Stories from Texas

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March 10, 2021

What’s In A Name? For These Famous Texans, Everything.

By: W.F. Strong

By W. F. Strong

Could there be a better name for the world’s faster runner than Usain Bolt?  It’s a dead solid perfect aptronym, which is the formal word for a name that appropriately fits one’s occupation, sometimes humorously. A neurological scholar in England was knighted and became, I kid you not, Lord Brain. The president of Barclays Bank used to be Rich Ricci. What else could he have done but become a banker? The same may be said for  George Francis Train, a major player in building the eastern portion of the transcontinental railroad across the United States. Barbara Boxer didn’t go into boxing literally, but as the long-serving former California senator, she was in the full contact sport of politics.

I thought I’d look at aptronyms of Texas – people from Texas who have names that are, or were, particularly apt for them. My friend Judge Ken Wise has an ideal name for a judge.  He uses his  name, too, aptronomously, for his podcast, “Wise about Texas.” In East Texas we used to have a federal judge whose name was William Wayne Justice.  He really was all about justice, too. He forced East Texas to integrate their schools and ordered that children of undocumented parents could go to public schools. 

There are those who study, seriously, the connection between names and destiny. Researchers Brett Pelham and Carvallo Mauricio found  that men named Cal and Tex, born outside of Texas and California, had better than 50/50 odds that they’d move to their namesake states in their lifetime. Cals would go to California and those named Tex would mosey on over to the Lone Star State. They also found that the name Dennis is disproportionately represented in the field of Dentistry. Dennis the Dentist. 

There are also inaptronyms. They are ironic rather than descriptive names. For instance, we used to have a state treasurer in Texas named Jesse James. We put a famous train robber in charge of the money. John Tower was not physically towering, but he was a towering force in politics, both influential and powerful in the U.S. Senate.  So his name works both ways. 

Here’s a few more fun Texas aptronyms:

Barbara Staff was great at building staffs for Republican political campaigns.

John Sharp, the politically astute former comptroller, is now Texas A&M University chancellor.  

The last name of Tito of Tito’s Vodka fame is Beveridge. 

Richard King built a ranch empire that was, and remains, one of the biggest ranches in the world. Great name for the man and the ranch.

Ken Starr has certainly seemed to be a star in many political events of the last few decades, with the Clinton impeachment being his biggest starring role. 

Finally, I have to go back a long way to tell you about Robert Neighbors, a man who was the primary Indian agent in Texas back in the 1850s. It was his impossible task of attempting to forge peace between the white settlers and the Comanche. He was one of the few people, at the time, other than Sam Houston, who spoke a Native American language fluently. He used that skill to talk with Comanches in their lodges and teepees and build trust for the treaties he negotiated with the settlers.  

Sadly, Neighbors was shot in the back and killed by Edward Cornett because he thought Neighbors was too friendly with the Comanche. Despite the fact that there were three eyewitnesses to the crime, Edward was never tried for the murder.  It helps to have your brother-in-law on the grand jury.


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