IT BEGAN in the most unlikely way, my search for aptronyms. It was during the course of an animated cyber squabble some time ago about genetically modified produce. The “debate”, between a few like-minded journalists (myself included) and a large national retail chain, raged around certain social media websites for a while. Furious posts filled Facebook pages and tweets twittered back and forth – entirely appropriate since its trigger was chicken-feed – and in the process, I came across the aptronymical Mr Ralph Peckover, hired by the retailer in question to certify its organic eggs.
Friend, website editor, travel writer and “Frankenfood” foe Caroline Hurry had written to the retailer asking where (or if) GM-free food was sourced for the hens that produced their organic eggs.
Alas, this particular retailer, despite its boasts to the contrary, seems not to be averse to a little greenwashing (a newly discovered but fairly rampant condition spread by companies trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes about their “green” credentials): in the space of a year, instead of reducing the GM products on its shelves, it had almost doubled the number. Wrote Carrie, who was trying to source non-GM food for her own egg-laying chickens: “It is very concerning that all maize in South Africa is genetically modified – which includes hen food. If these ‘organic eggs’ are being laid by hens that are fed GMO corn, then calling them organic is highly misleading.”
After what seemed like purposeful delaying tactics, and “egged” on by questioning tweets and Facebook posts from the rest of us, the retailer finally put Carrie in touch with said Mr Peckover.
The news was not good.
“South Africa does not even have an ‘organic regulation’,” the independent food inspector told her, “… so anyone can label a food ‘organic’ and there is nothing anyone can do about it even when it is not. Countries like Ethiopia have an ‘organic regulation’ but ours I think remains a pipe dream.”
Not to my determined friend, though. She rounded up all her contacts and put together her own list of GM-free-foodstuff producers around the country. You can find it on her website: Travelwrite (none from the Eastern Cape so far – do tell me if you know of any).
So Carrie ended up finding her GM-free chicken-feed elsewhere, and I ended up with yet another word-nerd obsession – finding aptronyms: real names which are, as Oxford Dictionaries says, “regarded as amusingly appropriate to their occupation”.
Well-known ones include Usain Bolt, who’s almost as fast as lightning; Tiger Woods, who wields them on the golf course; and comic actor Martin Short, who’s extremely vertically challenged.
Among the less well known listed in British linguist David Crystal’s book Words, Words, Words are a Cardinal in the Philippines called Sin and an American police chief called Lawless.
A famous example, recalls Crystal, is Dr Russell Brain, a leading British neurologist, not to mention the medical journal Brain’s one-time editor Dr Henry Head.
But none of them can beat the one I discovered in a journal published by the American Medical Association: Dr Richard “Dick” Chopp, a Texan urologist who spends much of his time carrying out vasectomies! – Stevie Godson
(A version of this column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch)
Pic by stevep2008 //creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/