This Pig (Name) Won't Fly
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.
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 Typical small-town couples in comic strips get exaggeratedly prosaic, outdated names like Ned and Velma.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.