Friday Reflection – Aptronyms

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“The precision of naming takes away from the uniqueness of seeing.” Pierre Bonnard

I found a word that I didn’t know existed but somewhere in my unconscious had been looking for, and this word is Aptronym. An Aptronym is the phenomenon of a person’s name being a fitting description of their appearance, actions, or accomplishments i.e. their job. It was believed to be first coined by American journalist Franklin P. Adams in the 1950s. Combining the word Apt with the Greek word “onym” that we use in words like synonym or pseudonym (incidentally meaning “lying name”).

I am sure you can think of examples of Aptronyms, and a number of newspapers collect them (asking readers to send them in). Here are some examples:

  • supply teacher, Mr. Fillin,
  • piano teacher, Patience Scales,
  • inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell,
  • Psychiatry Professor specialising in anxiety, Jules Angst
  • Famous American fraudster who pocketed his clients’ money, Bernie Madoff
  • Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt,
  • Russian hurdler, Marina Stepanova,
  • Lawyer, Sue Yoo

There are also Inaptronyms – where a person’s name is very inappropriate for what they do, such as British police officer Robb Banks, and there also used to be tax accountants near me called Swindles.

There have even been studies that suggest that people are drawn to professions that fit their name. This was suggested by psychologist Carl Jung, citing Sigmund Freud as an example who famously studied pleasure and whose surname means ‘joy’. Where there is more than a causal relationship between the name and the area of work this is called Nominative determinism. Other examples could be polar explorer Daniel Snowman and urology researchers named Splatt and Weedon. The theory is that nominative determinism comes from implicit egotism, which is where humans have an unconscious preference for things, they associate with themselves.

It is funny as historically many people were given names that matched their area of work such as Carpenter, Smith or Taylor. It seems now some of us are drawn to professions that match their name. Personally, I am a great believer in the power of the subconscious mind – what we tell ourselves determines our actions, which in turn generates our outcomes and results. I have always appreciated a good Wall – maybe, as my surname would suggest, I should be building them – hopefully dry stone ones in the lake district.