Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Naming Conventions in Pushing Daisies

Consider this the spiritual successor to the “Naming Conventions in Arrested Development post — only for a show that even fewer people watched and received only about half as many episodes.

Viewer-deprived or not, Pushing Daisies had a lot of fun with names for the various characters who populated the city of Coeur d’Coeurs. For example, quite a few characters have names that reference food — Emerson Cod and Olive Snook foremost among them. More often, names involve some kind of doubling, Coeur d’Coeurs being one of the most obvious instances. (And it’s not limited to people, either: There’s the Boutique Travel Travel Boutique and the Darling Mermaid Darlings.)

The long list of “repetition names” begins, of course, with Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles, better known to series protagonist Ned as Chuck. Charlotte is named in honor of her father, Charles Charles, who, like Chuck herself, accomplishes the difficult feat of returning to life after biting the big one. It would seem that Charlotte Charles would be the only one of the show’s lead characters to have a doubled name — after all, we don’t know Ned’s last name, so he doesn’t get to be on any list — but both of Chuck’s aunts, Lily Charles and Vivian Charles, have repetition in their first names: “Lily” is damn near the same syllable twice in a row, and the first two syllables of “Vivian” work in much the same way. The rest of this list is populated by minor characters with double initials, but there’s enough of them that they should have plenty to talk about. Starting with the pilot and moving forward toward the show’s ignominious end, we have Boutique Travel Travel Boutuque employee Deedee Duffield (whose double initials are reflected in her first name, which I think could count for two instances of doubling, which might actually be quadrupling), herbalist Alfredo Aldarisio, Asian redneck Wilfred Woodruff, Wish-a-Wish psychopath Madeline McLean, cosmetics magnate Betty Bee, Emerson’s mom Callista Cod, Cod customer Veronica Villanueva, villainous mercenary Dwight Dixon, Norwegian Ned analogue Nils Nilsen, escaped prisoner Buster Bustamante, department store owner Dick Dicker, his sister Debbie Dicker, doomed window decorator Erin Embry, more fortunate window decorator’s assistant Denny Downs, and shark wrangler Galveston Gus. These people seem like they’d be just at home in Superman’s Metropolis as they would in Coeur d’Coeurs.

The episode “Pigeon” features a different sort of doubling in Elsa and her daughter Elsita, both of whom are played by the same actress, the very appealing Jayma Mays, who’s now on Glee and whose own name features an internal duplication of vowel sounds.

The episode “Bitches” centers around polygamist dog breeder Harold Hundin and his wives Heather, Hillary, Hallie and Simone — the last of which seems to be written as an outsider. (She also happens to be the only “sister-wife” to appear in subsequent episodes.) When it comes to polygamists, double initials seem like small potatoes, as far as repetition goes. And indeed, in this case, there’s plenty else interesting going on: Hundin is German for “bitch,” which is appropriate in both of the ways we use the word in English. Simone is especially interesting to me in that she is very good at giving orders and making people obey them without question. She barks “Sit!” and often everyone on the room takes a seat. In that sense, I’m betting that that her creators had the titular dictator of the game Simon Says in mind when they dreamed her up.

“Bitches” also features Ramsfeld Snuppy, a cold-hearted owner of a pet store chain. It would seem that he got his name from Snuppy the Cloned Puppy — a real-life lab-created pooch that I was briefly obsessed with. As far as being a dog that came to life as the result of a lot of human tinkering, the non-fictional Snuppy has a bit in common with Bubblegum, a dog who also debuts in “Bitches” and who is a prized crossbreed of a Border Collie, a Labrador Retriever, a Jack Russell Terrier, and a Poodle — or a Colladorrussellapoo as the episode calls her.

In addition be very nearly having a double initial, olfactory scientist Napoleon LeNez,the villain in the episode “Smell of Success,” is notable in that his last name translates from French to “the nose.”

The episode “Bitter Sweets” introduces two one-off characters whose names manage to feature doubling and a food reference: Billy Balsam (double initials) and his sister Dilly Balsam (a rhyming double for her brother as well as a double reference to flavors).

The first murder victim in the episode “Bzzzzzzzzz!” — the title of which is a joke about business, bees, and the business of bees — is saleswoman Kentucky Fitz, whose name sounds a lot like the Kentucky Fizz cocktail. I’m not sure what significance of the similarity might be, nor can I hazard a guess why how her husband, Dusty Fitz, got his name.

