Dennis is one part mild-mannered accountant, one part god of wine and revelry.
Denise shares his dual nature. Thanks to Shan for suggesting a family middle name as our Baby Name of the Day.
If you know a Denise, chances are she’s your aunt, or maybe even your mom. I know a 30-something Denise, but none much younger. The name’s heyday was the 1950s, and she lingered in the US Top 100 through the 1980s.
Like the saintly Dennis, she’s been worn by third and fifth century martyrs, but the women likely answered to something closer to Dionysia, a version of the name that reveals her pagan roots. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, and all the merriment that accompanied the drink. Over the years, he was condensed into the French Denis. Denise is the French feminine form. We borrowed her in the 1940s, though she wasn’t completely unknown before that time.
The name remained was in use in Medieval England, though variant versions abounded. Masculine nickname Tenny became the source of surname Tennyson. I’m quite fond of Diot, a feminine form based on Dionisia.
Denise peaked in the 1920s in France, long before we’d embraced her in English. I expected to find a French import – an actress or literary character – to explain her adoption. But it appears that we’d simply embraced Dennis for boys, and were casting about for the appropriate feminine form.
Dena could have worked, but Denise was the obvious choice. Alternate spelling Denice emerged, too, likely influenced by Patrice and Bernice.
The elaborate Deniece has never cracked the US Top 1000, but she has some currency thanks to her catchy #1 single from the original Footloose soundtrack, “Let’s Hear it for the Boy.”
While we’re visiting the 1980s, there’s also Denise Huxtable, second-oldest daughter on The Cosby Show, known for her trend-setting style. Actress Lisa Bonet rocketed to stardom on the sitcom and its spin-off, A Different World.
Other notable Denises include:
- Niecy Nash – born Carol Denise – the comedienne and television personality best known for hosting Clean House;
- Denise Richards’ acting career ignited in the 1990s, including a turn as Bond girl and nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones in 1999’s The World is not Enough;
- Physical fitness guru Denise Austin.
There was also a 1963 Randy & the Rainbows hit, complete with shooby-doos. Blondie covered the single a few years later. Debbie Harry throws in French lyrics, and also changes the title to the masculine Denis.
These days, Denise is falling fast, and parents might be more likely to consider throwback forms like Dionisia. And yet, just like her brother Dennis, she keeps chugging along, not fashionable, but not fleeting, either.
I was named after my Father. What a bunch of haters you all are. Go ahead and name your baby Diot…she will be named after her mother, IDIOT.
She WILL hate you for it one day.
Denise is definitely dated for me, but Dionisia is kind of fun. Diot has kind of a neat look, but all I can see when I read it is (I)diot, so I think that could be a tough one to bear throughout life. Yes, kids can be teased for anything, but that one is kind of a set-up.
I’m also not really sure if I like the sound of Diot – dee OHT, I suppose – but it could be a great update for Denise in the middle spot.
NotD suggestion: Huxtable. JK!
This is my middle name and I hate it so much I’m thinking of legally changing it. I asked my parents why they named me that and it seemed that it had absolutely no meaning for them. It was just a name that they happened to pick. My husband has been encouraging the change, but I haven’t had the guts to up and do it. It seems like so much work for a name no one, other than some legal entities and my family, know I have anyway.
I think Niecy has lots of potential, but I do think it’s kind of trapped in middle-agedom right now. I think it’s too soon for a comeback for Denise.
I didn’t know that the Blondie song was a cover! Yeah, that was my first thought – in my head while I was reading, every time I came to Denise, it was sung in my head as a take on Blondie…. I know a mid-30 something Denise. I think the name is probably a bit dated, but not to the extent that it would be awkward on a baby – I think it could really feel fresh used today.
Sarah A says
Denise is one of those names that I like on sound alone but has been tainted by a bad personal association. I’m not a big fan of Dennis but I really love Ennis.
Nook of Names says
I have a soft spot for a great many of these “retro” names — names popular between the 50s and 80s. I’m really not a fan of fashion, or following the fashion crowd. Fashions change, that much is very clear, and I think there’s a certain chic, quirky chic perhaps, if you want to, in having a name which defies the stereotype. Especially names which such fabulous, rich and long histories. So I heartily applaud those parents still calling their babies Dennis or Denis and Denise. Bravo! ;D
C in DC says
I prefer Denys to Dennis. Denise doesn’t sound current to me either. Niecy or Nisa, or another derivative might work though. Playing with the letters, you could get Enid, Ines, Endie, Sindee, or Sineed/Sinaed. Dina Ines would get you close to Dionysus.
My best friend in Kindergarten was named Denise. Denise has great rhythm for the middle spot, but it feels fusty as a first name. I’d be much more likely to use Dinah.
I actually do know a teenager named Denise, but I did always think her name was a bit old fashioned.
I like Dennis, I wouldn’t use it, but I like it.
Thanks for this post. Denise is my mother’s name and I never knew of any other variants like Dionysia that could feasibly be used to honor her. Denise is still far too middle age fusty sounding to my ear.
Charlotte Vera says
This one definitely sounds dated to me. Also, have you ever tried listening to The World is Not Enough instead of watching it? I somehow ended up doing so once (can’t remember why — was playing a board game or something in another room); Denise Richards’ lines are pretty painful to hear.
There was a Denise in the last couple of seasons of Scrubs too.
It doesn’t sound too middle aged to me, but then again the only one I knew in real life was with me in high school (who I haven’t seen since). I honestly quite like it, I wouldn’t use it myself, but I’d be pleasantly surprised to come across a little one.
Denise does sound a bit too middle-aged for a baby yet, but I love Dionysia and Diot is a great find. I wonder if Dion or Dionne are also too mature sounding still?