Live English Open Dictionary

Open Dictionary word of the week: aptonym

aptonym (noun)

(also aptronym)

a person’s name that is appropriate to their job

An example of an aptonym is the current UK Lord Chief Justice, whose name and title is Lord Judge.

(Submitted from the United Kingdom)

Doing a quick run-through of our bloggers and guest-bloggers I thought I might come up with at least one or two aptonyms. But I didn’t. So that ruined that idea. Although there are clearly alternate career paths for, for example, Liz Potter, Katherine Barber and Martin Shovel.

I have now looked through my list of Facebook friends because I don’t want to just quote from other people’s posts on antonyms, I want to make my own discovery! But all I can come up with are are lame and obscure attempts. There’s a Mansfield who is a designer but design is not traditionally a male dominated vocation. There’s a Buckland who works at Cirque du Soleil … but he’s not a trapeze artist. Cook’s not a cook. Singh doesn’t. Van Vuuren’s not a fireman.  Oh wait! I have it! I have friends who are weavers and they are H and A … Shuttleworth! Yes.

Now I can quote from other people. Stephen J Dubner who writes for Freakonomics found a Paige Worthy who works at Good magazine: ” There are two people listed under “Research,” which in magazine land usually means fact-checking. One of the names is … Paige Worthy. That is: if a fact doesn’t get past Paige Worthy, then it’s not page-worthy, at least not for Good.”

Apparently New Scientist magazine coined the terms nominative determinism and aptonym, at least that’s what I read in this post whose author asks: “…Have you heard of the sexologist and author whose surname is Heiman?”

BBC Radio 4 covered this topic at the end of last year, I remember. There seemed to be a sense of discovering that people were somehow drawn to jobs that fitted their names. But surely there is heredity in it – dating back to when your name was given because of your vocation and so now the vocation is in your blood … and so, in your name.

Speaking of blood. Redpath (which is my maiden name)? We were either bloody fighters, or laid the carpet for VIPs, or it’s something red-light districty …  I don’t want to overthink it.

What about you, do you have an aptonym to share?

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Laine Redpath Cole


  • 1 I think my surname qualifies as an aptonym, after all the marking of homework, tests and exams I’ve done.
    2 My mother used to go to a dentist called Mr. Pullam.
    3 On the radio here in Poland this morning there was a police spokesman talking about the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving. His surname was Mogiła (= grave (noun)).
    4 Where does the r come from in the alternative name ‘aptronym’?
    5 And why is aptonymy restricted to jobs? What about other kinds of aptness – Smart (as Catharine has suggested), Beard, Gray, Hill, Hood, Goodman, Winter, Underhill …..?

  • Ah, but Liz Potter will probably grow into her name, and just potter around all day – a luxurious idleness that we retired oldies are tottering towards. But Liz has a way to go before she’ll be old enough to consider this attractive career option. . .

  • From BBC homepage 2 July 2012 A Scottish nutritionist has teamed up with an entrepreneur to produce what they claim are the first nutritionally balanced pizzas.

    The pizzas are said to contain 30% of an adult’s guideline daily amount of vitamins and minerals.

    They are also said to have a third of the recommended amount of calories, protein and carbohydrate.

    The pizzas were created by Mike Lean, of Glasgow University, and businessman Donnie Maclean.

  • There’s an amusing article in today’s Guardian Mind Your Language blog on the possible influence of Olympic athletes’ names on their sporting performance: “Bolt, Trott and Spearmon: did Olympic athletes’ names make them greater? Stamper did well in the taekwondo, but Hammer the cyclist and Mallet the swimmer clearly entered the wrong events”

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