Fun With Names: Kuchiki Rukia (朽木ルキア)
- By hoshi-kun
- On 24/10/2018
- 0 comments
Welcome to Fun With Names, where I will be picking apart the names in anime to find their hidden meanings and significance. Today, after a fairly long hiatus, Fun With Names will zoom in on Kuchiki Rukia, one of my favourite characters from my favourite anime/manga - BLEACH. The character is quite popular among fans of the series and her creation predates that of any other BLEACH character. Trivia aside, Tite Kubo has a poetic approach to his creations which gives each element a hidden beauty that can be discerned with a little bit of effort. The names of his characters are no exception.
WARNING: There are some moderate spoilers, read at your own risk.
Note: when referring to Japanese names, I stick to the convention of having the surname come before the given name.
For those who are unfamiliar with BLEACH, the series follows 15-year-old protagonist, Kurosaki Ichigo, an orange-haired high school student who has always had the uncanny ability to see ghosts. One night, a woman dressed in a black kimono appears in his room, claiming to be a grim reaper-esque entity known as a Shinigami. Their role is to guide the souls of the dead to a realm known as Soul Society; while also taking on the responsibility of purging corrupted human souls known as Hollows. When one such Hollow attacks Ichigo's home and leaves the Shinigami gravely injured, she suggests a last-ditch effort: she will transfer half of her Shinigami powers to Ichigo so he may defeat the beast. From that day forth, Ichigo's already abnormal life took a sharper turn away from any sort of normalcy.
Kuchiki Rukia's name is partly calculated genius on Kubo's part, but also a major indicator of the author's tendency to let things fly because they look or sound cool. After putting together his initial design for Rukia, he decided on her surname to be along the lines of (朽ちる) "Kuchiru" - which is Japanese for "to rot" . "Kuchiki" is written (朽木), with the same character in "kuchiru" for "rot", and the character for tree - (木). Together, the meaning conveyed is "rotting wood", and the surname itself was selected by Kubo because "it sounds like a name a Shinigami would have", not to mention that he apparently heard something akin to "Kuchiki Rukia" while watching TV. That isn't particularly enthralling, but it definitely is entertaining... and also not all there is to it.
Rukia's given name - "Rukia", is written in katakana, the writing system in Japanese often used for foreign words, onomatopoeia and a host of assorted uses - names included. Rukia is thus written phonetically; (ルキア) - "Ru-Ki-A". The name is a Japanese rendition of a form of the Latin word for "light" - "Lucia". Pronunciation in this case is the main point because the name isn't being transliterated from English and since Japanese lacks certain sounds such as "C" (sounds like the letter), "-th" and any L-sounds, "Lu" becomes "Ru". Thus from "Lucia", which the Japanese would read as "loo-kee-ah" (a pronunciation mimicking the actual Latin), it becomes "Rukia" - which means light, intended to be symbolic of Rukia's role as Ichigo's guiding light.
However, if we return to the syllables present in Rukia, one of them is "ki", which is Japanese for tree and coincidentally present in her last name, Kuchiki. Together, Kuchiki Rukia is the "light from the rotting tree", a multi-layered, multilingual name which fits her character's role perfectly. Rukia's noble family, the Kuchiki Clan, is a noble faction with only two living members known to viewers and readers - Rukia and her brother, Byakuya. In that line of thinking, if the "tree" in "Kuchiki" is a family tree and many branches of that family tree have succumbed to death, the rotting tree isn't a random abstraction but rather, a damning summation of the state of Rukia's family. While on the subject of Rukia's brother, it is also interesting to note that his Bankai, Senbonzakura Kageyoshi or Vibrant Display of 1000 Cherry Blossoms, is an ability so-named because it resembles cherry blossom petals - flowers which grow on trees. Another thing to note is how Rukia is adopted - her deceased older sister married Kuchiki Byakuya and on her deathbed, she requested that Byakuya find her little sister, whom she had abandoned several years prior. It was up to the head of the Kuchiki Clan, Byakuya, to find Rukia - to find the light that would revitalize the Clan... and his life.
Perhaps that last part is all speculation. Whether or not it is, maybe only Kubo can answer it. However, what does remain is the striking impression of Kubo's brilliance through the name of the character who started it all. Maybe, just maybe, Rukia was aptly named because she was Tite Kubo's light too.