Name Game | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Name Game 

What's in a name? For some people, a life direction

Published December 19, 2007 at 2:21 p.m. | Updated December 28, 2015 at 9:11 p.m.

  • Michael Tonn

I encountered my first “aptronym” in the summer of 1972 at Camp Mar-Lin in Windsor, Connecticut. It belonged to an infirmary nurse named Sandy Sheets. My next aptronym — that is, a name aptly suited to a person’s profession, hobby or other distinguishing feature — was a Scarsdale, New York, dentist named Lou Smoler. Some people, it seems, were born into their professions, while the rest of us muddle through our lives with names that hold no particular meaning.

Incidentally, the only time my own name ever held aptronymic promise was when I submitted a spec script to Paramount Studios for the 1990s TV series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Executive Producer Jeri Taylor wrote me back, saying she couldn’t pass up a script written by someone named Picard. (Alas, Captain Jean-Luc Picard never spoke any of my words.)

Over the last five years, I’ve compiled, with the diligent help of other Seven Days staffers, a list of people who may have fallen victim to “nominative determinism,” that is, making life choices that were influenced by their names.

Richard Watts — spokesperson for Vermont Electric Company (VELCO)

Phil Tower — Operations manager for WTKG-AM radio

Michael Pollan — gardener and author of The Botany of Desire

Fern Lickfield — local gardener and “flower essence practitioner”

Philip Duane Johncock — author of The Sexual Ecstasy Workbook

John Buck — deer biologist at Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee — knitter and knitting author

Kevin Bean — award-winning Burlington vegetable gardener

Nancy Baggett — author of The 60-Minute Bread Book and other baking books

Franklin Bushwhack — president of the National RVers Association

David Provost —vice-president for finances at Champlain College

Oliver Gardner — owner of Four Seasons Garden Center

Carmen Or — director of Vermont International Opera Festival

Steve Springer — Randolph water activist and president of Water First!

Jonathan Wood — Vermont Commissioner of Forests and Parks

Gregory Good — quality control engineer at MSA-Newport

Angel Collins — director of hospice and palliative care at the Visiting Nurses Association

Lee Wood — executive director, Building for Social Responsibility

Steve Almond — best-selling author of the book Candy Freak

Tyler Cabot — author of 2007 Esquire magazine article on cheeses

Anne Semans — marketing director for Babeland, a chain of sex shops in Seattle, Washington

Eric Love — director of the East Texas Abstinence Program

Suzanne Marie Butts — repeat offender accused of stealing toilet paper from a central Iowa courthouse

J. Manlove — researcher with the National Campaign to End Teen Pregnancy

Angel Colon — Vermonter convicted of smuggling heroin in 2007

E.L. Blood — owner of West Groton, Massachusetts, slaughterhouse

Cynthia Jean Forehand — anatomy professor at the University of Vermont

Running Deer —“Member-at-Large,” Vermont Protection and Advocacy board of directors

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

About the Artist

Michael Tonn

Michael Tonn

Michael Tonn is still just eating gummy bears outside the Shopping Bag in Burlington. To see more of his work and to get in touch, go to or @dead_moons on Instagram.


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