Dennis is in fashion limbo, but how ’bout this one?
Thanks to Sarah, mom to Owen and Grey, for suggesting a name they have in mind for another son. Our Baby Name of the Day is Denny.
Mild-mannered Dennis is derived from that most raucous of the Greek gods, Dionysos. He was the god of grapevines and wine, of theater and excess. It’s not entirely certain where Dionysus got his name. Some suggest that the first element relates to Zeus – dios, god – though others link it to a word meaning “to chase.”
Dionysos seems to be the rare god’s name actually used by mortals, from philosophers and rulers to a Christian saint.
It is the saint, of course, that kept the name in such heavy rotation. Earlier in his life, Saint Denis answered to Dionysius. He was the Bishop of Paris in the middle of the third century when he was martyred by beheading. Ready for the grisly part of the tale? It is said that Denis, unfazed, lifted his decapitated head in his arms and strolled six miles, preaching all the way, before succumbing to death.
Along with Saint Genevieve, he’s a patron saint of Paris, credited with converting much of Gaul to Christianity. Denis and Denys were big in France through the Middle Ages, and the Normans brought him to England.
In the English-speaking world, Denis became Dennis. He also spawned a remarkable number of spin-off names, including Dwight and Dionisia, Dyson, Tyson, and Tennyson. Even Sidney is sometimes connected to Denis, from a town in Normandy called Saint Denis. (Say it five times fast.)
Today, the classic Dennis feels dated. And no wonder – he ranked in the Top 100 from 1936 through 1984, peaking at #16 in 1949. From Dennis the Menace to Dance Fever’s Deney Terrio to Boston Legal’s Denny Crane to Congressman Dennis Hastert, well … most of our favorite Dennises are either wrapped in nostalgia or men of their middle years.
At first glance, short form Denny doesn’t seem likely to stand on his own – except, of course, he is a perfectly valid surname, not always related to Denn- and company. There are places in the UK called Denny. Others connect him to Irish surnames like Dennehy.
Name your son Denny, and be prepared to hear about the Grand Slam breakfast special. Originally founded as Danny’s Donuts in the 1950s in California, the chain was renamed Denny’s to avoid confusion with a competitor. You can eat at a Denny’s in all 50 states and many foreign countries, so odds are that your child will grow up seeing his name on a giant yellow and red sign.
But that won’t only be the only association. There are athletes and race car drivers, musicians and writers. And that’s only counting men better known as Denny. The list of famous folks who answer to Dennis is far longer.
And yet, the question remains: does Denny stand on his own? In our age of Bailey, Riley, and Cody, I think he does. Better still, he doesn’t seem likely to be borrowed by the girls and his spelling is obvious.
For a name that bridges the modern and the traditional, the unexpected and the classic, Denny might just be a great choice.