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Onomastic Variation. By Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Acronyms, Initialisms and Numbers. O. J. Simpson ( was known as the juice and was a spokesman for Orange Juice). Tony Dorset had the initials T.D. meaning “touchdown.”

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onomastic variation

Onomastic Variation

By Don L. F. Nilsen and

Alleen Pace Nilsen

acronyms initialisms and numbers
Acronyms, Initialisms and Numbers

O. J. Simpson ( was known as the juice and was a spokesman for Orange Juice).

Tony Dorset had the initials T.D. meaning “touchdown.”

Note that Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus of Nazareth are known by their roles—Buddha and Christ or Savior.

In Peanuts there are characters named 3, 4, and 5.

aliases a k a
Aliases (a.k.a.)

Barry Humphreys, Bruce Banner, Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Wolverine 

Dame Edna, The Hulk, Batman, Superman, Spiderman; Wolverine’s aliases depend on the situation

Note that Superman has to become Clark Kent to keep from being a superhero, while Bruce Wayne hides his identity by becoming Batman.

Prince  the artist formerly known as Prince. He is also known as “The Love Symbol.”

Then there are the doppelgangers, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

There are also code names like

POTUS for Barack Obama

FLOTUS for Michelle Obama

Sawhorse for Al Gore

Angler for Dick Cheney

Evergreen for Hillary Clinton

Phoenix for John McCain.


In the Lemony Snicket books, Count Olaf is an anagram of

Al Funcoot

Foreman Flacutono

and Dr. O. Lucafont.

In the Harry Potter books,

Tom Marvolo Riddle is an anagram of

“I am Lord Voldemort.”

aptronyms in john bunyan s pilgrim s progress
Aptronyms in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Christian
  • Faithful
  • Mr. Brisk
  • Mr. Great Heart
  • Mr. Honest
  • Giant Despair
  • Giant Grim
  • Madam Bubble
  • Mr. Despondency
  • Mr. Moneylove
  • Mrs. Bats-Eyes
brand names blendings
Brand NamesBlendings

Efferdent toothpaste

Danskin tights

Allerest allergy medicine


Mylanta antacid medicine


Chevrolet Lumina

Honda Acura

Mitsubishi Precis

Nissan Maxima

Nissan Altima

Sentra Car

Volkswagen Jetta


Mexico City Zoo:

    • Ying Ying
  • Washington D.C. Zoo:
    • Ling Ling
    • Hsing-Hsing
  • London Zoo:
    • Chia-Chia
  • As a mark of affection, Chinese parents often give their children double names.
  • Since Pandas are native only to China, Pandas also receive double names.

Sunkist Oranges

Jello Dessert

DieHard Batteries

Evenflo baby bottles

Klos kids’ clothing

Mop & Glo cleaner

Sew n’ Vac repairs

x rated brands
“X-Rated” Brands

Sinex medicine

Sominex medicine






Ford Ranger XLT

Hyundai Excel

character names
Character Names
  • In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind she had a character named Pansy.
  • On the advice of her editor she changed the name to Scarlett O’Hara.

James Bond, Karl Malone

007, The Mailman (because of his number 32, the cost of a stamp at that time, and because “he delivers!”)

In Get Smart Maxwell Smart was Agent 86 and his sidekick was Agent 99.

gender identifications
Gender Identifications

Authors like S. E. Hinton and J. K. Rowling use initials.

And Mary Evans  George Eliot.

toward ethnicity
Toward Ethnicity

Cassius Clay, Daniel Michaeli, David Cornwell, Jerry Rivers, Lesane Parish Crooks, Lew Alcindor, Susan Weaver 

Muhammad Ali, Danny DeVito, John Le Carré, Geraldo Rivera, Tupac Amaru Shakur, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Sigourney Weaver

away from ethnicity
Away from Ethnicity

Aaron Chwatt, Avram Chomsky, Bernard Schwartz, Carlos Estevez, Carlos Ray, David Kaminsky, Dino Crocetti, Doris von Kappelhoff, Enrique Martin Morales, Frederick Austerlitz, Gerald Silberman 

Red Buttons, Noam Chomsky, Tony Curtis, Charlie Sheen, Chuck Norris, Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Ricky Martin, Fred Astaire, Gene Wilder

Jacob Cohen, Jennifer Anastassakis, Joan Molinsky, Jonathan Leibowitz, Joseph Levitch, Larry Zeigler, Louise Ciccone Ritchie, Margarita Cansino, Melvin Kaminsky, Paul Rubenfeld, Raquel Tejada, Salvatore Bono, Winona Horowitz 

Rodney Dangerfield, Jennifer Aniston, Joan Rivers, Jon Stewart, Jerry Lewis, Larry King, Madonna, Rita Hayworth, Mel Brooks, Pee-Wee Herman, Raquel Welch, Sonny Bono, Winona Ryder

toward formality
Toward Formality

Andre Young, Dana Owens, Frances Gumm, Gary Keillor, James Bumbarner

Dr. Dre, Queen Latifah, Judy Garland, Garrison Keillor, James Garner

NOTE: We don’t normally go in this direction. We would prefer to be thought of as informal and maybe a bit off beat.

away from formality
Away from Formality

Aaron Chwatt, Allen Konigsberg, Caryn Johnson, Clerow Wilson, Cordazer Broadus, Dante Smith, David Atkins, Gordon Sumner, James Osterberg, James Smith, John Sanford, Joseph Keaton

Red Buttons, Woody Allen, Whoopi Goldberg, Flip Wilson, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Mos Def, Sinbad, Sting, Iggy Pop, LL Cool J, Redd Foxx, Buster Keaton

The rapper Christopher Wallace  Notorious B.I.G. and then  “Biggie Smalls.”

