05 January 2014

What's in a Name?

by Leigh Lundin

Many common names today have their roots in long ago medieval trades. This is true of non-English names including French, Germanic, and Jewish names. They’re called occupational names and English examples include:

Bailey
Baker
Barber
Butcher
Butler
Carter
Carver
Chandler
Coleman
Collier
Cooper
Dexter
Dyer
Farmer
Fisher
Fletcher
Forester
Harper
Hooper
Hunter
Mason
Miller
Palmer
Rider
Sawyer
Shepard
Shoemaker
Singer
Skyler
Smith
Spenser
Steward
Tanner
Taylor
Thatcher
Tucker
Turner
Tyler
Weaver
Wheeler

Aptonyms

Many years ago, a columnist for the Orlando published what he called ‘aptonyms’, unintentional and usually ironic names that matched (more or less) their occupations, such as Butcher’s Mortuary in Knightstown, Indiana, or Brownie’s Septic Service here in Orlando. In googling today, I see this term has been picked up by others. In fact, there was a Canadian Aptonym Centre. Remember, these few examples are real people and real occupations.

Alex Woodhouse
Brian Coates
Chad Hacker, Jr
Cherish Hart
Chris Fotos
Dan Langstaff
Darin Speed
David Bird
Debi Humann
Dr. Knapp
Dr. Robert Scarr
Ellen Fair
Helen Painter
Janet Moo
Jardin Wood
Jeff Kitchen
Jennifer English
Jessi Bloom
Jim Lawless
Jim Playfair
Joanie Hemm
Joe Puetz
architectural designer
paint company manager
IT professional
American Heart Association
owner of portrait studio
district court bailiff
vintage Mustangs collector
ornithologist
human resources director
anesthesiologist
internal medicine physician
county superior court judge
artist
stockyard packer accountant
arborist for tree care
chef and caterer
H.S. English teacher
landscaping company owner
assistant police chief
hockey coach
leader of sewing program
golf pro

Karl Bench
Kestrel Skyhawk
Kevin Sill
Linda Savage
Lorraine Read
Marvin Lawless
Matt Drumm
Michael Laws
Mike Blackbird
Mike Inks
Nita House
Norm Mannhalter
Penny Coyne
Randall Sinn
Raymond Strike
Robert Marshall
Roch Player
Sandi Cash
Scott Constable
Sonia Shears
Travis Hots
Tyce Tallman
county judge
wildlife center educator
window shop owner
etiquette specialist
bookstore owner
undersheriff
professional percussionist
lawyer
Audubon Society officer
graphic designer
real estate agent
security supervisor
United Way
pastor for Lutheran church
union leader
fire marshal
geotechnical engineer
accountant
policeman
hairdresser
fire department chief
basketball player

Buffoonery

I pay a lot of attention to the names of my characters, origin, ethnicity, sound, and especially meaning. James Lincoln Warren took note of this in my short story ‘English’. I even developed tools to harvest name information from the web and built a database to help pick names.

At one time, I considered writing a childish farce with farcical names. This sort of thing has to be done adeptly because it’s too easy to overshadow the story with distraction. Ian Fleming barely got away with some of his names like Pussy Galore, which easily could be mistaken for a porn star. And the porn industry is quite a catchall for such names like Seymour Butts.

A couple of names work best together, e.g, Willie Maquette, Betty Woant. Others sound like someone might unwisely use them in real life, i.e, Sam's Peck 'n' Paw pet shop.

Names and occupations I’ve considered are:

Al Dente
Ben Dover
Billy Reuben
Blanche Nutt
Claude Butts
Jean Poole
Jerry Manders
Kerry de le Gaj
chef
proctologist
has a lot of gall
flapper girl
lion tamer
biologist
politician
concierge

Lotta Goode
Miss Pickle
Papa Bennett
Patty Cache
Percy Flage
Polly Esther
Ruby Lith
Willie Evalurn
charity worker
spinster poisoner
suffers Peyronie's syndrome
clerk
English vaudeville comedian
seamstress
graphic arts designer
incompetent recidivist

In a similar vein, Cate Dowse suggested a pair of kneecapping mob enforcers might be called the Patella brothers. I should explain the underlying words for a few of the above names are rubylith (masking film), persiflage (mocking banter), and mispickel (the mineral arsenic is obtained from).

Following are more I didn’t originate, but with my own thoughts on occupations:

Andover Hand
Anita Job
Ann Thracks
Arthur Itis
Bill Jerome Home
N. Buddy Holme
Faye Slift
Frances Lovely
Helen Earth
Howard I. Kno
Ima Dubble
Jim Nasium
Kareem O’Wheat
Kurt Repligh
mountain climber
headhunter
femme fatale
old codger
contractor
Jehovah’s Witness
model
travel agent
untamed shrew
clueless
twin
fitness trainer
Muslim cook
radio host

Leah Tard
Lucy Lastick
Lynn O’Leum
M. T. Wurds
Nora Lender Bee
Ollie Luya
Russell Leeves
Scott Linyard
Sid Downe
Sue Flay
Teresa Green
Tobias A. Pigg
Warren Pease
Wayne Dwops
ballerina
lingerie model
flooring salesgirl
salesman
not a borrower
choir singer
landscaper
detective
and shuddup
sous-chef
another landscaper
marketing guru
author
weatherman

What are your names and occupations?

15 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Long-time readers may recognize the image from our first SleuthSayers article in 2011. I was trying to think of suitable art work for today's column and recalled John Floyd’s post. I’m not sure who the copyright holder is (unless it’s John), but we’re grateful for the image.

Fran Rizer said...

1Leigh, my mother always said that if I'd been a boy, she would have named me Russell and called me Rusty. My maiden name is Gates. When my first child was born, we joked about naming him Richard or Bud.
My younger son was named by my then five-year-old son, who chose Adam for the Adam Twelve television show. BTW, my column tomorrow is about something that Adam wrote that is receiving lots of attention. Please check it out.

janice law said...

Most ingenious.
What I find with character names, though, is pick ones that are easy to type!
A long fancy name gets old if you are writing at novel length.

A Broad Abroad said...

In South Africa we have a funeral services company called Human & Pitt.
A childhood acquaintance, Amy Body, dreamed of working for an undertaker so she could answer the phone with "A. Body speaking."

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Leigh, I bet the guy at the wildlife center's birth name was not Kestrel Skyhawk. I believe all the others. ;)

Leigh Lundin said...

Fran, my mother often mentioned a classmate ‘Red Green’ (or Greene) with red hair. I can imagine introductions like “Hi, my name’s Green. You can call me Red.”

Janice, good point. I also give priority to names in the spelling dictionary.

ABA, no! That’s like something out of a Charles Addams cartoon.

Liz, it did seem a stretch. Of course it could have been a woman, too, but the same suspension of belief still weighs.

Elizabeth said...

In Buffalo we have the Amigone (am I gone?) Funeral Home and their competition, Bury Funeral Home.

Up the road in Lewiston, New York is the neurosurgeon Dr. Young Yu who really should have been a plastic surgeon.

McDonald's had a president at one time named Fred Turner, who of course was married to Patty Turner.

Robert Lopresti said...

My wife used to work at a company with three people named Terri or Terry. One day someone came in and asked for Terry Brown. My wife took him in the back where he heard the following conversation.

"Excuse me, Terri.".
"Yes, Terri?"
"Would you take him to Terry?"
"Of course. "

I am sure he thought he was being put on, or had entered a Python sketch.

And do not forget Car Talk on NPR where the weekly listing os staff includes car seat teter Mike keister, and makeup artist Bud Tugley, etc.

Herschel Cozine said...

Leigh, I wrote a story some time ago with the following characters: Stevie Dore, a dock worker; Minnie Strone, a soup kitchen supervisor, Venus D. Milo, and art store owner and Cliff Hanger, a writer.

It was never published.

Leigh Lundin said...

Elizabeth, those are great aptonyms. What is it about mortuaries that attract such odd names?

Herschel, I like those. Cliff Hanger… He must be a mystery writer.

Rob, that bit with the 'Terries' reminds me of a Marx Brothers skit, possibly one where Groucher plays a lawyer. My friend Steve steered a conversation in which he was perfectly honest but talking about two different Debbies.

John Floyd said...

My favorite Car Talk staff member was the Head of Working Mother Support Group: Erasmus B. Dragon.

Anonymous said...

Phyllis Steen and Viola Fuss. Those from car talk too.

Leigh Lundin said...

I regret to say I'd forgotten about Car Talk and yet, as John and Anon point out, theirs are some of the best I've encountered. I used to drive the streets of Boston laughing like a fool as Car Talk read their credits.

Jeff Baker said...

Back around 1972 Reader's Digest ran an article "Is Doctor Doctor In?" about physicians with last names like Doctor and Bonebrake! It closed with "But what is a girl to do when asked to disrobe in front of Dr. Ogle?"

Leigh Lundin said...

(laughing) Good point, Jeff!