What’s in a Name? Crowdsourcing the Search for Legal Aptonyms

A big fan of aptonyms

First, thanks to the CoOp crowd, and especially to my colleague Danielle Citron, for having me as a guest. I look forward to the rest of the month here (assuming I’m not kicked off after this post).

In the spirit of impending spring break, I thought I’d seek CoOp’s crowdsourcing assistance on a more whimsical project. I’ve just finished a draft of a short essay about legal aptonyms. For those currently scratching their heads — or opening up Google in a separate tab — aptonyms (literally “apt names”) are proper names that are “regarded as (humorously) appropriate to a person’s profession or personal characteristics.” Think of Shakespeare’s quick-tempered Sir Hotspur, Dickens’s acerbic Mrs. Sowerberry, or J.K. Rowling’s pernicious Draco Malfoy.

I’m collecting legal ones. And not for law-related people (although there are many great ones, starting with Judges Learned Hand and John Minor Wisdom). I’m looking for cases where one of the named parties describes the legal rule, such as Loving and the right to marry, or even where one of the individuals in the case who is not a named party describes the rule (e.g., attorney Irving G. Brilliant in Surowitz v. Hilton Hotels, 383 US 363 (1966) (holding that an uninformed plaintiff can rely on the good faith advice of a knowledgeable attorney in verifying a derivative complaint)).

The other two I’ve got are Raffles v. Wichelhaus (the Peerless Case), and Schmuck v. United States, 489 U.S. 705 (1989). I promise to add the best candidates (with proper credit if you use your real name in the comments or email me at aaron.zelinsky(at)gmail.com) in the next draft.

For a draft of the essay, forthcoming in Michigan Law Review’s First Impressions, please see here.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

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23 Responses

  1. anon says:

    Justice Kagan had a lot of fun with names in Fox v. Vice. Not really connected to the legal rule, but a useful way to remember the facts.

  2. Bruce Boyden says:

    Worldwide Volkswagen and International Shoe. When I introduce those cases in Civ Pro, I always joke that if I ever start a small business, I’m going to name it “I’m Subject to Personal Jurisdiction Everywhere Co.”

  3. Howard Wasserman says:

    I recall some off-color jokes about Bowers v. Hardwick. How about Virginia v. Black?

  4. Joshua says:

    Would Bullcoming v. New Mexico work?

  5. Orin Kerr says:

    The Lemon test of Lemon v. Kurtzman 403 U.S. 602 (1971).

    A prosecution against a pedophile — United States v. Ickes. http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/034907.P.pdf

  6. PDB says:

    I remember reading about a case called People v. Reason in my Crim Pro class. It was a New York criminal case. The defendant, Reason, exercised his right to self-representation and delivered a long, rambling, incoherent speech for opening/closing. I guess this is more an ironic-nym than an aptonym.

  7. Kyle says:

    One of the leading modern alienation of affections cases is Fitch v. Valentine (Miss. 2007).

  8. Aaron Zelinsky says:

    These are great! Thanks very much. Bruce: I’m embarrassed to say that I taught Int’l Shoe and World Wide Volkswagen without even thinking about it. Please keep ’em coming!

  9. Danie says:

    Heckler v. Chaney- group of prisoners appeal use of lethal drugs in execution & claims FDA should investigate as they are not “safe”.

  10. anon says:

    My brother recently pointed out to me the apt name “Kelly Dude” for the lawyer arguing (against) a transgender child’s use of the girl’s bathroom in Colorado. http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/27/us/colorado-transgender-girl-school

  11. anony says:

    Brown v. Board of Education

  12. John Steele says:

    In an antitrust challenge against Blue Shield, the plaintiffs’ lawyer could have styled the case by choosing the surname of any of the many doctors in the class and chose one — Kartell — presumably so it would be known as the Kartell case.

    749 F.2d 922

  13. Alex Roberts says:

    Hi Aaron– I love this project!

    It might be a stretch, but Grupo Gigante v. Dallo (391 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. 2004)) stands for the well-known marks exception to the territoriality principle in trademark law: an entity that uses a mark outside the US may have priority in the US without use there if the mark’s reputation or fame is “giant” enough that a substantial percentage of US consumers associate the mark with the extraterritorial mark holder. In this case, the Mexican grocery chain was sufficiently well known in California.

  14. Aaron Zelinsky says:

    Thanks! These are both great. I will add them with the proper credit!

  15. Bridget Crawford says:

    Crummey v. Commissioner, 397 F.2d 82 (9th Cir. 1968) is a case permitting a gift tax annual exclusion with respect to certain transfers in trust. The reasoning of the case has been attached multiple times by the IRS, to no avail. Thus “Crummey” powers are standard features of life insurance trusts.

  16. Crim Student says:

    In crim law, we recently studied People v. Arzon, 401 N.YS.2d 156 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1978), a case where Arzon is prosecuted for arson.

  17. Abe Delnore says:

    Fraud is never presumed but must be distinctly alleged and proven. Mangina v. Bush, 237 So. 2d 479 (Ala. 1970).

  18. Dov Fox says:

    Another stretch: Pickup v. Brown (12-17681) is a recent Ninth Circuit case challenging the constitutionality of a new California bill that bars licensed health practitioners from providing “sex conversion” therapy to minors (a panel recently granted a temporary injunction pending appeal).

  19. I realise it’s not quite an aptonym but it is nonetheless brilliant: Batman v. Commissioner, 189 F.2d 107 (5th Cir. 1951), cert. denied 342 U.S. 877 (1951).

  20. Aaron Zelinsky says:

    Thanks very much! I’m grateful to the CoOp commentariat for the help (and I’ll keep checking the thread, so please keep ’em coming).

  21. Reggie Clemons currently seeking clemency… A contemporary aptonym, albeit a little sensitive.

  22. C Eastaugh says:

    Thought of another one – Kirk Bloodworth (first man to be exonerated from death row after DNA evidence…)