The Study of Names

A Guide to the Principles and Topics

Here are a few excerpts from The Study of Names by Frank Nuessel:

Humorous Personal Names

Robert Rennick (1982) 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". 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.

Peter Hammer
hardware store clerk
Nita House
real estate agent
Dr. Barret Hyman
obstetrician and gynecologist
Dr. Joseph C. Babey
Thomas Edison
General Electric employee
Ken Lawless
police chief
Fred Couch
Cathy Book
bookstore clerk
Bob Counts
Leonard Divine
Dr. Knapp
Lawrence E. Lawhead
In another essay on aptonyms, Lucas (1988) enumerated additional aptonyms as below:
Dr. Carey Parrett
Jerry Frisk
Security Guard
Joe B. Musselman
Body builder
James Splatter
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 (reference required) 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, and
  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
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-)...

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



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 (reference needed) 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.