude and named two of his daughters Maude, so I think that would have worked fine. 🙂

    • brendachapman

      Aw… wish I’d know that! But then… that’s English… and you know how the Scots feel about that… 🙂

  • Etomcat

    Hello, will we ever be able to see the original, set-in-snow Bravehair movie?

    • brendachapman

      I’m afraid not. Wish you could. 🙂

  • Perfect choices, indeed! Thank you for sharing your inspiration with us! They all seem like wonderful women. 🙂

    • brendachapman

      Thank you! They are. 🙂

  • Kenny Barillas

    Wow, I love these stories, really, behind a character, there’s a reason, generally, not all the characters are there for nothing. It really was something kind of you. First, you get inspired for your daughter, then you use two names of two people you want. Well, is not an act of sweetness?.

    • brendachapman

      Aw… thanks. 🙂 I just love to pay homage to those who have inspired me over the years.

      • Kenny Barillas

        And believe me, these people must feel super proud and full of honor. Really, that’s special. Then, I will use the name of my mother, my great-grandmother, and of course, “Brenda” in a story, they are people who have inspired me and I admire. 😉

        • brendachapman

          Awww…

  • Pingback: Humbling Moment at The Do | Brenda Chapman()

  • I’m a fan of Branda reades

    • brendachapman

      Thank you, Khalid.

  • Emily De Groot

    Thanks for sharing these amazing stories. My great grandma was called Oma too. It’s nice to know that such personal memories were your inspiration. I wanted to read up on Brave further and just read what happened. Sorry to hear. It’s the same in the macho advertising industry!
    Makes us stronger though? Maybe it will inspire new stories!

    • brendachapman

      As my mom always said, “That which does not kill you…” … now it’s a pop song! Go figure. 🙂
      Thanks for the kind words. xo

  • Tiffany E

    That was really cool, thanks for sharing. My great-grandfather was Scot-Irish, and an amature boxer turned preacher named William Ross. Apparently, his original family name was MecRoss, but his father or other close relative dropped the first part due to discrimination back then. I named one of my characters Porter MecRoss after him.

    • brendachapman

      I love that! 🙂 It’s great to honor our ancestors!

  • hi, i loved BRAVE and choosing this name was my question too!
    you may take this as a joke but it’s not, if you ever wanted to name an iranian character you can count on my name 😀 i will be glad:)

    • brendachapman

      Thank you, Amin. I’ll keep that in mind. 🙂

  • First of all, I want to thank you for sharing this with the people who read your blog. I was really interested too in knowing how did you name Merida and Elinor and I’m very happy because finally I found it out. I have to tell you that when I first heard Merida’s name I thought of a town of my country (Spain) which has the same name and I thought that maybe you knew about that town but that makes me think that you didn’t. This town is near to my hometown and I’m proud of it because I live near to a town which has the same name as my favourite character.

    • brendachapman

      I’m so glad you feel such a connection… and that Merida is your favorite character! Thank you! 🙂

  • Ann Wilson Marshall

    My grandma was Ila Westen. I just love your story!

    • brendachapman

      Oh my gosh! I used to sit at her kitchen table and draw all the time when I was little – with Lisa and Jody!! Ah… memories. 🙂 Thank you!

  • brendachapman

    So glad it’s out there for all of us. It’s a beautiful name… and so unusual! Thanks for sharing your connection to it. 🙂

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