Have you ever met someone whose surname was a perfect fit for the job they do? Or, indeed, an unfortunate pairing such as a goalkeeper called Dropsy*?
I’ve been pondering writing about this subject for a while, inspired by Mr Macro – a Maths teacher at my sons’ school – and Mr Cure, our orthodontist. But what finally tipped the balance was discovering a local hula-hoop instructor on Twitter whose surname is, in fact, Hooper!
So, I thought I’d explore how names can be appropriate for people – in particular how some people have names that match their jobs. It also follows on nicely from a previous post I wrote on euonyms.
This particular occurrence is known as an aptronym (a name that is aptly suited to its owner) or an aptonym (a proper name that aptly describes the occupation or character of the person, especially by coincidence).
Occupational origins of modern surnames
Many English surnames in use today can trace their roots back to the trade or profession belonging to our mediaeval ancestors. Before surnames became commonplace, age-old traditions meant that a person’s family occupation often determined the name by which they were known.
For example, the local blacksmith might be called John Le Smith (John the Smith) to distinguish him from all the other Johns in his village. Over the generations this evolved into the simpler version: John Smith.
In addition to the obvious Butchers and Bakers, here are a few more examples of names that derived from their jobs:
Appleby = someone who used to live by or tended an apple orchard
Carpenter = wood worker
Cooper = maker/repairer of wooden vessels such as barrels
Clark = scribe or secretary
Draper = merchant in cloth or dry goods
Fowler = bird catcher
Hooper = creator of hoops for barrels
Mason = stone worker
Miller = mill worker
Parker = gamekeeper employed in a medieval park
Potter = ceramic worker
Tailor/Taylor = clothier
Turner = maker of wooden, metal or bone objects on a lathe
Webb = weaver
Wood = woodcutter or forester
Wright = maker of machinery, mostly in wood
Celebs with names that match their jobs
As well as everyday folk, quite a few famous people in the field of sport, medicine, science, politics, entertainment and literature have apt surnames. Here are just a few examples:
Usain Bolt, world record-holding sprinter
Russell Brain, eminent British neurologist
Thomas Crapper, manufacturer of Victorian toilets
Igor Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales
Bill Medley, one of the Righteous Brothers
Marion Moon, Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name
Larry Page, co-founder of Google
Larry Speakes, former Reagan spokesman
Tiger Woods, professional golfer
William Wordsworth, poet
Coincidence or destiny?
What do you think? Is it just a coincidence or are people attracted to certain careers because of – or despite – their name?
New Scientist journalist John Hoyland certainly believed it was more than coincidence after reading a scientific paper on incontinence by A.J. Splatt and D. Weedon. And this was right after he’d seen a book about the Arctic by… yup, you guessed it, Daniel Snowman.
He even coined the term nominative determinism to describe the phenomenon of people who seem drawn to their profession by virtue of their name.
The jury is still undecided on this one as there’s little scientific evidence to back up the theory.
Either way, it’s definitely thought provoking – and often more than a little amusing – when you meet or hear of someone whose name accurately reflects their profession or lifestyle.
Over to you
What are your favourite examples of names that match their jobs? These could either be famous people or ones you know in person. I’d love to hear them.
* French national goalkeeper 1978-1981