A Guide to the Principles and Topics

Here are a few excerpts from The Study of Names (Greenwood Press, 1992) by Frank Nuessel:
Robert Rennick (1982:193) describes himself as "a collector of curious and unusual personal names." In an essay on this topic, Rennick makes the very important point that "too many collectors today seem content to accept, at face value, lists of names acquired as hearsay and make little, if any, effort to verify them (Rennick 1982:193).

The subject of his article is the famous former governor of Texas, James Stephen Hogg (1851-1906) who allegedly had two daughters whom he named Ima and Ura. In fact, Governor Hogg had only one daughter to whom he did give the name Ima (1882-1975). Many apocryphal tales assign additional children, with names like Hesa and Bea to Hogg, who in these folkloric accounts have Hogg as governor of various states in this country. Rennick debunks most of the fiction attached to this particular case, and at the same time urges collectors of humorous names to note carefully the source of such materials.

With this warning noted, examples of some humorous names from the Louisville Times (Deitel 1985) are provided. The following is a selected list of aptonyms, i.e. people whose names and occupations or situation (e.g., workplace) have a close correspondence. To a certain extent, the existence of this list (which undoubtedly could be duplicated almost anywhere in the United States) seem to correspond to the findings of Murphy (1957), who espouses a view of onomastic determinism.

Name Occupation
Peter Hammer Hardware store clerk
Nita House Real estate agent
Dr. Barret Hyman Obstetrician and gynecologist
Dr. Joseph C. Babey Pediatrician
Thomas Edison General electric employee
Ken Lawless Police chief
Fred Couch Upholsterer
Cathy Book Bookstore clerk
Bob Counts Accountant
Leonard Divine Rabbi
Dr. Knapp Anesthesiologist

In another essay on aptonymes, Lucas (1988) enumerated additional aptonyms as below:

Lawrence E. Lawhead Attorney
Dr. Carey Parrett Veterinarian
Jerry Frisk Security Guard
Joe B. Musselman Body builder
James Splatter Painter
George Wheeler Independent trucker

John Train (1977:52) compiled a collection of unusual names (most of which are documented), which provides the reader with some good entertainement. A few examples of the names that Train collected include Rosebud Rosenbloom and Shanda Lear.


One of the most famous and ubiquitous pieces of World War II graffiti was the phrase KILROY WAS HERE. In addition to the written words, there was a cartoon-like figure with an oversized nose and a bald head looking over a fence.

The mystery of Kilroy's identity was apparently solved [...] when the widow (Margaret) of one James Kilroy (1902-1962) stated that her late husband was responsible for the famed phrase. In 1946, James Kilroy won a national contest that sought to explain the origin of the phrase. The real Kilroy worked in a shipbuilding yard in Quincy, Massachusetts, where he affixed the phrase and cartoons to all of the ships he inspected as a means of verifying that he was real and at least those ships that were completed in Quincy, Massachusetts, possessed an authentic autograph
Room [...] has also addressed the crucial issue of motivation for name changes and the assumption of a second name. Room's lengthy discussion of the reasons can be synthesized as follows:

  1. to conceal identity.
  2. to deceive.
  3. to protect.
  4. to transform one's identity...
[...] well-known stars have often changed their names for a variety of reasons. The following is a list of male and female name-changing stars whose real names are generally widely known.
(1) Male Star
pseudonym: real name:
Kirk Douglas Issur danielovich Demsky (1916-)
Douglas Fairbanks Douglas Elton Thomas Ulman (1883-1939)
Rock Hudson Roy Sherer (1925-1985)
Jerry Lewis Joseph Levitch (1926-)
Dean Martin Dino Crocetti (1917-)
John Wayne Marion Morrison (1907-1979)
(2) Female Star
Judy Garland Frances Gumm (1922-1969)
Jean Harlow Harlean Carpentier (1911-1937)
Susan Hayward Edythe Marriner (1918-1975)
Vivien Leigh Vivian Hartley (1913-1967)
Marilyn Monroe Norma Jean Baker (1926-1962)
Lilli Palmer Mario Lilli Peiser (1914-)
Elke Sommer Elke Schletz (1940-)...
(followed by a list of writers, artists and politicians.)

Palindromes and anagrams
A palindrome is a word or phrase that is spelled the same way forward and backward. Examples of well-known palindromes that virtually everyone has heard over the years include the following: Was it a rat I saw ?, Red rum, is murder, and A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.

Names that are palindromes:

(A few palindrome sites can be found on the Internet.)

[...] An anagram is a word or phrase that a clever individual can rearrange into another novel phrase by using only the alphabetic inventory of the original. Howard Bergerson [...] cites the following in which the name of England's famed dramatist is transformed to form a related and meaningful expression.

William Shakespeare (1546-1616)

  1. We all make his praise.
  2. I ask me, has Will a peer.
Room [...] even cites a few pseudonyms which are anagrams based on the author's real names.
Anagrammatic Pseudonym: True Name:
Parenio Etiro Pietro Aretino
Red Nert Tommy Trinder
Lord R'Hoone Honoré de Balzac
Henry Wenman Henry Newman
William Saroyan Sirak Goryan