Friday, July 12, 2019

Notes on aptronyms

It was whilst sorting through some books at Oxfam that I noticed the title Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm, was written by one Isabelle Tree, and then a book called Full Moon was by someone called Michael Light. An aptronym (or aptonym or euonym) is used to describe someone whose surname is linked to their profession, in a usually humorous way. Although the concept was initially suggested by Carl Jung, the word was apparently coined by American columnist Franklin P. Adams (featured in Alan Ruldolph's movie Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle) who simply made an anagram of the word patronym (which pertains to the part of a personal name based on the given name of one’s father or other male ancestor – such as Johnson, as in son of John), to emphasise the 'apt' part.

The term Nominative Determinism was first used in New Scientist magazine in 1994, and takes aptronyms a step further by looking at cause and effect; mostly, it figures, people are vain and obsessed with themselves. This is known as implicit egotism.

There are numerous examples of aptronyms, many of which we come into contact with everyday (on TV – usually the news – and in real life), from doctors and lawyers to meteorologists and sports personalities (which all seem to be the most popular aptronym occupations).

William Wordsworth, poet
Rem Koolhaus, architect
Russell Brain, neurologist
Usain Bolt, runner
Mark Avery, RSPB Conservation Director
Margaret Court, tennis player
Mark De Man, footballer
Igor Judge, judge
Bob Flowerdew, gardener
David Limb, doctor
Les McBurney, fireman
Sara Blizzard, TV weather presenter 

(An inaptronym is an ironic or inappropriate form of an aptronym, such as Don Black, white supremacist, and Jaime Sin, who became a cardinal in 1976, and hence known as Cardinal Sin.)

Traditionally, though, and certainly by the end of the fourteenth century, as populations increased, surnames had come into general use and people were named after either where they lived (John Woods), their patronym (Johnson, son of John) or by occupation: Carpenter, Smith, Baker, Butcher, Potter, Parker, Weaver, Mercer and Miller are all job examples. This trend eventually died out when children (usually sons) stopped following their father's trade.

There's something worryingly fatalistic about people – consciously or not – taking jobs because of their surnames, rather than named after their occupations, so it's probably time some new surnames were created to reflect current jobs. This would also mean having more than one surname in a lifetime as we rarely stick to the same job throughout our working life.

So Sarah Admin Assistant becomes Sarah Marketing Assistant and eventually moves onto Sarah Marketing Manager. When she marries she becomes Sarah UX Designer-Marketing Manager. You have to feel sorry for their unborn children.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Name that name

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