Lisa Alexander - This is about what happens when you order a Whatnot: You play around with seemingly every combination of body, eyes, nose, hair, and outfit until you’ve created your perfect new friend. You pay up, and you wait, and then you have that jubilant moment of discovering a big FAO Schwarz box at your door. You pick it up and probably immediately start to dance around with it (unless of course you’re picking it up at the front desk of your dorm building, in which case you probably wait until you’re alone in the elevator) and you run up to open it in the safety of your room, taking pictures all the while. (This is the box… and then this is the box when it’s been OPENED… and this is looking INTO the open box…) You eagerly take your Whatnot out of its box and bag, adjust the arm rod and any accessories to suit you, and then comes the big moment: You put your hand inside, stand in front of a mirror, and try to give your beloved new Whatnot a voice.
And then you realize that the darn thing needs a name.
Oh, I’m not calling you a bad planner. This probably isn’t the first instant you’ve realized the Whatnot needs a name. You might even have had a name in mind when you were designing the little fella (or lady, as the case may be). In my case, I had a list of possible names saved on my computer. All I’m saying is that once the actual, physical puppet is in your hands, you start to realize that the names you thought of before don’t quite fit. That purple nose isn’t quite the same shade in person as it was on the website, and the hair doesn’t fall quite the same way you expected… Really, no matter how accurate the online Muppet Whatnot Workshop is, there’s no replacement for seeing the real thing. (Note: If you make your Whatnot in person, you’ll probably have a completely different naming experience. Give me enough money to fly to a Whatnot Workshop and buy another Whatnot, and I’ll let you know.)
I personally took months to design my Whatnot, but by the time that box showed up—on April Fool’s Day, if I recall correctly—I only had seven potential names. I was just certain I would call him Gonk, a lovely nonsense word I stumbled upon in my homework. But as soon as I took him out of his box, I knew he was no Gonk. He was no Splunker, either, or a Glob or a Glonk, and he definitely wasn’t a Snooze. The voice I had planned for him didn’t work, either. Yes, I was back to square one.
For those of you who may find yourselves in a similar spot, here’s a list of general guidelines to help you find a name that fits your Whatnot like a four-fingered glove.
Naming After a Muppet
If you want to name your Whatnot after someone obscure like Arnie the Alligator or Adrienne Bip, go right ahead. If you want to use a fairly usual name that happens to also belong to a Muppet, like Matt, Marjory, or Mary Louise, be my guest. But be wary of giving your Whatnot a distinctly Muppet name. Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Grover, Elmo, and Wembley are all great names, but they’re also well-known characters with deeply engrained personalities and voices. We have a whole bunch of options so that each Whatnot can be its own distinct person, so creating and puppeteering your Whatnot should be a creative, freeing experience. Don’t hole yourself in with a name that has all sorts of pre-existing expectations.
While you may not want an exact Muppet name, the Muppets are a good place to look for inspiration. Some Muppets have names you could find in any baby book, like Robin, Felix, and Bert. And then some have names you would probably only find attached to a Muppet, like Gobo, Boober, Fozzie, and Frazzle.
One way to get a really Muppet-sounding name is to take a Muppet’s name and alter it slightly. For example, on my list of potential Whatnot names, I had Zoon, derived from Zoot. This is especially good if your Whatnot looks like it could be related to the Muppet its name comes from.
Another way to get a Muppet-sounding name is to just come up with nonsense words and see what sticks. Just start making random noises with your mouth. If you’re not comfortable making random noises, try listening to some jazz music with a lot of scatting in it or a baby who’s trying to figure out how to talk. Nonsense names like Zoodle and Begunk are especially good if your Whatnot is a monster, or at least has an off-the-wall sort of personality.
Sometimes, the best name is some random object that’s lying around your room. For example, looking around my room, I see a turtle, a candle, a brush, and a pencil sharpener. Now, Pencil Sharpener might not be the greatest name, but Turtle, Candle, and Brush can work surprisingly well.
And don’t restrict yourself to random objects, either. Adjectives can make great names, too; just ask Sleepy, Grumpy, and Dopey. The world is full of words that could double as great puppet names. I wouldn’t recommend naming your son or daughter Squabble, but for a Whatnot, Squabble could be great!
Speaking of real words, you can always go the direction of a good pun. For example, imagine naming your whatnot Who:
“What’s the puppet’s name?”
“What’s his name?”
Of course, the trouble here is that you risk getting so caught in the Abbot-and-Costello type routine that the Whatnot never develops, and you’ve put all your energy into designing a puppet that becomes a one-note character. If you use a more subtle pun, though, you can have some fun and maybe reveal something about your Whatnot’s character right away—someone named Anne Tagonist will probably have a different personality from, say, Shirley-Jo King.
If you can’t find any words in the English language that suit your Whatnot, you can always look to other languages—especially if you plan on giving your Whatnot an accent. The English word “onion” might not be the name you want, but translate it to German and you’ve got Zwiebel, which sounds pretty cool if you can figure out how to pronounce it. (Actually… it sounds pretty cool if you can’t figure out how to pronounce it, too.) If you’ll be performing for an audience that knows the language your Whatnot’s name comes from, it can be an added kick of comedy—or it can be a distraction. That’s something for you to weigh out on your own, depending on your audience and how you present the character.
Matching Your Whatnot
The most important part of naming your Whatnot is making sure the name and the Whatnot match. You can have a fantastic name, but if it doesn’t click with your character, it won’t work. If you’ve designed an uptight stodgy old man, you probably shouldn’t name him Zoodle. Likewise, if you make an outgoing, energetic monster, you probably shouldn’t name him Julius Eugene Albert Cornelius IV. On the other hand, a name that seems to completely clash with your character can also work on an ironic, comedic level, but that juxtaposition will add something to your Whatnot’s personality, so make sure you really want it.
Also, make sure that you can pronounce your Whatnot’s name in your Whatnot’s voice. A character needs to be able to introduce itself, after all.
Go with Your Gut!
Listen to your instinct, your intuition, your karmic connection with the universe, and choose a name that feels right. Quite frankly, the right name might go against all the guidelines I’ve laid out here—these are a starting place, not hard-and-fast rules—but if it feels right, it probably is right. I can’t tell you exactly why I ended up naming my Whatnot Bug, but it’s stuck for over a year, and it still works. Yes, Bug and I are quite pleased.
And he’s just thrilled that his name isn’t Gonk.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier