Pause for a moment or two, roll it round the tongue a few times…
It may have been at its most popular in the 1940s and 50s — it reached 16th place in the US in 1949 — but Dennis still starts with that very contemporary syllable d-n, found in so many current favorites:
Aiden (Adan, Aden, Aidan, Ayden), Brandon, Brayden (Braden, Braeden, Braiden, Braydon), Brendan (Brenden), Caden (Caiden, Cayden), Camden, Dane, Daniel, Dante, Danny, Donovan, Hayden, Holden, Jayden (Jaden, Jaiden, Jaydon), Jordan, Kaden (Kaiden, Kayden), Landon (Landen) and Zayden.
They are all in the top 500 boys’ names in the US.
So is Dennis, ranked 391st — but it’s falling fast.
Time, perhaps, to arrest the fall, and resurrect this retro classic?
Dennis has such a lot going for it, it would be a shame for it to be rejected in favor of far more light-weight names — fair-weather friend names, which are going to date far, far more, and far more rapidly, than a name like Dennis. A name with such strong foundations.
Oh, and have I mentioned that Dennis merits the epithet ‘Pagan name’ as much as the best of them?
Dennis arose in the Middle Ages as an Anglo-French form of Dionysius, along with Denis and Denys.
Dionysius was an immensely popular name in the ancient Pagan world, honoring — as it does — one of the ancient world’s favorite Gods: Dionysus. Dionysius simply means ‘of (the God) Dionysus’ — i.e. “belonging” or “dedicated to” Dionysus.
Indeed, a strong case could be made that the most popular of the 20 saints of the name — the 3rd Century St Denis of Paris — really represents a Christianized version of the God. Tellingly, Denis is invoked against frenzy and possession – both things strongly associated with Dionysus.
Dionysus is one of the most interesting and intriguing of the Olympian Gods — and unquestionably one of the most important Gods of Greece and Rome (where he was usually known as Bacchus).
Most people know he is God of wine and the vine, son of Zeus by the mortal Semele, but in a way these are secondary to his true significance.
Wine, is still considered a “social lubricant,” well-known for releasing inhibitions and stripping away “civilized” behavior, and this is what Dionysus truly represents – what lies beneath the skin, when that man-made veneer is removed: the wild, the untamed, the raw vitality of nature.
It is no coincidence that his close companion is Pan.
Dionysus joined the Olympian Gods quite late — usurping the place of Hestia. Memory of his arrival in the Greek pantheon was preserved in the myths about him.
Exactly where he truly originated is not known for certain, but there is a strong case to be made for Thrace.
As for the meaning of his name, it is something that has puzzled etymologists for centuries, and numerous theories abound.
Generally, the prefix Dio- means “of Zeus,” which, superficially, would seem to make sense, as Dionysus was regarded as Zeus’ son by the Greeks.
However, it is more likely that it derives directly from the Proto-Indo-European *deyw-o-, from which Zeus and Diana also derive, as well as the Latin deus “a God” — and numerous other cognates across the Indo-European languages. So, in Dionysus’ case, Dio- most likely means simply “God.”
The -nysus is even more controversial. The Greeks believed it derived from Nysa — a legendary mountain, said to have been the God’s birthplace. One ancient writer said it meant “tree,” but there is no evidence for this, and the etymology of ancient Greeks has to be taken with a very big pinch of salt.
The clue to follow may be the Thracian connections. Sadly, not enough is known about Thracian to state anything with any certainty, but from what we do know, a very tempting possibility lies in the Thracian: *nest “roaring” and “rumbling.”
One of Dionysus’ main epithets in Greek was Bromius from Gr: bremô “to roar.”
Might he be truly the “roaring God” through and through?
Dennis itself shortens comfortably to Den and Denny, and although there are plenty of historic and fictional bearers, including two medieval Portuguese kings, the classic British cartoon character Dennis the Menace, Dennis the Peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the nefarious “Dirty Den” of BBC’s Eastenders, it is such a strong name on its own that it has — and can — weather the lot.
There’s also no technical reason why it couldn’t be given a completely fresh lease of life as a girl’s name; in the Middle Ages, the feminine Dionysia and its many vernacular forms was also very popular, and they included Dennis and Denis, as well as Denise, the favored feminine form in the twentieth century.
So, whether you’re looking for a girl’s or boy’s name, why not give Dennis a thought?