Word Ways


Onomastics is the mouth-filling word for the study of names, but it can be much more interesting than that forbidding Greek-derived word suggests. Take, for example, the names of pets. All across the United States, there are millions of little creatures (and some not so little) who are part of the family circle: Al (Gator), Pussy (Cat), and generations of dogs named Rover or Spot. I knew an English professor who took his dog's name from Lady Macbeth's famous sleep-walking scene, so that he could cry "Out, out damned Spot!" I'm an English professor, too, but my old English sheep dog is named Randall (derived from the Old English word for house wolf, as names like Ralph and Randolph derive from the Anglo-Saxon word for wolf). An earlier dog of mine was named Lady Brett, Hemingway's heroine in the novel The Sun Also Rises (her surname was Ashley, too).