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Aptronyms 2014: Are Descriptive Monikers Coincidence or Fate?


Published December 24, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Michael Tonn

Are people destined to a certain fate because of their given names? That question has been kicking around for centuries, at least since Samuel Alexander Mudd, a 19th-century physician and slave owner, was imprisoned for conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Because Mudd was the doctor who treated Booth's broken leg after his infamous leap to the stage at Ford's Theatre, his name was later attributed (incorrectly, it turns out) to the expression, "Your name is mud."

Still, for those of us in the news biz, it's hard to ignore the karmic connection that seems to link people's names and their chosen professions, habits, hobbies, destinies or personal proclivities. Linguists — and word geeks such as yours truly — refer to these names as "aptronyms" due to their aptness for the people to whom they belong. Some aptronyms throughout history include telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell; the lesser-known Bell Labs employee, D.H. Ring, who pioneered early cellular phone technology; and Thomas Crapper, who popularized and improved upon (but didn't invent) the indoor flush toilet.

In years past, I've pointed out some aptronyms that became so well known, the names barely required further explanation. They included serial sexter Anthony Weiner, gardener and food writer Michael Pollan and Bush-era secretary of education Margaret Spellings. Last year brought us U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. This year, national press corps journalists were introduced to President Obama's new press secretary, Josh Earnest, whose name must leave some reporters wondering: Is he joking or is he serious?

What's in a name? For some, a lucrative career. Locally, John Flint is the owner of a business in Stowe called Pyramid Stone Works. Hadley Stock owns a market in Manchester, Vt., called the Farm Store, which stocks mostly local foods. And Matt Canning landed the enviable job of beer concierge at Hotel Vermont in Burlington. Talk about karma in a can.

It's not just people but places that occasionally seem to possess a destiny based on their names. Earlier this year, Leach Farms, an Enosburg Falls dairy farm, admitted to violating Vermont's water-pollution laws and agricultural-practice regulations, for which its owners agreed to pay $40,000 in civil penalties. And more than a few clients of Marriage Quest, an intensive couples and sex counseling retreat in Cabot, must surely stop and ponder their counselors' street address, on Deeper Ruts Road.

But no aptronym this year beats the incredibly apt name Don Popadick. On April 29, the 62-year-old Canadian man was arrested and charged with an indecent act after repeatedly flashing his junk at visitors of Mooney's Bay Park in Ottawa. For owning that moniker, Popadick earns the honor of 2014 Aptronym of the Year — hands down.

Here are some of the 2014 runners-up:

"Ran3dy" C. Bright: According to a Vermont State Police press release (which doesn't explain why the suspect's first name includes the numeral 3) the 50-year-old owner of ForNORA Energy Solutions of Saxtons River was hired to perform an energy audit and weatherization in a private residence. On October 27, police allege that Bright secretly hid a small video camera in the homeowner's upstairs bedroom, for which he was later cited for suspicion of voyeurism. (Evidently, the accused was randy but not so bright.)

Chad Fry and Mark Frier: co-owners of the Reservoir Restaurant & Tap Room in Waterbury and the Bench in Stowe. (I recommend the fries.)

Robbi Handy Holmes: South Burlington Realtor.

Chris Bell: director of Vermont's Emergency Medical Services and the Office of Public Health Preparedness.

Dale Crook: director of field services for the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Eric Sample: associate professor at Champlain College who teaches computer music and sound.

Peter Bumps: driver who allegedly rear-ended a vehicle on July 14 in Rutland, then fled the scene. Bumps was later apprehended and issued a citation for leaving the scene of an accident, driving with a criminally suspended license and for having no insurance on his vehicle.

Jourdan Buck: On July 21, the 17-year-old Waterford youth swerved her 2002 Volkswagen Bug to avoid striking a deer, veered off the road and crashed into a clump of trees. (Had Seven Days originally reported the story, the headline surely would have read: "Buck Swerves to Avoid Deer, Crushes Bug.")

Angel Means: director of the Visiting Nurse Association's end-of-life services who oversees Vermont's largest hospice and palliative-care program. (An angel with means, indeed.)

Morgan True: reporter for the online news outlet VTDigger.org.

Garth Lenz: international award-winning photographer.

Eric Hacker: information-security expert at Green Mountain Power.

Anthony Speed: St. Johnsbury resident accused, on January 12, of stealing a purse containing cash and prescription narcotics.

Michael Snow: Colchester contractor who handles local snow plowing.

Robin Kitchens: 24-year-old St. Johnsbury resident charged in January with domestic assault. (Alas, it wasn't a home burglary charge involving the theft of blenders and microwave ovens.)

Joseph Moodie: The 34-year-old homeless man was arrested at the Comfort Inn in St. Johnsbury and charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly using profanity in front of other hotel guests, including small children, and knocking on the doors of other hotel patrons. Moodie was later arrested for a second time for disorderly conduct in Concord, Vt.

Buster Chambers: a 39-year-old St. Johnsbury man charged with unlawful mischief for deliberately damaging the cables for the satellite TV at a private residence.

Ed Rounds: a Burlington gun enthusiast who in March voted against three city gun-control measures, all of which failed.

Thelma Louise Bloom: mother of John Irving Bloom, aka Joe Bob Briggs, a nationally syndicated film critic.

Crystal Shipper: In the ancient Celtic Book of the Dun Cow, the hero is wooed by a goddess who whisks him away to an "earthly paradise beyond the sea" in a magical crystal ship that belongs to the sea god Manannán. On April 1, Vermont State Police arrested a Crystal Shipper, 29, in Bellows Falls and charged her with harboring a runaway juvenile from Massachusetts.

Markus Kaarma: The Missoula, Mont., man was accused of setting a trap for intruders by intentionally leaving his garage door open and placing a purse in clear view. Kaarma was charged with first-degree murder after he shot to death 17-year-old Diren Dede, a German high school exchange student who'd entered the garage. In his defense, Kaarma invoked Montana's "castle doctrine," which justifies the use of deadly force in defending an occupied dwelling — or a decoy purse.

Martine and Louise Fokkens: These 71-year-old Dutch twins retired earlier this year after 50 years of working as prostitutes in Amsterdam's red-light district. According to the UK's Daily Mail, the twins entered the sex trade before they were 20 to escape violent relationships, and now claim to have serviced more than 355,000 men. Louise, a mother of four, says the red-light district isn't what it used to be and now lacks a "sense of community."

This year's anti-aptronyms include:

Janice Mitchell-Love: a 63-year-old Saxtons River resident who reported to police on New Year's Eve 2013 that her residence had been egged by an unknown vandal. (Where's the love?)

Jennifer Strait: a Burlington woman charged in July with domestic assault for allegedly hitting her husband for spilling the last of their marijuana. (As spousal mistakes go, this one's not exactly dire, Strait.)

Eric Friend: a Bristol man charged on May 21 with allegedly assaulting his significant other.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Name Game 2014"