Last Writes

Richard Lederer on the Name is the Game

The fastest man in the world is Usain Bolt. Louis Jean and Auguste Marie Lumiere created the first movies that told stories. In French, Lumiere means “light.”

Names such as Bolt and Lumiere that are especially suited to the profession or a characteristic of their owners are called aptronyms. Believe it or not, Daniel Druff is a barber, C. Sharpe Minor a church organist, and James Bugg an exterminator. Some aptronymic personages are famous:
• Champion tennis player Margaret Court;
• Football star Jim Kiick;
• Baseball stars Early Wynn, Herb Score, Johnny Bench, and Cecil and Prince Fielder;
• Golf stars Gary Player and Tiger Woods (woods are golf clubs);
• Astronaut Sally Ryde;
• Presidential spokesperson Larry Speakes;
• Romantic poet William Wordsworth;
• World Series of Poker champions Jamie Gold and Chris Moneymaker;
• American judge Learned Hand;
• Manufacturer of toilets Thomas Crapper;
• and (joke alert!) spouse snipper Lorena Bobbitt (Get it? “Bob it”).

While we’re on the topic of spot-on appropriate surnames, you know, of course, that it wasn’t that long ago that Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash, and Bob Hope were alive. But now we have no Jobs, no Cash, and no Hope.

Here’s a cute game that employs aptronymic first names: These days, we often attend conferences, parties and other gatherings where we are asked to wear name tags that say, “Hello, I’m _____.”

The object of our game is to match a real first name with a real profession to spark a punny connection, as in “My name is Homer, and I’m a ballplayer,” “My name is Jimmy, and I’m a safecracker,” and “My name is Mary, and I’m a justice of the peace.”

Even more spectacular are serial puns on names and professions. Hello, our names are:
• Alexis, Carmen, Chevy, Jack, Mercedes, Otto, Phillip, and Rusty, and we work on cars.
• Annette, Bob, Brooke, Eddie, Gil, and Tad, and we’re fishermen.
• Beech, Sandy, Shelly, and Wade, and we’re lifeguards.
• Bill, Buck, and Penny, and we work at the mint.
• Bud, Daisy, Holly, Iris, Lily, Pansy, Petunia, Rose, and Violet, and we sell flowers.
• Case, Courtney, Sue, and Will, and we’re lawyers.
• Charity, Chastity, Faith, Grace, Hope, Mercy, and Neal, and we’re ministers.

Richard Lederer M.A.T. English and Education, Ph.D. Linguistics, is the author of more than 35 books on language, history, and humor. This excerpt is from his new book A Tribute to Teachers, available now at his web site —
Write him at [email protected].