[Nominative determinism] refers to amusing instances where people’s names coincidentally reflect some aspect of their jobs, professions or lives.
– Webster’s Online Dictionary
The great Thomas Crapper is perhaps one of the greatest examples of nominative determinism (along with hurdler Marina Stepanova).
Thomas Crapper, of course, worked with toilets. Contrary to popular myth, Crapper did not invent the flush toilet, nor was the word “crap” derived from his name (it existed for hundreds of years before his birth). What he did do was greatly contribute to the popularization of the modern commode with his company Thomas Crapper & Co., which among other things installed lavatories to the dwellings of at least two kings of England. Crapper also allegedly invented the ballcock, of which I will say no more (I’ll be over there giggling if you need me), and took out nine plumbing patents in his career.
Thomas Crapper was born in 1836 as the son of a sailor. His brother was a master plumber in London and trained young Thomas in his work. He founded his own company in the late 1800s and very successfully promoted the toilet at a time when sanitary plumbing and such were quite rare. So we can thank him for that.
The company was eventually sold after Crapper’s death and discontinued, until a heroic figure in the guise of one Simon Kirby, a British historian, acquired the brand and started manufacturing authentic reproductions of Crapper crappers in the 1990s. A wonderful deed for historical bathroom enthusiasts (they must be out there somewhere) and funnynameologists alike.
Credit for making Crapper such a mythical figure attached to all sorts of urban legends perhaps belongs to writer Wallace Reyburn, who in 1969 wrote a fictional biography of Crapper entitled Flushed with Pride (a companion work to his Bust-Up : The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling and the Development of the Bra – seriously, it’s a real book).
Plunging the depths of a historical figure’s biography can bog us down a little, but when it’s a joyous figure like Thomas Crapper whose life was flush with excitement, it makes our work all the more fun. Thanks for coming along for the ride.