These are real people:
Russell Brain, a neurologist
Reggie Corner, cornerback for the Buffalo Bills
Margaret Court, a tennis player
Jules Angst, a German professor of psychiatry; published works about anxiety
Sara Blizzard, a meteorologist for the BBC
William Wordsworth, a poet
When I started reading Marilyn vos Savant, the Parade columnist who has the world’s highest recorded IQ, I thought it was a pseudonym. But no, that’s her well-suited name.
And if you are an avid listener of Car Talk on NPR, you remember the ridiculous aptronyms Click and Clack attribute to their staff:
Marianna Trench is the Director of Deep Sea Research.
Stan Beyerman is the Director of Country Music.
Anita Hammer is the Director of Delicate Electronics Repair.
Juan Demerritt is the Staff Disciplinarian.
Vera Similitude is the Staff Forger.
Dr. Jean Poole is the Staff Geneticist.
Luke A. Boyd is an Ornithology Intern.
An aptronym is a name aptly suited to whatever it is applied, whether a person (real or not), place, or thing. In fiction, it has been used to define a character’s personality, profession, or other quality associated with that character. Probably the book that most easily comes to mind for containing aptronyms is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), with names such as Mr. Talkative and Mr. Worldly Wiseman.
In Medieval Morality Plays, which were the church’s way of teaching virtues, the stories left no question as to the qualities being portrayed. The characters were allegorical figures named precisely for the virtue or vice they represented. Some of the characters in Everyman, the best known Morality play, are Everyman, Death, Good-Deeds, Angel, Knowledge, Beauty, Discretion, and Strength.
Some of my favorite are in Dickens: the horrible brother and sister in David Copperfield, the Murdstones; Wilkins Micawber, whose financial difficulties land him in debtor’s prison; and the affectionate but slightly deranged Richard Babley, “Mr. Dick.”
The writer can be blatant with his use of aptronyms or subtle. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald meant to be both descriptive and ironic when he named his heroine “Daisy” in The Great Gatsby.
In looking over the list of Guardian Angel Publishing’s books, I noticed these aptronyms:
The Jumbo Shrimp of Dire Straits by Kristen and Kevin Collier. An ominous sounding place.
Kai Strand’s The Weaver begins: “Tucked in a lush valley between two snow-capped mountains was the village of The Tales. Those who lived in the village were known as Weavers. Each person in The Tales could tell stories about anything at any time, and they often did. Prose, poetry, limericks or yarns; they told stories of all types and styles.” Mary Wordsmith is the main character.
Stilts the Stork by Dixie Philips. Stilts has stilt-like long skinny legs and she makes a funny mistake. She gathers golf balls thinking they are eggs.
Susan Batson gave apt names to two of her characters, the protagonists of Gilly the Seasick Fish and Sparkie: a Star Afraid of the Dark.
In my “Bear in Mind” (Characters Magazine) my main character, who is a type of Goldilocks character is named Tressa. Her adventure parallels that of Goldilocks but more or less in reverse.
Also, in my “How Rank Snodgrass Got My Apple Pie” (Long Story Short), the villain is a loathsome fella.
You might say the writer is using Nominative determinism when he assigns meaningful names to his characters. This is the theory that a person’s name influences his life—profession, personality, choices, and not just in literature, but in real life, as well. Carl Jung asked the question: “Are these whimsicalities of chance, or the suggestive effects of the name . . . or are they ‘meaningful coincidences’?” but he never answered it.
Philosophy aside, it is a useful and succinct way for a writer to add color, humor, irony, or information by hinting that the name has deeper meaning.
Do you have any favorite aptronyms?