‘aptronymic’, ‘aptonym’, etc.

Of American-English origin, the nouns aptronymic, aptonymic, aptronym and aptonym denote a person’s name that is regarded as amusingly appropriate to their profession or personal characteristics.

These words are from the adjective apt, meaning appropriate in the circumstances, and the suffixes -onymic and -onym.

The presence of the letter –r– in aptronymic and aptronym may due to the fact that these nouns were—perhaps—coined on the pattern of patronymic and patronym. (Although aptronym may have been directly coined after the earlier aptronymic.)

According to a popular theory, it was the U.S. columnist Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960) who coined aptronym by rearranging the first two letters of patronym. However, nothing seems to support this theory, and, in fact, it is possible that aptronymic, aptonymic, aptronym and aptonym were coined by various persons, independently from each other, on several occasions.




These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences of the noun aptronymic that I have found:

?-: From an article about the engagement of the U.S.-born British politician Nancy Witcher Langhorne (1879-1964) to the U.S.-born British politician and newspaper proprietor Waldorf Astor (1879-1952), published in The Evansville Courier (Evansville, Indiana) of Sunday 25th March 1906—however, since nothing in this article indicates that aptronymic refers to a name regarded as appropriate, this noun most probably is a misprint for patronymic:

She has captured what in many ways may be considered the most desirable brush in the great hunting field of the socially ambitious—the Astor purse and aptronymic.

1-: From the column Advertiser Answers, published in The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama) of Thursday 5th August 1915:

Columbia State.
Speaking of the eternal fitness of names, or as The New York Evening Sun dubs ’em, “aptronymics,” possibly it has escaped your attention that the circulation manager of The Montgomery Advertiser is O. O. Scattergood.

2-: From the column Bits for Breakfast, by George Douglas, published in the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) of Thursday 19th August 1915:

A jokesmith gathering curiosities finds William Graves the keeper of a Hudson, N. Y., cemetery, Dr. Gentle a New York dentist and one Sloman, winner of the 440 in a recent track meet at the San Francisco Exposition. The first he classes as an aptronymic, and the two latter as contranymics. Why not inaptronymics?

3-: From The Daily Telegram (Clarksburg, West Virginia) of Saturday 21st August 1915—I have not found out what L. L. L. stands for:

Mr. and Mrs. Howard Jones and daughter, Miss Beatrice, of Indian run, were Clarksburg visitors a few days ago in the “Henry,” which is L. L. L.’s aptronymic for a Ford.

4-: From the column Sketches of Little Old New York, by O. O. McIntyre (1884-1938), published in the Wilmington Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) of Monday 23rd August 1915—I have not found out what B. L. T. stands for:

It was the time of the Famous Rush for home on Fifth avenue. A bibulous party driving a Henry—which is B. L. T.’s aptronymic for a Ford—had three friends with him in a similar condition.

5-: From Coolie Esperanto, published in The Literary Digest (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company) of Saturday 4th December 1915:

The Cantonese, unlike the northern Chinese, finds great difficulty in pronouncing the letter “r” and usually changes it to “l.” So “trouble” becomes bobbelly, an excellent change if there is anything to the science of aptronymics.

6-: From the Daily Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon) of Sunday 27th February 1916:

Lawrenceville, Illinois, has a firm of physicians, Doctors Gore & Trueblood. Some one calls this a case of aptronymics.

7-: From the New York Tribune (New York City, New York) of Friday 7th July 1916:

Brooklyn Has a Double Case of Aptronymics.

There may be something in aptronymics, after all. At least, Harvey Blazer thinks so.
He owns a furniture van. Rather, he did until last night. It was stored in a vacant lot at 730 Stone Street, Brooklyn. Last night it caught fire. There is nothing left but the ashes.
The first man to see the flame was Jack Burns. He rushed to tell a policeman, and the patrolman delivered to his chief this cryptic message:
“Burns says Blazer’s bus is burning.”

The word aptronymic may have been popularised by the newspaper column of the U.S. humorist Don Marquis (1878-1937), which often featured names of this type submitted by the Aptronymic Scouts. The earliest occurrence of this that I have found is from The Washington Times (Washington, District of Columbia) of Monday 9th October 1916:

The Aptronymic Scouts.

Sir: Until two or three years ago there was, and perhaps there still is, a lawyer named Barwise in Wichita Falls, Tex.
Sir: Would it interest you to know that Mr. Brush is secretary of the Denta cura Tooth Paste Company, Newark, N. J.
Allan wants us to know that Samuel Seaman is secretary of the American Navigation Company.

The earliest attributive use of aptronymic that I have found is from the column Hitting the High Spots In the News, published in The Daily Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey) of Monday 21st August 1916:

We’ll Send One Out to Spot It.
Sir: At 120 Easton avenue, New Brunswick, N. J., a careful observer or an aptronymic fan may find a sign: “L. A. Board, Carpenter and Builder.”
—E. S. I.

The earliest occurrence of aptonymic that I have found is from the Napa Sunday Journal (Napa, California) of Sunday 31st July 1949:

Porridge is known in Ireland as “stir-about”.

