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Page last updated at 06:53 GMT, Tuesday, 20 December 2011
When the name fits the job

By Tom Colls
Today programme

A Victorian Christening ceremony
Does picking a name for your child set their fate in stone?

A certain section of society appears to have a strange fascination with those people whose names perfectly fit their chosen profession.

Every time Mark Avery appears on the Today programme, there is a rush of emails keen to point out the aptness of the former RSPB director of conservation's name. Likewise when Rebecca Morelle reported on the fate of Britain's mushrooms.

Bruno Fromage - MD of dairy company Danone UK
Rem Koolhaas - Dutch architect
William Wordsworth - poet
Larry Speakes - White House spokesman
Dominique Dropsy - goalkeeper
Rod Muddle - aviation planner

No doubt Belgian footballer Mark De Man, lawmaker Lord Judge and gardener Bob Flowerdew are faced with occasional raised eyebrows for the same reason.

Also referred to as "aptronyms", New Scientist journalist John Hoyland coined the term "nominative determinism" for these strange cases of people who seem inexorably drawn to their profession by virtue of their name.

He was led to the subject after a being alerted to a scientific paper by authors JW Splatt and D Weedon on the subject of incontinence, on the same day as seeing a book on the Arctic by a Mr Snowman.

The idea has something of a history, with psychologist Karl Jung suggesting in his 1952 book, Synchronicity, that there was a "sometimes quite grotesque coincidence between a man's name and his peculiarities".

Jung cites fellow psychiatrist Freud - which translates as "joy" - and his pleasure principle, and his own name Jung - young - and his idea of rebirth as potential examples of "the compulsion of the name".

Frances Crook,
Prison reformer Frances Crook's name means "free the criminals"

But John Hoyland's survey of scientific literature has so far yielded nothing concrete.

Researchers writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology have found that, for example, people called Dennis and Denise, are more likely to become dentists - although further studies disagree with the finding.

The idea behind this research, explains Mr Hoyland, is that people feel a special warmth towards their own name and this attracts them to activities that sound similar - to living in St Louis if your name is Lewis, for example.

But as far as a scientific proof that large numbers of people are driven to fulfil the prophesy of their name - the research, alas, is lacking.

What seems strange to Mr Hoyland is that, if there is a connection, it does not seem to work in the opposite way, steering people away from professions which their names do not suit - Doctors De'Ath, Pain and Gore being the prime examples.

"There's something going on here, or maybe there isn't, but it's funny anyway," he says.

More tea Vickers?

But how do people who suffer the chuckles of strangely fitting names feel about the idea that they were drawn to their career by forces out of their control?

"I don't think my surname has ever had any influence on me... but that's the one everybody laughs about," says Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

It is her forename that set her on her path for life, she says.

"I can remember my mother telling me what my first name meant as a very small child, because Frances means freedom... I've always had a sense of responsibility towards fighting for freedom.

"I realise that my name does mean 'free the criminals', I know that," says the campaigner for prison reform.

Frances Crook always thought that her '"Crook" had more to do with the tool of choice for shepherds than criminality.

Many surnames, after all, evolved through being used the other way around, and a person's family profession determined their name - hence all those Butchers, Bakers, Smiths and Taylors.

Reverend Michael Vickers
Rev Michael Vickers says his name did not lead him to becoming a vicar

Church of England vicar Reverend Michael Vickers fits well into this tradition - his father Randy Vickers was also a vicar.

"It gets remarks the whole time," he says, with people suggesting he has made a success of his calling because of his name - although he denies being a Vickers had anything to do with becoming a vicar.

Maybe, he says, we are thinking of the whole thing the wrong way around - the age-old family traditions that led to the creation of some English surnames are the difficult thing to overcome, not the lure of a particular name.

"Perhaps people are actually escaping from their name, rather than moving towards their job," he says.

Do you have a name that fits your job? What are your favourite examples of perfectly fitting names? Read a selection of your comments below.

The Big Cheese of the UK branch of dairy company Danone is Mr Fromage #nominativedeterminism
Mark Haggan (@markhaggan) via Twitter

My one time bank clerk in Malawi, "Mr Million"
Gilbert Kendzior, Hong Kong, via email

I used to have a doctor called Doctor Nurse, and his wife was a nurse called Nurse Nurse. Honestly
Ros Dunn (@RosamundDunn) via Twitter

My former head teacher, Mr. Tame, my kids head teacher at their German/English school, Frau Donner - Mrs Thunder
Steve Taylor via Facebook

The chief crossword editor of The Times was, for many years, Mr. Akenhead. My knee specialist was called Mr. Bendall.
Maroussia Richardson, London UK, via email

What about architect Rem Koolhaus? #namefitsjob
Anna Gibb (@aGibb_) via Twitter

I have an engineering degree but I now work in PR and media relations. Somehow I think my surname may have drawn me to that choice of career!
Adrian Bull, Manchester, UK via email

I can state categorically from personal experience that this is entirely true.
Jonathan Ace via Facebook

I had a music teacher called Miss Fiddle. She married when I was in the third year and became Mrs Horn.
Nina, Leics via email

The Vicar of a church in Wandsworth, South London had the name 'Serman'
Paul Hartley via Facebook

I worked with a gerontologist/palliative care doctor called Dr D'Eath.
Kathy Vickers, Thurgoona, Australia via email

Surely nothing beats a BBC news story on whaling, where the reporter was Jonah Fisher. How apt...
Andrew Cinnamond, Lechlade, UK via email

I have been collecting such names for many years. SId Weighell (pronounced Wheel) was General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen. Lord Brain was a neurologist. I have met a Doctor Doctor, Doctor Nurse and Nurse Nurse. Baron Plumb was leader of the National Farmers' Union.
L Sireling, London UK, via email

I once taught a pupil called Christopher Pencil #nominativedeterminism
Ronnie (@68ron) via Twitter

Former Reagan, spokesman - Larry Speakes
Mike Tate (@tigertatey ) via Twitter

A speech and language therapist called Jane Speake.
A. Mcgee, Dundee via email

My headmistress at school in Essex was Miss Satchell
Elisabeth Williams, Usk via email

Wordsworth takes some beating in the #namefitsjob stakes.
gnarlyb (@gnarlyb) via Twitter

I had a geography teacher called Mr Hilditch... #namefitsjob
Peter Dunsdon (@peterdunsdon) via Twitter

Buzz Aldrin's mother's maiden name was Marion Moon. Yes I found this out by Googling.
Chris Faux via Facebook

My surname's Crumbleholme and I come from a family of builders!
Lottie Crumbleholme (@Lots_to_do) via Twitter

I went to horticultural college and the principals were called Blossom, Bloomer and Gardener.
Mark Wilson (@mlw123) via Twitter

My dentist in Chiswick in the 70's used to be called Mr Phang.
Alastair Murray (@AJMurraymints) via Twitter

I recall that the head of the Scottish Avalanche Service is a Mr Diggins.
Jeff Pickthall (@jeffpickthall) via Twitter

My dad, a biologist, is Dr Mould, plus my sister (Miss Mould) is a biology teacher. #namefitsjob
Daniel Mould (@DPMould) via Twitter

Worked in a bank where we had a cashier called Mr Money, he was an ex-policeman
Annie Finkhouse (@AnnieFinkhouse) via Twitter

I had a needlework teacher called Mrs Sharp and cookery one called Mrs Burnham.
Fleur Young (@cawsandfleur) via Twitter

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