Column: What’s in a name?


Have you ever met a married couple who start to resemble each other over a period of time? Or how about someone who looks like their pet? The scene in the animated “101 Dalmatians” movie shows owners and dogs who share similar visual traits. In these examples, the visual portraits seem felicitous.

While these pairings are visually fitting, have you ever met a person whose name suits them perfectly? An aptronym (or aptonym or euonym) is a name that fits the description or appearance of the person to which it belongs. This can be with a fictional character or a real-life person.

For instance, let’s suppose I opened a ham-focused restaurant that shows off a special carving technique I perfected using a knife pre-soaked in a vat of hot honey. In this case, my name “Curtis Honeycutt” would be an aptronym.

I’ll admit that example was a major stretch, and I do not have plans to open my honey-cut ham restaurant anytime soon. Here are a few real examples of people with aptronyms.

The first person I think of whose name fits them perfectly is Usain Bolt. Perhaps the greatest sprinter of all time, Jamaican-born Bolt still holds the record for the fastest 100-meter dash, with a time of 9.58 seconds back in 2009. It seems as though Bolt has lightning attached to his shoes.

Do you play poker? One of the most successful players in the World Series of Poker series is Chris Moneymaker. He won the tournament in 2003, pocketing a prize of $2.5 million. A moneymaker, indeed.

To round out some more real-life aptronym examples, consider meteorologist Amy Freeze, father and son pro baseball multi-time all-stars Cecil and Prince Fielder, poet William Wordsworth, neurologist Russell Brain and master sommelier Emily Wines. Each of these people has certainly lived up to their names.

The opposite of an aptronym is an inaptronym, a name that defies its owner’s character or career choice. My favorite inaptronym belongs to ZZ Top drummer Frank Beard. Although the band is known for their long beards, Beard is the only member of ZZ Top who doesn’t have a beard.

Other notable inaptronym-holders include former British police officer Rob Banks; ophthalmologist I.C. Notting; NHL player remembered for epic fights, Larry Playfair; and Catholic prelate Jaime Sin, who got promoted to Cardinal Sin. I’m not making this up!

What’s in a name? Sometimes, it’s everything.