away from formality1
Away from Formality

Curtis Jackson, Leonard Hackett, Louis Armstrong, Marshall Mathers, Marvin Aday, Milton Superman, Oshea Jackson, Otha Bates, Phyllis Driver, Robert Van Winckle, Salvatore Bono, Scott Thompson, Shelton Lee, Stanley Burrell, Tracy Morrow 

50 Cent, Buddy Hacket, Satchmo, Eminem, Meat Loaf, Soupy Sales, Ice Cube, Bo Diddley, Phyllis Diller (note assonance), Vanilla Ice, Sonny Bono, Carrott Top, Spike Lee, M. C. Hammer, Ice-T

away from old fashioned
Away from Old Fashioned

Herbert Gleason, Goldie Studlendgehawn, Malcolm Little, Marion Michael Morrison (also away from gender ambiguity)

Jackie Gleason, Goldie Hawn, Malcolm X, John Wayne


Donald, Edward, Elizabeth, Francis, Gerald, Harold, Jacqueline, John, Joseph, Josephine, Judith, Leonard, Lucille, Margaret, Marjorie, Melvin, Nicholas, Patrick, Richard, Robert, Salvatore, Samuel, Susan, Theodore, Thomas, William 

Don, Ed, Lizzy/Lisa/Beth/Betsy/Elsbeth, Frank, Jerry, Harry/Hal, Jackie, Johnny/Jack, Joe, Jo (in Little Women), Judy, Leo, Lucy, Maj/Margo/Maggie/Meg/ Marge/Peggy/Peg, Mel, Nick (this is his “nick-name,” Pat, Dick, Bob, Sal, Sam, Sue/Suzie/Suzie Que, Ted, Tom, Will/Bill/Billie

patronyms first names become last names
Patronyms (first names become last names)

Brian, Casey, Connor, Donald, Gerald, Jack, John, Murry, Neil, Owen, Patrick, Reilly, Ryan, Will 

O’Brian, O’Casey, O’Connor, McDonald/O’Donald, Fitzgerald, Jackson, Johnson, McMurry, Neilsen/McNeil/O’Neil, Bowen (Ap Owen), Fitzpatrick, O’Reilly, O’Ryan, Wilson

pen names
Pen Names

Charles Dodgson, Daniel Handler, Richard Bachman, Samuel Clemens 

Lewis Carroll, Lemony Snicket, Stephen King, Mark Twain

And Theodore Seuss Geisel  Dr. Seuss, Theo Le Seig, and Rosetta Stone


In the early 1800s, Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson, changed their family name.

  • The name Allcox became Alcott.

When Ernest Hemingway was in high school (1916-1917) he used all of the following pen names:

  • B. S.
  • E. H.
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Ernest MacNamara Hemingway
  • Ernest Michaelowitch Hemingway
  • Ernest Miller Hemingway
pet names
Pet Names

These names tend to be mild insults. Please tell us the pet names of people you know. For example:

I have a cat that I call “Dipper Hips.”

That’s my cat’s “pet name.”

My own name is Don Lee Fred Nilsen, so people used to call me Dolphin (DLFN). When people call me Donald, I correct them by saying, “No, Donald is the duck.” In the army I went to German operas, so my buddies called me “Fledermaus.”


Mary  Maria  Marianne

“Ave Maria,” marionnette

Note that in the music industry most of the Pseudonyms are quite dark or playful, like the following:

Alien, Buck Satan, Hypo Luxa, Jello Biafra

recycling of names
Recycling of Names

David Copperfield (Dickens Character), Dolly Parton (Country Singer), & Englebert Humperdink (Opera Composer), Yogi Berra (baseball catcher) 

David Copperfield (magician, né David Kotkin), Dolly (sheep cloned from a mammary gland), & Englebert Humperdink (singer, né Arnold Dorsey), Yogi Bear (cartoon character)

On Lost, the con-man James Ford takes on the alias of “Sawyer” from another con-man who goes by the name of “Tom Sawyer.” He is part capitalist (Ford) and part con-man “Sawyer.”

the name jacques in france
The Name Jacques in France

In France, the non-aristocrats were called “La Jacquerie.” Originally this referred to any peasant or non-aristocrat, but later it referred to the “peasant uprising” that marched from Marseille to Paris and stormed the Bastille.

In Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, three of the characters are named Jacques 1, Jacques 2 and Jacques 3.

stage names
Stage Names
  • In 1920, Alan Bolt became America’s first important sexy movie star.
  • But first, he had to change his name to Rudolph Valentino.

In his first movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger went by the name of Arnold Strong.

  • His agent told him that Americans would never say Schwarzenegger.
  • But he went back to his original name, telling his agent,
  • “They can learn!”
symbolic names
Symbolic Names

Casanova, Don Juan, Sam, St. Patrick 

a casanova, Byron’s Don Juan, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, *Uncle Sam, St. Patrick’s Day

*Note “Uncle Sam”  “United States.”

place names
Place Names
  • When settlers came to Arizona, they invented such place names as:
  • Carefree
  • Golden Valley
  • Inspiration, Paradise Valley
  • Phoenix
  • Tucson

But people just passing through Arizona invented such names as:

  • Booze Crossing
  • Contention
  • Del Muerto
  • Grasshopper Junction
  • Hookers Hot Springs
  • Tombstone
toponymic names
Toponymic Names

Cody, Montana, Tex, The Virginian

Chevy Chase, Dakota Fanning, Indiana Jones, Minnesota Fats, Rock Hudson & Tennessee Williams

Cornelius Chase, Henry Deutschendorf, Janet Rasmussen, River Bottom 

Chevy Chase, John Denver, Janet Reno, River Phoenix

names web sites
Names Web Sites

American Name Society:


Baby Names:


Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Names and Naming in Young Adult Literature. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007.