Photo: From Left: Buena Vista Pictures/Disney+

The hot new meme is Baby Yoda. In case you were trapped in a cave-in prior to November 12 and have only just reemerged into the harsh light of day, Baby Yoda is a character from The Mandalorian, the new streaming Star Wars series. As the name implies, Baby Yoda looks like the green alien Yoda, but he is smaller, like a baby. He’s very cute, he’s a puppet, and he made Werner Herzog cry. There are many memes of him.

Epic. We stan, etc.

The problem — for Disney, for pedants, and for viewers — is that, despite the unusually high amount of online buzz, there is no clear rule for how one should refer to the character. Disney, which is rigorous in controlling its intellectual property, insists that the character is referred to as “the Child.” (It also, confusingly, has referenced the “Yoda species” in merch copy, even though Yoda is a name and not a species. That would be like referring to all human beings as “the Brian species,” which would be funny to me, but I understand why we don’t do it.) Nearly everyone else seems to have settled on the unofficial name “Baby Yoda.”

But a certain type of online pedant remains unsatisfied. “Baby Yoda” is almost certainly not the actual baby of Yoda. The Mandalorian is set after the original Star Wars trilogy, so Baby Yoda cannot possibly be Yoda, the swamp goblin who talks backward, as a baby.

(The Star Wars canon is deliberately vague about how members of Yoda’s species operate. The only other Yoda-like character known prior to the new series is Yaddle, from the prequels. We do not know where they come from, what their species is called, or how they procreate.)

The question posed by the confluence of obsessively controlled intellectual property, highly pedantic fandom, and global memedom is, of course: Can one be a true fan of Star Wars without bowing to the demands of a multinational conglomerate? Or, put another way, can you really use a name that is so obviously incorrect? The answer is: Yes. There is an historical precedent that allows Baby Yoda to remain Baby Yoda, without also being old Yoda. In 1993, Bob Hoskins starred in a live-action movie based on the Super Mario Bros. video-game franchise. In that movie, it was revealed that Mario’s last name is Mario, thus making his full name Mario Mario, and his brother Luigi Mario. It’s a perfect retcon. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto “laughed rather loudly” at this.

Think about it for a second. It is very weird that Mario and Luigi would be called the Mario Bros., named after the more famous sibling. It would be like referring to the Baldwins as the Alec Bros. Thus, the “Mario” in “Mario Bros.” is not a first name, but a surname.

We could apply the same logic to Baby Yoda. Yoda, thus becomes that baby’s last name, not his first name. It’s possible that Old Yoda’s last name is also Yoda, and Yaddle’s last name is Yoda as well. So we then have three potential, equally legitimate Yodas. Yoda Yoda, Yaddle Yoda, and Baby Yoda. How they relate to each other is unknown.

The important thing to understand is that you can call Baby Yoda by that name without violating Star Wars canon. Case closed!

‘Am I Allowed to Say Baby Yoda?’: Rules for Yoda Discourse