Unfortunate Signs 6: meaningful surnames.

We all know the scene. The conference is three quarters over, the table originally strewn with name tags waiting for the delegates, now carries only a few: those who did not turn up. I am always drawn to read these.

At the recent EVA 2016 conference, I found this prize specimen.


LinkedIn has 20 or more Joshua (or Josh) Dulls, including a truck driver, a recruiter, and a registered nurse.Facebook has 11 of them.

And the card says clearly ‘Pratt’ (with two t’s), the respected Pratt Institute, and not of course the word ‘prat’ which the OED defines as “An incompetent or stupid person; an idiot.”


I once bought a book by a man called Edwin G Boring, solely because of the author’s name. (I tried to read the book, but he was aptly named.) What a shame that Mr Dull and Dr Boring did not collaborate on another volume… Perhaps with a foreword by Sgt Delroy Smellie of the Metropolitan Police?

Seriously, though, most of us have abstract names, or names that were once meaningful but have now lost their connotations in everyday speech. (Smith, Cooper, Fuller, etc.) What difference does it make to your life when your name is a word that has negative connotations? Apart from all the bad jokes, I wonder if there is any evidence that people called ‘dull’ or ‘boring’ are less likely to be picked out of a list of CVs by recruiters? Or less likely to be chosen for sports teams, or as a date?

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