This week’s blog takes a somewhat lighthearted view of a phenomenon that some of you may have noticed from time to time. Mythfire’s interest in this phenomenon was piqued a couple weeks back after reading a footnote in C.G. Jung’s essay on synchronicity (which is sometimes defined as “meaningful coincidence”):
“We find ourselves in something of a quandary when it comes to making up our minds about the phenomenon which [psychologist Wilhelm] Stekel calls the ‘compulsion of the name.’ What he means by this is the sometimes quite grotesque coincidence between a man’s name and his peculiarities or profession. For instance, Herr Gross (Mr. Grand) suffers from delusions of grandeur, Herr Kleiner (Mr. Small) has an inferiority complex. The Altmann sisters marry men twenty years older than themselves . . . . Herr Freud (joy) champions the pleasure-principle, Herr Adler (eagle) the will-to-power, Herr Jung (young) the idea of rebirth, and so on. Are these the whimsicalities of chance, or the suggestive effects of the name, as Stekel seems to suggest, or are they ‘meaningful coincidences’?” 
That Jung is not sure what if anything should be made of this phenomenon is evident not only in the questioning language he uses in this quote but also in the fact that he relegates the entire matter to a footnote. Still, what Stekel calls “compulsion of the name” or what others have termed nominative determinism sometimes seems too apt to be mere chance. In fact, this is why names which match the profession, life, or character of the name-bearer are also sometimes referred to as aptonyms.
Take last week’s post for example on Charlie Sheen as a puer aeternus or eternal youth. Once we do the most basic digging we see that Charlie is a diminutive form of Charles, a name which means “man” or “manly.” Sheen as a word means bright, beautiful, radiant – all of which are traits of the eternally creative golden boy or puer. Thus we have Charlie Sheen as someone who is not quite a man and yet is radiant. In other words, a puer aeternus.
Interestingly, his birth name of Carlos Estevez means “manly son of the crown.” As was also suggested in last week’s post, you could argue that the solution to the puer’s problem can be found in the redefinition or re-formation of manhood through connection with the positive qualities of the father, i.e. responsibility, caring for others and the greater good, discipline, selflessness, humility, awareness of limitations, etc. In mythology and in life the energies of the father archetype are often sought and found in the character of kings. Thus, it would seem that in both of Sheen’s names – that which he is known by and that which he was given at birth – we can find his Adonis-Odysseus dilemma as discussed in last week’s post. More to the point, his birth name may itself point the way toward healing and wholeness for the puer.
Another puer who has had a recent spectacular rise and fall similar to Sheen’s is Tiger Woods. Clearly, his first and last names both seem custom-designed for a golfer. His scandalous relations with women also reveal the full extent of Woods’ “tiger-blood,” to borrow again a term used by Sheen to describe himself. One hopes, as with Sheen, that time affords Tiger the means, i.e. introspection, therapy, experience, etc., to somehow learn the meaning of his actual birth name, Eldrick, or “sage-ruler.” Perhaps being “a sage-ruler of the woods,” with its defining wisdom, humility, and groundedness, wouldn’t be all that bad for Tiger as he moves forward with his life.
Two other examples of aptonyms or possible nominative determinism spring quickly to mind. First, Donald Trump with his competitive spirit, love of money, and ownership of casinos; second, Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple whose interracial marriage was deemed unlawful until 1967 when they successfully lobbied the Supreme Court to throw out anti-miscegenation laws in all fifty states.
Rather than thinking of this phenomenon in a deterministic “my name is my fate” kind of way perhaps the more psychological approach may be to return to and possibly revise Stekel’s “compulsion of the name.” In so doing we ask ourselves, then, to what degree we are unconsciously compelled by our name to act in ways harmful to ourselves and others. Or, more positively, how might our name reveal traits which point the way toward wholeness and authenticity?
Finally, the synchronistic approach to analyzing the meaning of names would ask the question “how are such close parallels possible between the personality of Charlie Sheen and his name, or between Adler, Freud, Jung and their psychological theories?” It is almost as if the stars were astrologically aligned and/or divine intervention played a role. Synchronicity involves correspondences between inner and outer — psychological and physical — mirroring one another in a mysterious, uncanny, and ultimately unknowable way. Regardless of whether or not someone believes in the synchronistic approach, it inevitably inspires and requires the same questions just posed by the more traditional psychological approach.
In other words, the honest inquiry, humility, and introspection accompanying the psychological and synchronistic approaches may in the end be the chief benefits of exploring this compelling phenomenon.
Tip: Anyone interested in researching the meaning of their name might try http://www.behindthename.com/ for their first name and http://surnames.behindthename.com/ for their last. If one’s name is not included on these sites a Google search should yield more favorable results. Thanks to Adam “The Man” Trachtman for these links. (Adam also mentioned that another aptonym belongs to tennis great Martina Navratilova whose last name means “to return” — as in “return of service.” Another athlete with a most fortuitous name is Usain “Lightning” Bolt, the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist in the 100m and 200m sprints and the 4X100m relay.)
Update: For Michael Meade’s take on Donald Trump’s very apt name click here.
Next Monday: “Puermen & Ironmen”
 A variance of aptonym that is sometimes used is aptronym.
 Carlos = manly; Estevez = son of Stephen = son of the crown.