How Sesame Street Got Its Name
There is a scene in the promo film for Sesame Street where ad-men type Muppets in business suits meet around a large conference table debating potential names for the show. Ridiculous titles are suggested like the Two and Two Ain’t Five Show and the Itty-Bitty, Farm-and-City, Witty-Ditty, Nitty-Gritty, Dog-and-Kitty, Pretty-Little-Kiddie Show. Rowlf the Dog fires the entire group of Muppets and Kermit the Frog eventually comes up with the name Sesame Street. “You know, like ‘Open Sesame.’ It kind of gives the idea of a street where neat stuff happens,” he suggests.
The name Sesame Street was not dreamed up by Muppets in a boardroom but the promo sketch does reference the dilemma the Workshop had in finding a name for the show. As producer Jon Stone remembers, “the name was set at the 11th hour and fifty ninth minute.” Early promotional materials simply referred to the show as a “preschool educational television show.” In early spring of 1969, the press conference announcing the show neared and producers had still not made a decision. “We were just frantic for a title,” said Joan Ganz Cooney. “Our press and publicity people were going nuts. How were they going to promote a show that had no name?”
Pressure was put on the production staff and Workshop employees to come up ideas for names and hundreds of titles were suggested. Potential names included The Video Classroom and 1-2-3 Avenue B. “Everything from the mundane Fun Street,” Joan would later recall. 1-2-3 Avenue B was seriously considered and worked well with the show’s set design, which resembled an urban, inner city neighborhood complete with a corner store, subway station and brownstone stoop. It also made reference to the show’s educational goals. However, the name was eventually rejected for fear that the show’s title would not appeal to viewers outside of New York City.
The name Sesame Street is credited to Virginia Schone, a writer for the show. Almost everyone on the staff disliked the name. There was concern that young children would have trouble pronouncing it. But time was running out and the show needed a name. Finally, Executive Producer Dave Connell put out a memo to the staff saying “if nobody came up with a better idea, as of Monday we were going to call it Sesame Street.” As Joan put it, “We went with it because it was the least bad title.”
As it turned out, all of the stress and worry over the title were for nothing. The first episode of Sesame Street opens with a view of the now iconic green and yellow street sign hanging on a lamppost. The camera pans down to Gordon telling a little girl named Sally “you’ve never seen a street like Sesame Street. Everything happens here. You’re gonna love it!”