Murasaki refers to the heroine of The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), after whom the book's author, Murasaki Shikibu, is known.

Murasaki Shikibu

The name is a pseudonym, as due to court manners of the time (the Heian period, 794–1185), it was considered unacceptably familiar and vulgar to freely address people by either their personal or family names; within the novel, the character is unnamed, and most of the book's characters are never identified by name, but by their rank and title (in the case of male persons), the rank and title of their male relatives (in the case of female persons), or after the name of their habitation (in the case of the great court ladies). As such, the Genji character Murasaki is often referred to as the "Lady of the West Wing". In most commentaries and translations, she is simply referred to as "Murasaki" for ease of identification and to improve readability.

The name Murasaki is inspired by a poem that the novel's hero, Genji, improvises when contemplating his first meeting with the novel's heroine, the little girl who will grow up to be "Murasaki":

How glad I would be to pick and soon to make mine that little wild plant sprung up from the very root shared by the murasaki.[1]

Murasaki () is the Japanese word for the color purple. Other translations include lavender, as used by Edward Seidensticker in his English version of Genji; violet; and violet root, which in Japanese poetry denotes love and constancy.

Genji, in his poem, names the murasaki or purple gromwell, because its color resembles the color of wisteria (in Japanese, fuji) thereby obliquely referring to Fujitsubo, "the Lady of the Wisteria Court", a woman he is violently in love with for the first part of the novel. This lady Fujitsubo is little Murasaki's aunt. Thus, in a word association game very characteristic of Japanese poetry, the similarity between the two colors – the deep purple of the violet, and the light purple of wisteria – led to the name Murasaki, a well-known name in Japanese literature.


  1. ^ The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Royall Tyler, 2001, ISBN 0-14-243714-X, p. 100