The Nature of Names in “The Croods”
There does not seem to be much meaning in a monosyllabic “Grug” or a sound effect word like “Thunk.” However, these are the nature of the names of characters within The Croods. These names evoke a sense of caveman and cavewoman-like gruffness, a lack of civilization, using short, gross non-words that are fairly stereotypically associated with prehistoric man. After all, it is more than just DreamWorks that uses words like this to christen a caveman - think of Homevester’s Ug, of whom they say, “Ug likes ugly houses.”
However, looking deeper, there appears to be far more than caveman caricature involved in the animated men and women’s seemingly simple appellations. Though all these names are basically non-word sounds to contemporary English speakers, each and every member in the Croods family has a very appropriate name.
The fact that these names are sound effects is in fact one very important point to consider. “Cavemen” names tend to be onomatopoeiac in nature, named after the sounds characters would emit. We envision that cavemen say “ug,” for instance, because they are not yet civilized speakers with a complex language. “Eep” is another clear instance of onomatopoeia, as is “Thunk.” And each of these sounds evoke their own sets of connotations in listeners’ minds… giving some interesting insight into the heart of each character.
The Family Name
The family’s surname alone speaks a lot to the characters in the movie. “Crood” is a homonym of “crude,” a real word in the English language. To be “crude” is to be crass, unpolished, unrefined, simple, vulgar, uncultured. To be “crude” is to be, at its base, what the Crood family shows in their day-to-day lives.
This family does not demonstrate lovely manners or any sense of refinement. They are vulgar, threatening to eat each other, growling and crawling on four limbs, constantly dirty, and rather quite a mess of a family. Social skills are tactless, too, shoving Guy in a log or telling stories about people dying for being curious. They are, in all senses of the word, extraordinarily crude.
Still, to be “crude” is one step short of being outright obscene. This family is not gross beyond relatability, nor is their crudeness meritless. They have heart and love for each other, even if they do live a rather down-to-earth, animalistic life. They are crude but they are not repulsive. This is what allows them to grow, develop, and become greater people throughout the story. If Guy had had to handle a family of “Repulsives,” instead, chances are he would have been working with a lost cause of people who would never be able to appreciate shoes, umbrellas, inventions, ideas, and the hope of Tomorrow.
After all, to be unrefined is to be undeveloped. But one who is unrefined or unpolished has the potential to become refined. Every single member of Eep’s family has the ability to become greater than how we first see them. They have the ability to adapt to circumstances rather than living in a cave all day. They have the ability to step out into the world… survive… and do more than simply “not dying.”
They have the ability to truly live.
Grug’s name is probably the gruffest and least straightforwardly semantically “meaningful” of all the characters’ names. It is one syllable, which shows bluntness in itself. Every single sound is harsh, especially the two /g/ sounds that start and end his name. The vowel itself sounds a bit like a punch in the gut.
That is altogether fitting for who he is. Grug is the man who is the most mentally set on being a caveman. He is the one hardest to convince that ideas and change can be good things, that life can be more than hiding in a cave. His name alone paints that picture of a man very far from the life Guy encourages.
However, by the end, Grug’s name is not one of the harshest. It is one of the softest. Why? Because of an association of words that takes place at the end of the story. One of his greatest, most sentimental ideas he names after himself. A “hug.” Now suddenly the word “Grug” does not sound so harsh. It is the sound of a family man, a protective father, one who cares and will give everyone around him a loving “hug”.
“Ugga” also has a name befitting of the “older” generation in the Croods. “Ugga” is a feminized version of one of the most “common” caveman names given - Ug. The name sounds feminine because of the final soft vowel on the end of her name, that little “a”. The “a” softens the harshness of her name, makes it two syllables long and thus less gruff, and adds a level of familiarity to audiences who are used to women’s names ending in that sound.
All this together builds a picture of who Ugga is. She is definitely a cavewoman, as the “ug” part of her name makes evident. However, the second syllable characterizes her of a woman of some softness and love, as well as a little bit more of a modern perspective than her husband. Ugga is a bit more receptive to Guy’s ideas, just like her name is just slightly more sonically receptive to the film audience.
Gran is called nothing but her familial relation, marking her as Eep’s grandmother. The fact she is given no other name is almost a step back from the clunky caveman sounds Ugga and Grug receive for names. Still, her “name” also creates a sense of belonging for her in the family, something with which audience members who have their own grandparents totally understand. It also means that Grug, as much as he hates her, has to accept her in as a member of his cave.
Note that the single syllable really makes her name sound a little more harsh than something else like “Nanna” or “Grandma.” She may be a grandmother, but she is no coddling one. She is a lady in a lizard skin. To call her something with two syllables would be too soft and go against the strong nature this old woman displays.
Eep’s name is a sound effect. It is a loud, abrasive, high-pitched noise. In a way, it is feminine because it is a squeaky noise, but it is not at all fluffy - just like our firm-footed, broad shouldered protagonist.