The villain in the episode “Frescorts,” which details shady goings-on behind a business that supplies the lonely with friend escorts, is Buddy Amicus. His last name is Latin for “friend,” making his name essentially “Friend Friend.”

“Frescorts” also features a very minor character named Missy Scrivner. Despite being relatively unimportant to the overarching series storyline, I think Missy Scrivner exemplifies the type of clever character naming I enjoy so much, as her name basically states what she does in terms of the storyline. She works at one of the publishing houses that declines Emerson’s Li’l Gum Shoe manuscript. She also wears so much orthodontic headgear that she can’t eat without spilling. One of these spills smudges her writing and, as a result, she ends up sending a rejection letter to a C. Cod instead of E. Cod, thus reinvolving Emerson’s mother Callista with his life. With the thought in mind that Scrivner is just one letter off from the word scrivener, “a scribe,” it seems reasonable that Missy was chosen because it’s just one letter off from messy. Missy Scrivner is messy writing. (Though this connection makes me wonder what life is like for the actress Missi Pyle, who appears in the episode “Bzzzzzzzzz!” and whose name, by the same logic, essentially means “messy pile.” See where mean-spirited playground logic gets me?)

The nun-centric episode “Bad Habits” features a chef named Hansel von Getz, whose name sounds like a reference to Hansel and Gretel. I feel like this guess is helped along a little by the fact that he’s in love with one of the nuns, thus making him a Hansel strongly associated with a sister, if not a biological one.

As I mentioned in a previous post, much of the episode “The Legend of Merle McQuoddy” is an extended reference to Pete’s Dragon, including the names of the episode’s central family, Nora, Merle and Elliot McQuoddy.

Just as Missy Scrivner’s name hints at how she’ll figure into the plot, so too does Emerson’s conwoman ex-wife, Lila Robinson, who proceeds to lie and rob throughout the episode — and presumably everywhere else she goes, too.

The final episode, “Kerplunk,” give Lily and Vivian a rival set of synchronized swimming sisters in Coral and Blanche Ramora. Blache becomes shark food fairly quickly into the episode, but Coral sticks around to cause trouble — and would have continued to do so had Pushing Daisies continued. The sisters likely take their last name from the remora fish, which gets sustenance by affixing its via a sucker to the bottom of a larger ocean-going animal — such as a shark — and eating bits of food that dribble from that larger animal’s mouth. And this is appropriate, since the episode revolves around a shark and the various aquatic sideshows that piggybacked on the success of the sharks how. Also, Coral has obvious water associations. Blanche is a bit tougher, but I suspect that it could result from the fact that blanching is a cooking technique involving cooking food in boiling water and then plunging them into ice water. And Blanche does get iced in the water.

Pigby the pig, of course, is named by Olive after Digby the dog. Olive is probably very well aware of this fact, so its a conscious doubling. However, it’s worth noting that Jim Dale, the actor who narrates the show, previously starred in the 1973 film Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World. I have yet to read any confirmation that the movie inspired the name of the Pushing Daisies dog, but it seems meaningful regardless.

Finally, the show has a curious preponderance of male characters with names that seem to be some sort of sex pun. Among them: Willie Gerkin, Shane Trickle, Bryce Von Deenis, and Randy Mann, with that last one being the only one out of the group that appears in more than one episode. I can’t not mention that Bryce Von Deenis was played by an actor named Googy Gress. And that just can’t go unmentioned in a post about notable names.

I decided not to spend time on the more obvious names — like La Di Ting (who’s a lady) and Colonel Likkin (who’s famous for his chicken recipe) — in favor of the subtler ones. The jury of me is still out on the names of characters like Amelia Stingwell (who doesn’t really sting anyone), Eleanor Swindle (who doesn’t steal anything), Coco Juniper (who sounds like a drag queen but isn’t) and Ned’s half-bothers Maurice and Ralston, whose names seem like they must be a reference to something, though I’m not sure what.

And that’s all I got. Consider this my belated tribute to a great show that never got a chance to flourish the way it should have. Pushing Daisies, may you too one day come back to life in some form.

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