When Your Name Is Your Game

Rob Kyff on

I recently heard a radio interview with a spokesman for Venture Data, a company that conducts telephone surveys. His name? Jeff Call. A friend once worked with a New York attorney named Sue Yoo, and another one had a dentist named Dr. Payne.

I suppose it's not surprising that so many people's names align so perfectly with their jobs or enterprises. After all, the Latin root of "vocation" is "vocare" (to call), so these folks are following their callings in more ways than one.

Psychologists have even concocted a theory that people sometimes choose their professions based on their names. They call it "nominative determinism." It certainly might explain the career choices of auctioneer Ray Holler, singer Cynthia Lark, surgeon Arnold Surgeon and ministers James God, Wendell Pew and Larry Goodpaster.

A name that matches its owner's occupation or role is an "aptronym." Appropriately enough, the origin of this term involves a near-aptronym. Its genesis can be traced all the way back to Adam ... well, almost. It was coined during the 1920s by the newspaper columnist F. P. Adams.

In 1996, intrepid word collector Paul Dickson corralled a "Dickson-ary" of aptronyms in his delightful book "What's In a Name?" His finds included image consultant Sheila Askew; lie detector expert Ralph True; librarians Elizabeth Shelver and Dorothy Reading; sergeant-at-arms Jerry Usheroff; flautist Linda Toote; bank manager John Buckmaster; Carnation Milk Co. spokesman Dick Curd; and barbers Dan Druff, John Razor and Sam Nikum.

Physicians and dentists are especially ardent practitioners of aptronomity. Consider chiropractor Akin Frame, podiatrist Jeffrey Treadwell, gynecologist Zoltan Ovary and orthodontist Harry Smiley. A scientific paper about incontinence was written by J.W. Splatt and D. Weedon.


The aptly named Connecticut, whose main function seems to be to "connect" New York to Rhode Island and Massachusetts, has generated some truly remarkable aptronyms. Laura Knott Twine, curator of the Windham Textile and History Museum in Willimantic, Connecticut, and Wayne Carver, the state's chief medical examiner, now both retired, were pioneers in trekking the 'Apt-ellation' Trail.

And just last week, the tradition continued when a 14-year-old Connecticut student wrote a marvelous opinion piece for the Hartford Courant. She suggested that we can all reduce global warming by literally doing nothing one day each week. Her name? Evangeline Doolittle.


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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