The sound “eep” is also one of surprise. And Eep is excitable to say the least! She is a young woman exploring out into the new world, eyes wide and curious, far more interested and excitable to the world beyond than either of her parents are.
She is also the character who is the one most likely to run into surprises - the first being Guy himself. She is the one, not Grug, to charge out of the cave… and find all of its scream-worthy dangers. However, it is this very characteristic that leads her to see not only the frightful shocks of the world beyond, but also its hope.
Thunk’s name is totally appropriate. This meat-headed boy takes right after his father, a boy allegedly without a brain. He is someone who is going to act by cavemen instincts and bop creatures rather than talk to them.
This is just like the word “thunk.” “Thunk” is a sound in the English language that is hard, depicting something being bashed or falling heavily. It is not a pretty sound but a harsh one, a blunt one, a rather non-academic and rather brutish one.
Look at the progression of names from the first to youngest child in the Crood family. The first is “Eep,” a sound effect, but one not really considered a real English word. The next child is “Thunk.” That word is onomatopoeiac, but it is far more standardized in English and used more frequently as a verb in grammatical sentences.
The last child, Sandy, is the first character who has a legitimate name in the sense it is a modern name used in English today. “Sandy” is not a common name in today’s English speaking world… but it is a name. It is a name that sounds close to an object - sand - but is more than that.
As the years have progressed, then, it almost sounds like there has been very small, subconscious changes in the parents. They start with a daughter named “Eep” and then go down to name a daughter “Sandy.” That is a change. It is the very progression that the characters go through in the movie itself.
This guy’s name is probably the biggest tip-off that there is a lot of meaning in the movie’s character names. He is given another modern human name, albeit one that is really rare. More commonly, English speakers use the word “guy” as a reference to a generic name of some male out there. “Just some guy,” we might say, when someone asks to whom you were speaking.
At the start of the story, this is exactly Guy. He starts as “just some guy,” the one person who is not a member of the Croods family. To Grug, he does not have the same significance as a family member. Just some “Guy” is not as important as the rest of the family, and he is not counted in the caveman’s early tallies.
Furthermore, people who are “just those guys” are strangers, unpredictable, with unknown thoughts and unknown actions. Guy acts very differently than the family. He is a stranger with unpredictable actions and a far different outlook on life. Hey, DreamWorks even advertised this character by calling him, “The New Guy” in their ads!
It is at the end of the movie that Grug begins counting Guy as the seventh member of the family… rather than some unfamiliar stranger mingling about the Croods. He is a name with the name “Guy,” the modern name “Guy,” rather than a faceless chap stepping down the street.
“Belt” is such an entertaining name for the sloth. For Guy, the word “Belt” is a made-up word with no meaning except that it is the name of his pet. Modern audiences, of course, are familiar with the fact that a belt is an object used to keep pants up. And Belt does indeed do that favor for Guy throughout the movie.
This name immediately shows that Guy is different, for his animal is named off of a clothing part that is more sophisticated than the animal skins the Croods wear. It also hints that Guy is a man of ideas and inventions. And lastly, it also plays on an entertaining joke of diachronic linguistics, suggesting that the word “belt” began as a name, and then over time changed to acquire the meaning that we use today to refer to the clothing article.
This animal’s name is glorious.
All other semi-”modern” names of characters in the Croods have also had other concrete connections. “Thunk” is onomatopoeia moreso than a grammatically “functioning” English word. “Guy” and “Sandy” are names, but not very much, and they have other attributes such as sounding like the word “sand” or doubling as a generic word for a male stranger.
But “Douglas” has no such connotations. It is an English name and that is it.
Douglas’ name is so far away from caveman lingo that it is hysterical that Thunk named the creature such.
Beyond the comedy of it, it also shows that the characters have been in flux. They are no longer cringing in caves. Most have started accepting Guy’s ideas, trying stilts and shoes on to navigate the world around them. They are starting to find out that there is hope in flying to tomorrow rather than dwelling, barely living, within darkened caves.
At the start of the story, the Croods did not have pets, nor would conceive of them. Gran said that pets were basically children, for they did not eat their own children. But now Thunk has a pet, showing how he has been growing and changing in this new world. The name “Douglas” shows that. Beyond the comedy of the name, it shows that Thunk’s way of life is not the same, nor will it go back to the grunts of a lightless caveman existence.
All the names of the characters, from Guy to Eep to Gran to Belt, are given with a purpose. There is meaning and personality behind even monosyllabic non-words like “Grug”. And all these names work together to depict the theme of the movie… of the characters doing more than trying not to die… of the characters transitioning from one rather dismal, crude way of living… into something far more hopeful and satisfying.
We do not just hear sounds with the characters’ names. We get an even greater sense of what it means to reach Tomorrow.