Aptronyms

Helen Scales

Helen Scales

A new book about seahorses has appeared; the author is a marine biologist named Helen Scales.  In its review, The Economist grants that “Scales” is an apt name for a person interested in fish. 

 

 

Emily Hornett

Emily Hornett

Some new discoveries have come from examinations of old collections of butterflies; the lead researcher is a biologist named Emily Hornett.  In his note about these findings, Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science mentions that Hornett is a “great name for an entomologist.” 

 

A name that is especially suited to the profession of its owner is sometimes called an “aptronym.”  The Wikipedia page for aptronyms lists some famous cases of this coincidence, including such ironic examples as the sometime primate of the Philippines, Jaime, Cardinal Sin.  According to blogger and aptronym maven Nancy Friedman of the “Fritinancy” blog, the American Name Society had a panel about aptronyms at its annual session this January.  Friedman cites a New York Times blog that had a little contest a couple of years ago for best aptronym; the winners included Peru, Indiana’s Eikenberry funeral home.  Friedman also mentions that Slate has posted lists of aptronyms from time, including lawyer Soo Yoo, psychiatrist William Dement, and former White House press secretaries Larry Speakes, who spoke, and Tony Snow, who snowed ’em under.  Here is a list of 180 aptronyms, including such worthies as a financial-services scammer named Robin Banks.  Some aptronyms are really quite eloquent, as for example in the anti-Apartheid activism of actress Honor Blackman

Some occupations seem to produce lots of aptronyms; dentists, for example.  A big share of all Google hits for “aptronym” mention dentists named Dr Payne, Dr. Au, Dr Grippo, etc.  That may just be because any word that suggests discomfort also suggests dentistry.  In a related profession, the pediatrician who saw me in my childhood was named Dr Wince.  Considering that the inventor of the oral thermometer lived in vain as far as Dr Wince was concerned, I’d say that his was an apt name. 

Also, a large number of gynecologists appear on lists of aptronyms.  Again, that may just be a sign that many people take a lively interest in women’s reproductive organs, so that a wide variety of words conjure them up.  Even so, some gynecologists have names that would surely seem like aptronyms even to someone with absolutely no interest in female sexuality.  For example, a number of years ago I had a girlfriend who saw a gynecologist named Richard Shafter.  He may as well have changed his name to Dr Speck U. Lum, at least his patients would have had a laugh.        

Of course, Cardinal Sin was never the only clergyman to have an aptronymic name.  Reverend Sinner seems to be a fairly common sobriquet; James R God was famously the pastor of the Bible Baptist Church of New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania.  The Reverend Ira Paternoster used to be an official of the United Christian Missionary Society.  Just last month, Father Gary Priest retired after a long career as an Anglican vicar in Australia.

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