I think I've discovered why Mary Ann Madden, who for 32 years ran the New York Magazine Competition, rejected a contest recommended by my 11-year-old self. The recommendation was that Madden challenge her readers to submit names of real people that expressed or commented on their occupations. Thirty-six years later (i.e., earlier this week) I was reminded of this episode when I learned that a government study finding more than 40 percent of those engaging in "Educator Sexual Conduct" to be women—their targets mostly male—had been written by one Charol Shakeshaft. Who needs Mary Ann Madden, thought I. I'm a columnist now myself. I'll sponsor the competition!
The problem that I failed to anticipate—and that Madden, I suspect, shrewdly foresaw—is that the world is awash in Charol Shakeshafts. The phenomenon is so common, I've learned, that it's repeatedly been named. The Romans called names like Shakeshaft nomenet omen ("prophetic names").Franklin P. Adams ("FPA"), the famous newspaper columnist who in the 1920s and 1930s solicited witty reader contributions to his New York World (later, New York Tribune) newspaper column "The Conning Tower" called them "aptronyms." The San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen called them "namephreaks." James Taranto, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal editorial page's Web site, OpinionJournal, calls the phenomenon "eponymy" (an eponym is a word derived from a name, like "sandwich," which isn't quite the same thing), and the playwright Tom Stoppard (in Jumpers) calls it "cognomen syndrome." In its "Frontiers" column, the British magazine New Scientist calls it "nominative determinism." In his regular online chats, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post calls them "aptonyms."
Whatever you choose to call them, readers submitted a lot of them, and almost all of them were quite good. So rather than rank them, I've decided to present them Yellow Pages-style, as a resource for future scholars.
One disappointing discovery: Dr. Zoltan Ovary, identified to me by Madden back in 1969 as a gynecologist in Manhattan ("Honest Injun") was, in fact, an immunologist. He died this past June at the age of 98.
Dr. Richard Madden (Hudson, N.Y.)
Alan Heavens (University of Edinburgh)
Margaret Spellings (Secretary of Education)
Jaime Lachica Cardinal Sin, former archbishop of Manila
Ngoc Quang Chu, DDS (Bethesda, Md.)
Dalbert Fear, Jr., DDS (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Ken Hurt, DDS (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Kenneth Krowne, DDS (Brookline, Mass.)
Les Plack, DDS (San Francisco, Calif.)
Anthony J. Puller, DDS (Richmond, Va.)
Randall Toothaker, DDS (University of Nebraska Medical Center)
Barth, Lacy, and Craig Toothman (Columbus, Ohio)
Jamie Maw (Vancouver magazine)
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Welcome to 13th Grade!
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The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.