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The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Nuts and Bolts: aptonyms

An aptonym is, as you'd expect, a name that is apt.

(Aptonyms are more often called aptronyms, but personally I think all the r does is make things more difficult).

An aptonym can be called a charactonym, too.

Aptonyms are found in fiction (Pilgrim's Progress has a character called Mr Valiant, who is, yes, brave; The Water Babies has an unbendingly stern character called Mrs Be-Done-By-As-You-Did; and Dickens uses aptonyms all over the place, for example his thrashing schoolmaster Wackford Squeers.

And then, much more recently, there are the Mr Men. Is Mr Happy totally miserable? No, he is of course a positive ray of sunshine. And good for him.

Aptonyms aren't just a matter for fiction, either. There's an idea called nominative determinism which says that if you're called John Butcher you're more likely to become a butcher than if you were called John Baker or John Fryer or John Sexton.

But is nominative determinism actually true? Well, in my area there's an estate agent called Profitt; one of England's chief judges until recently was called Judge Judge; Bob Champion was a successful jockey; and Thomas Crapper manufactured (though didn't invent) lavatories.

On the other hand, all the other estate agents in my area are called dull names like Doyle or Brown; most judges are not called Rule or Laws; and the current champion jockey is called McCoy.

But then I suppose that, as far as jockeys go, he is the real McCoy, isn't he.

Word To Think About Today: aptonym. In the form aptronym this word is said to have been coined by by the US newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams.


  1. Wackford Squeers! That sure made me smile.
    Dickens does have a number of like-named characters doesn't he. I love it. It sure makes it easier to keep track of who's who!

    And yes, you're right! After spitting out aptronym a few times, I'm going with aptonym!

    1. I hadn't thought about aptonym being easier to say, I was only thinking about the clarity of its meaning. But of course you're right on that count, too, Jingles.
      Dickens characters are loved the world over, though unfortunately on the whole not by me. I go for Jane Austen's much more subtle approach every time and settle down very comfortably at Hartford with Mr Knightley.

  2. Fascinating! What about girls called Grace and Bonnie, though? A bit of a risk , I'd have thought...

    1. Yes. Or boys called Buster. Mind you, I once came across a poor little boy called Genghis Khan. I hope that wasn't an aptonym.