April 9, 2013

Is 'Dopey' an Unfair Name? An Analysis of Dwarf-Naming Practices

On the auspicious occasion of the approaching 86th anniversary (it's a big one!) of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Disney's first feature-length animated film, I present a discourse on the appellation of dwarves.

First off, disclaimers: I'm not talking about human beings, I'm talking about animated humanoid creatures. And, for my purposes here, I'll be ignoring other well-known dwarves such as LOTR's Gimli - though the reader is naturally free to see how he or other characters fit into this scheme.

Second, assumptions: Snow White's band of little friends live in a little hippie commune, perhaps with equal division of labor, yadda yadda. The point is that they have been living together for quite some time, so we must assume 1) they approve of the names of their brothers (they use them, after all), and 2) they approve of their own names, although 2B) in the case of Dopey, he possibly doesn't care. Another consideration is that 3) rather than being applied since birth, names were likely assigned later on in some kind of collectivist fashion - after all, qualities like 'grumpy,' 'bashful,' or 'Doc' (?) are probably not apparent in newborns. In other words, the Seven Dwarves' names are dwarf-created and dwarf-approved. As models for dwarf-naming everywhere, then, let's examine them:

Figure 1: Etymological Origins for the Seven Dwarves

In detail...

HAPPY: presumably named after his predominant mood, but perhaps his default facial expression also plays a role. His mood affects his appearance and behavior, but those are secondary indicators. The origin of his mood may be an overabundance of the neurotransmitters seratonin and/or oxytocin; in which case, unless Doc has a ready supply of depressants, Happy's condition is beyond his control. Thankfully, 'Happy' is a pretty nice name to wear.

SLEEPY: more than an emotional state, he is named after a physiological condition, probably the result of narcolepsy or severe sleep apnea. However, there may a  behavioral element also at work here: namely, the exaggeration of sleepiness in order to avoid work shifts in the mine. Again, without medical intervention, his condition may be uncontrollable. Judging by one of the unspoken but widespread standards about humor - that it is not OK to make fun of somebody for something they can't control - his mildly negative name is then somewhat unfair.

GRUMPY: as with Happy, the ultimate cause of his condition may be neurochemical in nature, and hence would be uncontrollable without medication. In that case, Grumpy's moniker is not very kind to him, and may even aggravate his condition, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If, however, his condition is simply psychic, there may be options for Grumpy to improve his life satisfaction on his own.

DOPEY appears to have never reached developmental maturity, both physically and mentally, having obvious behavioral results. This is almost certainly an untreatable condition and hence plainly a mean name.

DOC is possibly named for his professional training, or, barring that, his professional conduct and/or appearance (glasses). Except for the necessity of corrective lenses, these other factors are arguably controllable, and thus we might say Doc deserves his name. Had his name been instead Dork, then we might have said the name unfairly pokes fun at his visual impairment.

SNEEZY is perhaps the clearest-cut case, deriving most likely from seasonal or physical allergies (a likely guess, as he lives in a dusty cottage in the forest and works in a mine) or perhaps a weak immune system. In the latter case, since the other dwarves are never noted as being ill, we might assume that one or more of them is acting as an asymptomatic disease harbor, constantly reinfecting Sneezy; or, possibly, that he is contracting zoonotic illnesses via excessive close contact (more than his brothers) with wild animals of the forest. Assuming he can't relocate, and has no access to antihistamines or immune therapy, his condition is beyond his control, and his name is a little unfair.

BASHFUL: like Happy and Grumpy, there may be a neurochemical reason for Bashful's demeanor, but more likely, he's just socially awkward. That he is socially impaired around Snow White is not a big surprise, considering there are no female dwarves to be seen; however, his brothers fare much better. Bashful's demeanor is only of dubious controllability, and hence the name is of neutral fairness.

In summary:

Figure 2: Fairness of the Seven Dwarves' Names

In this examination of the Seven Dwarves, then, we can conclude that the practice of dwarf naming is rather permissive: a name may refer to a dominant mood, illness/affliction, appearance, or behavior; and furthermore, in defiance of human standards, it is acceptable for a name to refer to even something negative beyond that dwarf's control. This opens the cottage door to dwarves such as (in following my opening rant):
Illness/Affliction: Itchy, Wheezy, Scabby, Gassy, Twitchy, Gimpy, Runny, Drippy, Sticky, Peely, Limpy
Appearance: Bumpy, Knobby, Flabby, Wonky, Lumpy, Stumpy, Chunky, Humpy, Nerdy
Behavior: Fappy, Whiney, Nosey, Needy, Geeky, Pissy
Note than some of these examples might be cross-categorized, as with the Seven Dwarves in Figure 1.

With further thought, we can postulate additional dwarf-naming guidelines. Notice, for example, there is no Hairy (Harry?), and no Shorty: redundant names, or names that would easily be applied to all dwarves, are not used. Also note that the majority of dwarf names are two syllables, ending in -Y. The exceptions are Doc, which suggests other profession-named dwarves such as Sarge, Pope, Rabbi, Chief, and Judge; and Bashful, which suggests Hopeful and Sinful.

In addition, we may see that qualities embodied in the Seven Dwarves' names, although in some case carrying negative connotations, are all to some extent objective - in other words, they are measurable in some way, if only relative to other dwarves. For example, grumpiness might be measured in some non-definitive but nonetheless quantifiable way, and through this we might demonstrate that Grumpy is grumpier than Doc. Conversely, there are no names which are purely value judgements (purely subjective). In other words, there is no dwarf named Shitty - shittiness is not readily measured. Likewise Cheesy is not likely to show up at the cottage, nor is Bashful's evil brother Creepy. The problematic Horny, on the other hand, is possible - at least significantly more so than Sleazy.

In dwarf-naming practice, therefore, I suggest these guidelines:
  1. Feel free to point out physical or emotional characteristics, positive or negative.
  2. Be specific enough.
  3. Avoid unquantifiable value judgements.
In closing, in case the reader feels some kind of sympathy for the Seven Dwarves after what may seem (inaccurately) to be an unfeeling, cold-hearted analysis, I offer prescriptions which, in an ideal world, would make life better for each of our tiny friends:

HAPPY: try to be more sensitive about the other dwarves' feelings, moods, and energy levels. Happy's insistent happiness may be making Grumpy and/or Sleepy feel persecuted, while making Dopey hyperactive. If Happy can dial it down a bit, he might be redubbed merely SMILEY.

SLEEPY should consult a sleep therapist, ENT doctor, hypnotist, or perhaps a psychiatrist / behavioral psychologist to discover the root of his problem. With success, he might be rebranded as PERKY.

GRUMPY: with hormone therapy, life reorganization, and counseling/therapy, he might overcome what he thinks is his natural disposition. Although he might not ever be as happy as Happy, perhaps he can be reborn as SUNNY.

DOPEY: good luck.

DOC: leave the cottage and go to Dwarf Medical School! If, by chance, he's already done that, then he desperately needs a refresher course, a first-aid kit, some basic pharmaceuticals on hand, and to seriously rethink his committment to the commune, if he can allow his fellow dwarves to suffer from their various afflictions without helping.

SNEEZY: a modern non-drowsy antihistamine or other allergy medicine might do the trick, but if zoonotic infection is the culprit, he might need to rethink his life in the mines and in a forest surrounded by animals. If he is immuno-comprised, he should be tested for DIV infection. I don't want to suggest it outright, but if his relations with his animal friends have become too intimate, curtailing them might cure his problems.

BASHFUL needs to leave the commune and find a female dwarf already. With much luck and perseverance, perhaps he would someday return as PIMPY.

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