This Pig (Name) Won't Fly

Sep 4th 2015

When it comes to name style, I try not to take sides. My job is to help parents find the name that's right for them, not to play fashion judge and jury. But today, I feel compelled to take a stand on a pressing issue of the day:

The name Denise is so wrong for a Muppet pig.

Helga Esteb/shutterstock

This week brought the news that a rebooted "Muppet Show" will feature a new pig as rival to the venerable Miss Piggy for the heart of Kermit the Frog. Take a moment to consider the names of the two classic characters I just mentioned. Consider also Gonzo, Rowlf, Fozzie Bear, The Swedish Chef, Sam The Eagle, Zoot, Animal, Dr. Julius Strangepork, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and Beaker. Now consider the new leading piggy's name, Denise. Yes, Denise, that staple of mid-century American baby naming:

Muppet names can take many forms: descriptions, pop-culture references, puns, or simply zany nonsense. But there are some things they never sound like. Those include your fourth-grade teacher and the mom next door.

There's a reason for that. Mom names fall squarely into the most human slice of the name spectrum. When I analyzed trends in dog and cat names, I noted that pets' names were increasingly drawn from the human name pool, but not just any human names. We give our dogs old-fashioned nicknames like Molly and Max to show that they're cuddly. We give them colorful names like Bruno and Lola to show that they're fun. We give them preppy surnames like Bailey and Tucker to show that they're sporty. We do NOT give them middle-aged names to show that they're mature and responsible. As I wrote at the time, "Have you ever heard 'These are our dogs, Kenneth and Jeanette'?"

When it comes to Muppets, there's an even deeper problem with common, typical grown-up names. They're just not funny.

When comedians talk about kids, they still reference the long-gone kiddie generation of Little Timmy and Little Susie (the "Mid-Century Normative Child"). Typical small-town couples in comic strips get exaggeratedly prosaic, outdated names like Ned and Velma. The extremes of modern name style are even surer sources of laughs. But the everyday names of actual adulthood are so familiar that their style barely registers. They're culturally toothless.

Typically human? Culturally toothless? The Muppet Show??? A frog-pig romance we might be able to get on board with, but never this.




September 4, 2015 12:13 PM

I don't think the name is the only mis-step in this new Muppet development, but it's certainly another flashing sign that "JIM HENSON IS NOT IN CHARGE".

Personally, I'm especially disturbed that the new love interest is another pig. Gerta Goat or Selena Salamander or what-have-you would just continue the zany menagerie of the Muppet world; Phronsie, the frog-next-door, could lead to all sorts of interesting angsting on Miss Piggy's part; but an exotic, sexy Denise(?!)-the-Pig just makes Kermit look like a slightly creepy pork-fetishist.

September 4, 2015 1:10 PM

Nedibes, my family was put off by the pig obsession as well. (Honestly, you'd think Kermit would have learned his lesson from that first dysfunctional porcine relationship.)

IMO all attempts to recapture Jim Henson's magic have missed the key thread of subversive, unpredictable weirdness.


By Amy3
September 4, 2015 1:54 PM

I absolutely agree about the typical-adult name, Laura, but I had to share that I have a friend whose dog's name IS Kenneth! :)

September 4, 2015 4:09 PM

A dog named Kenneth! This rocks my world!! They should go with Glenn for a cat.

September 4, 2015 5:08 PM

I dunno: I think Denise works precisely because it's so very unsuitable for a Muppet pig.

I'm with nedibes on the yet-another-pig angle, though: Kermit's new girlfriend ought to be some entirely different animal, one that's never been seen before in Muppet form.

September 4, 2015 6:02 PM

I agree that Denise could work because it doesn't work. If the goal is to have the character be somewhat of a misfit than the other muppets.

But I do agree with the pig/frog romancce thing.  It's already been done.

FWIW, I have a friend with a cat named Martha.

September 4, 2015 11:10 PM

Hey, my name is Martha! Not that I mind having a cat named after me, I like cats. :)

I think Laura's point still stands, though, because Martha has been too rare in the last 50-75 years to be a "mom name". It's precisely the sort of deliberately-fusty name that some people like for their pets.

