How Wednesday Addams Got Her Name
It's a poem, it's a nursery rhyme, it's a... gray area!
Who’s your Wednesday Addams?
If you’re a Baby Boomer, it’s probably the late Lisa Loring of The Addams Family, a TV show that aired on ABC for two memorable seasons in the mid-1960s and sparked a slew of reinterpretations. For a Millennial like me, it’s unequivocally Christina Ricci, whose early 1990s portrayals of the oldest Addams child in two cult classic films cemented the weird and wonderful Wednesday as a cultural icon. If you’re a Gen Z-er, maybe you’ve latched on to Jena Ortega’s recent turn as Wednesday in the eponymous Netflix series.
No matter which Wednesday is the Wednesday of your little black heart, all these screen versions are adaptations of Charles Addams’ original cartoons, which appeared in The New Yorker beginning in 1938. Addams named his fictional daughter after “Monday’s Child,” a piece of folklore that’s sometimes referred to as a song, a rhyme, or a poem.
Which one is it?
The Fortune-Telling Rhyme, er Song… or Is It a Poem?
Several times throughout the Addams Family franchise, we learn that Wednesday is named after the fortune-telling rhyme known as “Monday’s Child.” The rhyme was definitely published in 1838, but folklorists suspect that it has been a part of English-speaking cultures since as far back as the 16th century.
The rhyme doesn’t offer rationales for why children born on the day in question are the way they are. It merely says “this is how it is.”
Here’s the rhyme in its entirety:
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace.
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go.
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
And the child born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, good and gay.
Side note: Is Wednesday’s Child really the most unfortunate of all the children listed in this seven-part rhyme? The designation for Thursday’s Child really stings, too. And as a Saturday’s Child myself, I can’t help but feel maligned by its prognostication. Wednesday Addams may be drawn to the darker elements of life, from the literal (her black clothing) to the figurative (her interest in the occult). But she never strikes me as being “full of woe.” None of the Addams clan are, except perhaps for Lurch, but who knows—he may be perfectly content in his funereal manner (and his manor). Wednesday seems happy with who she is: it’s the rest of the world that makes her roll her eyes.
Anyhow, Wednesday was actually unnamed until Addams collaborated with a toymaking company on rag dolls in her likeness, along with dolls of Morticia and Pugsley (who used to be called Pubert… Addams Family Values, anyone?) But Charles Addams eventually named her after this very rhyme.
You’ll notice in the clip above from Wednesday (2022) that Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) says Wednesday was named after her “favorite nursery rhyme,” and the episode title quotes the rhyme itself (“Wednesday’s Child Is Full of Woe”). However, in the 2021 animated film Addams Family 2, Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader) calls “Monday’s Child” his “favorite poem.”
It’s Cyrus’ pronouncement that gets me thinking about an important question: is this a poem? What makes a poem different from a rhyme?
Rhyme as a technique is a component of poems, but not all poems rhyme. When we refer to something purely as a “rhyme,” we often mean it’s for children (or we mean that it’s a rap lyric). Why is that? I would argue that’s because the sonic component is very important in both these contexts. Nursery rhymes and raps can be read on a page, but they truly live in the ear. Poems are funny creatures that do well in both contexts, and sometimes even primarily on the page (I dare you to read Shriram Sivaramakrishnan’s “anti-poems” aloud).
As far as favorite poems go, the “Monday’s Child” rhyme is pretty thin. Many poems attempt to explain why the world is the way it is, but better still are poems that illuminate a mystery while letting it remain mysterious. Part of me believes that the rhyme could be improved by some kind of comment on children in general or additional lines that somehow enlarged the text’s meaning. That, for me, would feel more like a true poem. But far be it from me to keep the gate on what constitutes a poem. Poems can have just one word. They can be erasures of whole books. Rhymes, then, can certainly be admitted into the kingdom.
And yet—“Monday’s Child” is included in the Roud Folk Song Index along with countless other rhymes and ditties. So is it a song, then? One way I’ve written about this question in the past has to do with authorial intent: what does the creator of the piece of art in question intend for the text to be? In other words, if you tell me it’s a poem, it’s a poem. But because “Monday’s Child” is a very old folk rhyme with no clear authorship, this isn’t possible.
But the Roud Index understands the term “song” broadly: I admire the way its maker thinks about the “oral tradition.” By that measure, “Monday’s Child” certainly fits. Part of the charm of rhyme is that it helps us remember the texts that they are a part of, and so rhymes share something very direct with songs in that respect.
Go off then, I guess, Cyrus Strange. It’s a weird choice for a favorite poem, but you’re a weird dude. As for the answer to whether “Monday’s Child” is a rhyme, a song, or a poem, the answer is yes.
“Monday’s Child” strikes me as some kind of listicle or enumeration thing that stayed popular (like “The Twelve Days of Christmas”) maybe simply because it was easy to remember. But the rhyming does feel kind of perfunctory. Even “bonny and blithe” sounds (to my ear) borrowed from Much Ado’s “Sigh No More.”
(Again, is “Sigh No More” a poem or a song? Emma Thompson recites it as a kind of preamble in Branagh’s film version; Maurissa Tancharoen sings it at a party in Whedon’s — so both I guess.)
I saw Roz Chast speak several years ago and she cited this Addams cartoon as one of her earliest influences as a cartoonist: