Careers

Does Your Name Define You? Aptronyms Provide Prophetic Nomenclature

Parents generally give a lot of consideration to the names they bestow upon their children. The choice of the right name is important in terms of carrying on family tradition or honoring another person. It is also important to consider whether the name will subject the child to ridicule by his or her peers.

Sadly, avoiding embarrassment was not foremost on the minds of the parents of Whet Faartz, Hitler Mussolini, or Fannie Licker. We also remember with regret the story the Commonplace Fun Facts editor-in-chief was told by his mother. She was a nurse who was present when a new mother heard a word that sounded so beautiful that she decided that should be the name of her brand new baby girl: Placenta.

But we digress…

The name chosen for a child is important to many because of the belief that it will influence the child’s destiny. This belief, known as nominative determinism, suggests that people are drawn toward certain vocations or practices on the basis of their names.

While the jury is still out on the soundness of nominative determinism, it is undisputed that certain people have been christened with remarkably appropriate names. American columnist Franklin P. Adams came up with the term “aptonym.” It is an anagram of “patronym” and is defined as describing people whose names and occupations or situations have a close correspondence.

Consider these notable examples:

  • Jules Angst, German professor of psychiatry, who has published works about anxiety
  • Michael Ball, English footballer
  • Colin Bass, British bassist in the rock band Camel
  • Lance Bass, bass singer for the American pop boy band NSYNC
  • Mickey Bass, American bassist and musician
  • Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone
  • Bert “Tito” Beveridge, founder of Tito’s Vodka
  • Sara Blizzard, meteorologist and television weather presenter for the BBC
  • John Blow, English pipe organist at Westminster Abbey
  • Usain Bolt, Jamaican sprinter
  • Doug Bowser, president of Nintendo of America (Bowser is a Nintendo character)
  • Russell Brain, 1st Baron Brain, neurologist
  • Rosalind Brewer, executive at Starbucks and a former director at Molson Coors Brewing Company
  • Richard Chopper, physician whose speciality was vasectomies
  • Christopher Coke, drug lord and cocaine trafficker
  • Margaret Court, Australian tennis player
  • Thomas Crapper, sanitary engineer and purported inventor of the flush toilet
  • Clay Crosse, contemporary Christian singer
  • Rich Fairbank, billionaire and CEO of the Capital One bank, which holds the Fairbanking Mark for offering fair banking products
  • Cecil Fielder and Prince Fielder, baseball players
  • Bob Flowerdew, gardener and tv/radio presenter
  • Amy Freeze, American meteorologist
  • William Headline, Washington Bureau Chief for CNN
  • Igor Judge, English judge and Lord Chief Justice
  • John Laws, English judge and Lord Justice of Appeal
  • Richard and Mildred Loving, plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage throughout the United States
  • Auguste and Louis Lumière, pioneering 19th century filmmakers (lumière means “light” in French)
  • Chris Moneymaker, American poker player and 2003 World Series of Poker champion
  • Josh Outman, baseball pitcher
  • Party Till Dawn, Australian racehorse that was disqualified from a race after testing positive for meth
  • Gary Player, South African golfer
  • Francine Prose, American novelist
  • Jonathan Quick, American professional ice hockey goaltender for the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League
  • Corona Rintawan, Indonesian physician who leads Muhammadiyah’s command center for the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic
  • Bob Rock, Canadian music producer best known for his works with rock acts such as Metallica and Aerosmith
  • Philander Rodman, father of Dennis Rodman, who fathered 26 children by 16 mothers
  • Tennys Sandgren, American tennis player
  • Marilyn vos Savant, American columnist who has been cited for having the world’s highest-recorded IQ
  • Go Seigen, Japanese master of the game of Go, considered by many to be the greatest Go player of the 20th century
  • Larry Speakes, acting White House Press Secretary under President Ronald Reagan
  • Scott Speed, an American racecar driver who has raced in a variety of motorsport, including Formula One and Formula E
  • Willie Thrower, American football quarterback
  • George Francis Train, entrepreneur who was heavily involved in the construction of the eastern portion of the transcontinental railroad across the United States
  • Tommy Tune, American actor, dancer, singer, and choreographer
  • Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck, American education professional with a dissertation on uncommon African-American names in the classroom
  • Walter Washington, first African American mayor of Washington, D.C..
  • Anthony Weiner, American politician involved in sexting scandals
  • John Minor Wisdom, American judge
  • William Wordsworth, English poet and advocate for the extension of British copyright law
  • Early Wynn, baseball pitcher, member of the 300 win club
  • Tiger Woods, American professional golfer; a wood is a type of golf club
  • Sue Yoo, attorney

On the other side of the spectrum, we have inaptronyms. These are names that are ironic, given the individual’s vocation or circumstances. Some examples include:

  • Rob Banks, a British police officer
  • Grant Balfour, baseball pitcher (“ball four”)
  • Frank Beard, an American musician who, until c. 2013, was the only member of rock band ZZ Top without a beard
  • Don Black, white supremacist
  • Peter Bowler, cricketer (primarily a batsman)
  • Samuel Foote, a comic actor who lost a leg in a horseriding accident in 1766, and made jokes on stage about “Foote and leg, and leg and foot”
  • Robin Mahfood, President and CEO of Food for the Poor
  • I.C. Notting, ophthalmologist Leiden University
  • Danielle Outlaw, Philadelphia Police Commissioner
  • Larry Playfair, NHL defenseman known for his fighting
  • Jaime Sin, Catholic prelate. Upon being made a cardinal in 1976, he gained the further inaptronymic title of “Cardinal Sin”
  • Bob Walk, baseball pitcher

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