Judge me by my name, right? The symbolism behind Baby Yoda’s name
Note: The following article contains spoilers for “The Mandalorian, Season 2”.
Names have always played an important role in the star wars universe. Names like Chewbacca, Wedge Antilles or Bib Fortuna are all otherworldly, and yet they seem perfectly plausible. star wars the names are also often perfect matches for the character. It’s hard to imagine someone named Jabba the Hutt as a skinny athlete, or someone named Darth Vader giving presents to children on Christmas Eve.
Very recently, another name has been added to the star wars canon: Grogu. This was revealed to be the name of the character previously only called The Child or Baby Yoda, in the latest star wars series, The Mandalorian. As with everything about star warsthe name has sparked controversy online: some people loved it, some people hated it.
This raises the interesting question of how can a name match a character? How can sounds be a good or bad match for a person?
This is something I have been studying for several years now. The phenomenon of sound symbolism refers to the discovery that people will indeed associate certain characteristics with certain sounds. For example, when you are given the options Bouba and kikiaround 90% of people in the world say bouba is a better word for something round, and kiki is a better word for something pointy.
But it goes beyond form. People will associate different sizes, colors and even personalities with different words based on their sounds. And, above all, they will also do it for names.
So what sorts of things will people associate with a name like Grogu? And are they suitable for Baby Yoda?
The shape and size of Grogu
Grogu’s most prominent features are his round head and eyes. Does the name correspond to its morphology? Yes! In general, people associate voiced stops (pronounced with vibrating vocal cords), like /g/, with round things. The association between rounded vowels, like /o/ and /u/, and round things is even stronger. One explanation for this has to do with the rounded shape of the lips when pronouncing these vowels.
But we can be even more definitive. In 2018, three other researchers and I conducted a study in which we asked people to make judgments about 8,000 non-words. For example, we asked if grawom would be considered a good word for something round. Unfortunately, grogu was not one of them. But based on all of these answers, we can extrapolate that there’s a 70% chance that a person will say Grogu is a good word for something round.
In another study, my co-author and I went beyond shape and asked whether certain personality traits were metaphorically round. Indeed, we found that traits like ease or introversion were considered ’round traits’, while aggressiveness or toughness were considered ‘sharp traits’. Importantly, participants said round-sounding nouns matched round strokes better. So, not only Grogu is a good name for a plump person, but also a person with an easy-going and introverted personality.
However, it seems that when coming up with the name, size doesn’t matter, because Grogu isn’t a small word. Voiced stops like /g/ are associated with larger sizes, as are vowels pronounced with the tongue towards the back of the mouth – like /o/ or /u/.
One explanation is that these are evolved associations. All of these sounds have a relatively lower pitch, which is the sound large animals tend to make.
When it comes to Grogu, our data would actually predict a 69.85% chance of someone saying Grogu is a good word for something big.
That being said, you might get the feeling there’s still something baby about the Grogu name. It could come from the /u/ sound at the end. Some of the first sounds produced by infants are cooing like oh or even go.
The color of Grogu
Color combinations are a little less straightforward than shape or size. There is evidence that back vowels (like /o/ or /u/) are associated with darker colors. But there is less evidence linking the sounds to particular hues. The available evidence would suggest that vowels pronounced with the tongue high and forward in the mouth—like the “ee” sound in See-Threepio (C-3PO)—are in fact those associated with green.
But it should be mentioned that the words for green in many languages can be traced to words related to plants. For example, green goes back to a word related to growth. So while it’s admittedly overkill, there’s something apt about the name of a green character containing the word grow.
Grogu and English
How does Grogu fit into English words? The beginning gr- is a phonetheme in English – a sound sequence that tends to occur in words with similar meanings. Specifically, gr- tends to appear at the beginning of words related to annoyances or complaints, such as dark, grumpy Where complain. Not so suitable for good-humored Grogu!
Another fact is that it is rare for an English word to end with a consonant followed by the letter “u” – words that do are usually borrowed from other languages, such as haiku Where guru. It is also rare for North American names to end in “u”. Of the 1,000 most popular baby names for boys in the United States in 2019, only three ended in “u” – Beau (132nd), Keanu (630th) and Tru (926th). And beautiful rhymes with DOE, so technically only Keanu and Tru count here. It might actually work for Grogu and help make the name less familiar.
Grogu is a decent name for Baby Yoda. It’s a good name for someone round and easy going, it ends in a baby sound and it has a decidedly non-English spelling.
What if fans wanted something a little more tailored? I sifted through our 8,000 non-words to find one that would fit well with something round, small, and witty. The best option? Melion (MEL-EE-ONU). I’ll leave it to the comments section to decide if it’s better than Grogu, but I think Melion and the Mandalorian That sounds good!