If, like me, you find yourself reading every chance you get in nearly everyplace you are, it’s bound to happen. You begin to notice them. It’s a certain something “between the lines.” In my case it’s names. Not just any ordinary names. I notice names that match their owners’ occupations. There’s a term for it of course. Introducing aptronyms.
Why do I feel compelled to share my latest adventure with aptronyms? Well, a few days ago in a particularly favorite reading room I frequent often, I was browsing through one of the Boston rags when my eyes befell a story about the new head of the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), those white shirted screeners and bag checkers at the airport. The gentleman in charge of this large and impressive force of security personnel is one John Pistole— as in “firearm,” “weapon,” “peacemaker.” Granted the spelling of his last name is off a bit with the addition of a final “e,” but doesn’t it seem a tad ironic that the guy in charge of warding off terrorists is named Pistole. In movies and cop shows, such as “Peter Gunn” or Steve McQueen’s as Frank Bullit in the classic film “Bullit,” we grow to expect that sort of thing. But when the phenomenon occurs in the natural world that I live in with some frequency it’s worth sharing.
Before I present a list of some all time greats, allow me to reminisce about a major drought that affected California and much of the west about 15 years ago. I was watching old Dan Rather and the CBS News at the time when Dan sent it out to a reporter in the field to bring us up to date on the parched, arid landscape that had seen no rain for months. That reporter’s name? Terry Drinkwater. Pure Kismet that Terry Drinkwater – as in what nobody was able to do (drink water) during the historic drought – would be assigned the story. I’ll remember that drought thanks to Terry for as long as I’m standing.
Another personal favorite of mine would have to be a certain orthopedic doctor from a local hospital who specializes in wrist injuries. His name? Dr. Hand. Or how about the dentist who goes by the name Dr. Smiles? Or take the old Oakland A’s baseball reliever who probably considered his grip on the ball a secret to his success—Rollie Fingers.
The list is endless and I’m certain you have run into your fair share of aptronyms. Seeing that I’ve whetted your appetite and you might not know where to turn for a fix, allow me to unveil some additional hall of fame examples. Feel free to use this list as a conversation starter at your next Tupperware party:
- Richard Seed is a pioneer in the field of reproductive technology.
- Linda Toot was principal flute and William Basson was the bassoonist in the Milwaukee Symphony.
- There is actually a lawyer named Attorney Sues.
- An expert who studies frogs at the University of Minnesota is Professor Hoppe.
- Jared Wooley raises sheep in Buffalo (no cross breeding, that’s Buffalo, NY).
- Sir Russell Brain is a famous British neurologist.
- Reverend D. Goodenough is a Methodist minister.
- There is a heating contractor named Freeze, an electrician named Sparks, a sawmill operator named Plank, and Jim Crook manages a penitentiary with help from his assistant Susan Penwarden.
Is it mere coincidence that certain named individuals follow a magical path that leads them to their occupations? Perhaps one should ask a philosopher. Someone like John Wisdom to pick a p[philosopher at random. I kid you not.
Do these things happen often? Maybe more often but in less dramatic fashion than we think. Take me for instance. Now my last name is Rich. Am I a millionaire? Not even close. But I qualify as an aptronym of sorts seeing that when it comes to family, friends, health, and opportunity, I’m enjoying some pretty fine riches. For me, that’s the name of the game.