What’s in a Name: 5 Aptronyms in Pop Culture

Posted by David Winnick

Do our given names affect who we become? Take into consideration, athlete Usain Bolt or music industry's Bob Rock. This coincidence when a name matches a trait or job is known as an aptronym. A simple look at pop culture will show many characters whose destinies are written in their names.

Seneca Crane

The Hunger Games is full to bursting with characters whose names match their position in the society. Katniss (cat-like), Peeta (the bread maker), and Plutarch Havensbee (safe haven) are perfect examples. There are practically no characters who don’t have names which match their roles in the story. That is why Seneca should have known he would eventually meet a bloody end. The character’s name is drawn from Roman dramatist Seneca the Younger who was well known for his graphic tragedies.


Hiro Protagonist

The main character of Neil Stephenson’s seminal novel Snow Crash is named…Hiro Protagonist. A little bit on the nose for the real world, but in the cyber-punk world Stephenson created, Hiro is a perfect match. The half Japanese, half black character starts out the novel as a low level pizza delivery person. This isn’t your basic delivery route though, this one requires a samurai sword. Eventually, Hiro gets sucked into a web that involves an ultimate weapon and a crazy designer drug. We wonder if he has what it takes to be the hero of the day. 


Superman's Real Name, Kal-El

While Clark Kent’s given earth name is not particularly apt, the two other names he is branded with are. The name Superman is a perfect example of an aptronym. There isn’t a person alive who could claim that he is not indeed a super man in more ways than one. The name comes from the 1883 novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Alexander Tile in which the writer discussed the Übermensch roughly translated to overman or superman. This term was taken up during the rise Hitler and the Nazi party in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It is no surprise then that an American hero would abscond with that title in 1938. To make things even more apt, the Kryptonian name Kal-El translates from Hebrew into “vessel of god” or “voice of god”. Talk about covering your bases.


Darth Maul

We have all heard about how Darth Vader was named by George Lucas as an indicator of the villain’s position in the original Star Wars trilogy. Lucas claimed that “Darth” was variation on the word dark and “Vader” pulled from the Dutch word “Vader” or the German “Vater” meaning father. That brings us with a weird thing to look at in terms the only great thing from Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. A maul is a heavy wood splitting hammer/ax like tool. Then there is the act of mauling, or attacking in a frenzied and vicious manner. Perhaps Spanish holds the answer where in the word “Mal” means “bad” So, we are looking at a blunt instrument used in a vicious attack to do bad things. That may explain why Darth Maul is a relatively flat character.


Buffy Summers

Buffy is one of the toughest women to ever grace the small screen. Known in the monster underworld as “The Slayer,” Buffy spends her nights wandering the streets of Sunnydale looking for creepy creatures to kill. Her most common prey is the disturbing subspecies known as vampires. It only seems apropos that a woman who kills vampires should be named Summers. The last name indicates sunlight and bright long days, with short nights. This is especially important when we consider that sunlight kills vampires. No doubt that was always in series creator Joss Whedon’s mind from the moment he thought of the character.