Your Name or Your Life

by Susan Thorpe

The names of people are occasionally reflected in their occupations in life. Jean Jewell was an antiques dealer with a certificate in gemology. Dr Alan Heavens is the name of an Australian astronomer. Good heavens! These freakish occurrences are divided into aptronyms on the one hand, and examples of nominative determinism on the other.

The term aptronym was allegedly coined by Franklin P. Adams, an American newspaper columnist, and is used denote a name that sounds like its owner's occupation. For example, Dr David Bird is a Canadian ornithologist. The term nominative determinism belongs almost exclusively to the British New Scientist's 'Feedback' column which, over the years, has provided numerous examples of the genre. Nominative determinism is regarded as the tendency of people to gravitate towards areas of work which fit their name. The first mention of the term nominative determinism is thought to have occurred when someone noticed that a paper on incontinence in the 1994 British Journal of Urology was written by J.W. Splatt and D. Weedon! The phenomenon had, however, been remarked upon at an earlier date by, amongst others, C. Jung. Only a very fine line divides aptronyms and examples of nominative determinism.

All the names and occupations below are genuine. They are taken from the New Scientist and from a variety of web sites. The verses are offered solely for innocent amusement and are not aimed at causing any offence. I would like to thank all those whose names make this type of word play possible, be they still in work, retired or, sadly, no longer with us.


In Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, it's a case of 'please open wide'

when J.A.W. Dobson, the dentist, wants a good look inside.

It sounds like a vampire or is it just wacky slang?

No, it's the San Francisco dentist, Dr Sonny M. Phang.

He comments on your teeth, 'Look, they've all gone brown.'

He's on the ball that Brooklyn dentist, by name Kenneth Krowne.

Does a visit to the dentist really drive you insane?

It will in Johnstown, Ohio, where his name's Tom Payne.

In Richmond, Virginia, that dentist—Puller, Anthony J.—

has your tooth out in a flash, you don't get a say.

In San Francisco Bay, he tolerates no flack

because he's dentist to the Giants, Dr Les Plack.

St. Aloysius's College, Glasgow is where he did train,

dentist Phil McCavity's patients just say his name.

We're in Cheriton, Virginia, where dentist Noel Root

relishes his namesake fillings; he's a sadistic brute.

It's in cold Eagle River, Alaska, where dentist Eldon Dekay

blissfully pokes, drills, and fills, enjoying each and every day.

Bethesda, Maryland is where dentist Ngoc Quang Chu

maintains that gum-chewing makes your teeth feel like new.

The dentist Barth Toothman, practising in Ohio (Colombus),

is predictably paranoid about rinsing—he makes such a fuss.

In St. Albans, UK, dentist Kitty Frederique Jeanette Spits

hisses regularly at all her patients and has them in fits.

No wonder Dr. Reuben Hertz does, in Fort Lauderdale,

because it's two fillings for one—he's having a sale!

It's not all bad news because in New Jersey (Haddonfield)

the dentist, Samuel Comfort, always checks if it's healed.

Susan Thorpe has been a major contributor to Word Ways, the leading journal of recreational linguistics, for 17 years.

She took a Doctorate in Entomology from Leeds University in 1958 and then taught in St. Albans, Hertfordshire and lectured in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In her younger days, she played several sports including badminton and tennis. A county tennis player, she once acted as a ball girl for Fred Perry.

Susan lives in the Chiltern Hills in England near to Chequers, the country home of British Prime Ministers. At one time or another, Buckinghamshire was home to John Hampden, John Milton, Thomas Gray, William Cowper, John Masefield, G.K. Chesterton, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.

Nowadays, as well as writing for Word Ways, Susan enjoys walking and intermittent gardening!