—Cf. also an occurrence of aptonymic in quotation 7, below, from Column World Lite, by Rob Morse, published in The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida) of Sunday 27th May 1984.




These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences of the noun aptronym that I have found:

1-: From The Desk Standard Dictionary of English Language (New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1919), edited by the U.S. lexicographer Frank H. Vizetelly (1864-1938):

aptronym. [Humorous.] A surname indicative of an occupation; as, Glass, the glazier.

2-: From The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee) of Sunday 10th January 1926; this piece by the U.S. lexicographer Frank H. Vizetelly (1864-1938)—not Paul H. Vizetelly—seems to be from American Speech, a U.S. journal of linguistic usage; the dictionary which Vizetelly refers to is not specified:


Democracy of words is the true source of the liberalism of thought and action that dominates our lives.
Any one who requires proof of this can find it easily by turning to the pages of this dictionary. The democratic character of words may be seen in these recent additions to our speech: “African golf,” “aptronym,” “audiometer,” “automat,” “Binet age,” “bingle,” “book value,” “broadcasting,” “cafeteria,” “chiropractic,” “close up,” “coagulen,” “cutout,” “Dail Eireann,” “Fascism” and “Fascisti,” “groceteria,” “hokum,” “insulin,” “intelligentsia,” “jazz,” “milline,” “mortician,” “parsec,” “photostat,” “pogo,” “proton,” “reel,” “screen work,” “toddle-top,” and I can give many more.
Of war growth we have “ace,” in a new sense, “Anzac,” “aviatik,” “Billjim,” “Blighty,” “blimp,” “Bolsheviki,” “bolshevism,” “camouflage,” “caterpillar,” “dud,” “Liberty bond,” “Rainbow division,” “paravane,” “shock troops,” “slacker,” “soviet,” “War Saving stamp,” “zero hour,” and a host of other terms.
Later events produced such words as “Czecho-Slav,” and “Czecho-Slovak,” “Jugo-Slav,” “Latvian,” “Lettonian,” “Spartacans,” “Spartacides,” “Ukraine,” and the “Ukrainians,” and more still.
To the journalist these words are all familiar. He recognizes them at once because they have come into the language through the daily newspaper. They are the fruitage of the press daily and weekly, collected by a vigilant body of assistants that is continually at work.—Dr. Paul H. Vizetelly, in the American Speech.

3-: From Bits O’ Nonsense, published in The Scioto Gazette (Chillicothe, Ohio) of Wednesday 7th March 1928:

Add Aptronyms.
J. M. C. postcards that a phrenologist’s assistant out his way bears the name of Ophelia Bean.




All the earliest occurrences of the noun aptonym that I have found are from Column World Lite, by Rob Morse, published in The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida):

1-: Of Sunday 18th March 1984:

All right, it’s time for Aptonym of the Week: Listed in the Yellow Pages under Obstetricians: Dr. R. Monthree of Winter Springs. Who do you see in month four?

2-: Of Sunday 25th March 1984:

Now it’s time for Aptonyms or, in this case, Inaptonyms. How about William F. Lawless of Maitland—yes, a lawyer. What’s Dr. Arthur M. Blood’s specialty? Right, psychiatry, where there isn’t any.

3-: Of Sunday 1st April 1984:

Aptonym of the Week: Dr. John W. Canal, a doctor of what? Dentistry, of course. That calls for a hyphenated marriage with a woman named Root.

4-: Of Sunday 8th April 1984:

Aptonyms anyone? When you have a plumbing problem, who do you call? F.J. Reek of Longwood, of course.

5-: Of Sunday 15th April 1984:

Aptonyms roll in from readers. A woman reports that her veterinarian is named Dr. Bowser. That’s Dr. Tim Bowser, not Dr. Roll Over and Play Dead Bowser. She also knows an installment-loan officer named Rich Billings. Why is it that sheriffs always sound like sheriffs? The sheriff of Gilchrist County is an hombre named Roy Rodgers.

6-: Of Sunday 6th May 1984:

This isn’t an Aptonym exactly, but I like it: An auto repair company in Orlando called Lemon Chasers.

7-: Of Sunday 27th May 1984.

Aptonymics Anonymous: How about a company called Rumph Roofing. Well, close enough. If it isn’t an Aptonym, it sure sounds like a bad cough.

8-: Of Sunday 10th June 1984:

Aptonyms forever: In “Central Florida Business,” we learn that the new president of the Florida Bankers Association is one William Sutton. A banker named Willie Sutton? You do remember the other Willie Sutton, don’t you? He was a larcenous gent who, when asked why he robbed banks, answered, “Because that’s where the money is” . . . It sure is. Susan L. Walker reports that she went to the Barnett Bank in Sebring and discovered a teller named Yvonne Money.

9-: Of Sunday 9th September 1984:

Aptonyms Anonymous: Readers have called to alert me to Wm. A. Ritzi Jewelers in Winter Park, and William M. Hobby, a patent attorney in Orlando.

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