September 5, 2015 11:00 AM

@TheOtherHungarian - You're right about Martha, which started declining after about 1940 (unlike Denise whose decline began in about 1965, so Martha is basically a full generation removed from Denise). I think what Laura Wattenberg was trying to get across was the "zone of avoidance" for pet names (and "fashionable" names in general) is about two generations - the names popular on those of childbearing age right now (e.g. the ~'80s names that have declined a lot in pet name popularity) and their parents (e.g. Denise). The "quirky" names (e.g. Martha) are those from the generation of today's new great-grandparents (or the grandparents of today's new parents), and another generation of separation is when we can expect a name to become "mainstream" again (like what has been mentioned in BNW and on this blog before).

September 6, 2015 1:55 AM

Denise definitely does not sound muppety to me.  Bernice, absolutely!  Dollie, Flossie, Gladiola sure.  Maybe even something pretty like Katarina that isn't associated with any generation and has never been popular.  (Admit it, Katarina Pig is kind of funny, it's like a dog named Bear.)  

However, I'm wondering what my kids would think about Denise the Pig, I'm going to have to ask them in the morning.  I don't know if they have ever even heard the name before.  I wonder if Denise will be to them what Kermit was to me when I was little.  I thought Kermit was a muppet original!  I had no idea Jim Hensen didn't make it up until years later.    

September 7, 2015 5:46 AM

The question is: What will do the Muppet show naming to the name Denise?

There is an historical antecedent: When August Hinrichs' commedy "Krach um Jolanthe" featuring a pig named Jolanthe came out, it killed off the name Jolanthe and its variants (Jolande, Yolanda, etc.).

September 7, 2015 6:33 AM

NotAGuestAnymore: My childhood cat was also called Martha! I agree that Martha is a different vibe to Denise ... although since I named her twenty years ago I should get some "ahead of the curve" credibility, right?

September 7, 2015 11:23 AM

I don't know - what about Kermit's nephew Robin or the Electric Mayhem's Janice (a mom name if there ever was one), or the Seseame Street characters Rosita and Zoey? I'm just glad to have another female muppet - Denise will be, what, the third after Piggy and Janice, in a crowd of over 40 muppets? Of course she has to be a love interest...

September 7, 2015 1:48 PM

Janice wasn't a mom name when Janice arrived on the scene, though!  It was a young woman's name, and furthermore a name associate with counterculture, arts, and musicianship via Janis Joplin.  Now, sure, it's a mom/grandma name, but in 1975 when Janice arrived? 

By hka
September 8, 2015 1:13 PM

I think Denise is a great "rival" name!  I can hear Miss Piggy muttering it with the same disgust as Seinfeld's "Newman."  It works for me, and I'm a huge Muppets fan!  I do wish it wasn't another pig...  But, maybe pigs do have a thing for Kermit, and/or he has a pig fetish.  Gonzo's got the chicken thing going on... 

By Amy3
September 8, 2015 1:47 PM

Laura, the cat's name is Juan. :)

September 8, 2015 3:26 PM

but what became of Spamela?!?

No foul play I hope, though i know she wasn't Miss Piggy's favourite pig

September 9, 2015 12:15 AM

I know a couple of woman named Denise and I hope the teasing doesn't start. There was a song in the 60's called "Oh Denise".  I figured the name took an up tick when that song went to #1.  btw - my neighbor has a big dog named Stuart.  Called Stewie when he's being good. Stuart with a middle name when he's being bad. Wish I could remember his MN.  Definetely not a typical dog's name.

September 16, 2015 8:30 AM

If you're going to name a pig, give it a name that starts with P. Patty?


September 16, 2015 8:38 AM

People named Denise are going to get teased about Denise the Pig! Muppets should give the new pig a name that nobody has, like Prunella. Or Pruney, Prudence, Petronella, etc.



By mk
September 21, 2015 12:54 PM

Interestingly, Denise seems right to me. I still think of the Muppets as being set in the 1970s and, like Janice, Denise wasn't a "mom" name then. A modern name would have been weird, but I have no idea who any of the new characters are ("new" being after the 80s). 

I don't think any adult named Denise is concerned about being teased for having the name of a muppet pig.

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