Denny's logo; Image via Wikipedia

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.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Yay for Denny!

    Lol about Grey’s. I am a fan but I’m more of a name nerd. I think the writers and I just have very similar taste. I also love Calliope and Ellis. I’m pretty sure I named my Owen before he was on the show. But of course I was happy when he came on the show. We actually got Grey from another movie. A Final Fantasy movie with a character named Gray.
    But Denny, for sure is from the show, I can’t deny that. 🙂
    I still love Denny, but my top two choices now are Hayes and Tate. Husband loves Max. For the first time we may have to go through birth with a list. It will be so much easier if this babe is a girl. Here’s hoping.
    Thanks AppMtn!!

  2. I love Dennis and the nn Denny! (Though I’ve known a few Dennises that I truly did not like!)

    To me, Dennis is a classic right up there with William, Andrew, Patrick and Peter. I think of Dennis Wilson, one of the Beach Boys, who was known as Denny and died tragically young.

  3. oh nicole you just totally echoed my thoughts! there’s also an owen in grey’s anatomy too so although the names sound great together they do say fan to me, even if it was intended! 🙂

  4. Sarah- first off.. I love this name you have picked out! … the only concern I would have is with the sib set.. are you a big Grey’s Anatomy fan? Denny is a big character in the first few seasons.. thats where I first heard the name and fell in love.. so to have a Denny and a Grey sounds like a Grey’s anatomy superfan… but it could just be that you love those names for other reasons and have never seen Grey’s .. but if you live in the US, I would think you would get the question ” Are you a big Grey’s Anatomy fan?” .. just a heads up.

  5. One of my first crushes was on a boy named Dennis/Denny. He was a few years older than my friends and I, but we used torment him by following him around while he did his paper route…

    Anyways, I love Dennis and the nickname Denny. It makes me think of handsome teenage boys and silly, giggly girls.

  6. I love Dennis! So smooth and happy. Denny does make me think of the resturant (who’s slogan should be “Hey, it’s late”!) where I used to spend a lot of my 2ams. So I’m torn on Denny. I like the sound but not the association. I like Dennis so much I would campaign to use it on a boy but my other half would shoot it down; Denis was the name of the guy I almost ran off with at 20. So yeah, major block for us. But I still think Dennis/Denny is an awesome choice for a baby. Unexpected but familiar. Yes, awesome. 🙂

  7. Hmm, I’d never made the connection between Dennis and Sidney before, but it makes sense when you take French pronunciation in to account. I’m not very good at transliterating French to English, but from my meagre understanding of the language, St. Denis would be pronounced something like “Sah-D’Nee” (more correctly [sɛ̃ dəni]).

    I went to university with a guy named Denis, but it was only when I saw his name spelt out that I realised that the kid I knew as “D’nee” had the same name as my mum’s cousin Dennis.

    I wouldn’t personally ever consider Denny. Not only is it far too associated with the restaurant (one of my breakfast-loving husband’s favourites), but it also seems too much like a nickname to go on a birth certificate in our family.