Do names play a part in career choices?

Determining a calling

Posted: Sunday, May 21, 2006


Back | Next
  Chief Chuck Kopp is the Kenai Police Department's top cop. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Dr. Tim Bowser is a veterinarian in Soldotna. His name caught the attention of Reader's Digest magazine.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

While it’s easy to believe we are in control of our own thoughts, actions and lives, the Romans had a saying, “Nomen est omen,” which roughly translates to, “Names are destiny.”

This may sound silly at first. After all, how important is a name? But eavesdrop on a baby-naming conversation between two parents-to-be and it’s clear that names are important.

But can a name influence a choice of career? According to those who believe in aptonyms or are proponents of the theory of nominative determinism, yes, they can.

Although neither of these terms can be found in the dictionary yet, they are scientific ideas that refer to how people seem to gravitate toward a job, field or profession that their name in some way reflects.

Whether this is a conscious decision or a case of the subconscious acting on its own is arguable, but the numerous examples of names relating to fields of work are uncanny.


Bob Hammer is a contractor and is active in both the Kenai Peninsula Builders Association and the Alaska State Home Builders Association.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“It is pretty interesting,” said Nancy Veal, a Kenai Peninsula 4-H Youth Development Agent, who married into her name.

A large portion of Veal’s work involves educating the public, particularly children, about issues related to livestock. Her office distributes informative brochures on subjects such as raising calves, feeding sheep and even one titled, “Veal: retail cuts, where they come from and how to cook them.”

Veal said she doesn’t mind that her last name is synonymous with calf meat appreciated for its delicate taste, tender texture and nutritious qualities.

“It’s easy for people to remember. I just say, ‘Like the baby beef,’ and they remember,” she said.

She’s even thought about trying to get one of the “World’s Finest Veal” signs from the grocery store, she said.


Dean Hamburg is the student nutrition services administer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. He's worked on a submarine with a Butcher and a Baker.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“I’ve had some funny stories come out of it, too,” Veal said.

One year during livestock judging at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in Ninilchik, her last name was put up over the animal her child had raised, which was a steer.

“Everyone kept asking, ‘Well, what’s a veal steer?’” she said.

Veal’s not the only 4-H’er to have a name that relates to their work.

“At one time, there were the Veals, the Lambes and the Swans all in 4-H. We got a kick out of it,” Veal said.

Mary Lambe, a 4-H leader, said one of her most memorable experiences about her surname came after she brought a lamb her daughter was raising to her elementary school and showed the creature off in each classroom.

“As I went down the hall people were laughing and saying, ‘Mary had a little lamb,’” she said.


Chief Chuck Kopp is the Kenai Police Department's top cop.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The 4-H folks aren’t the only ones with a last name that sounds like something edible. There is also Dean Hamburg, who oversees the school lunch program as the administrator of student nutrition services for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

“It’s a good icebreaker at meetings, but sometimes adults think I’m pulling their leg or that it’s a nickname. I’ve got to tell them, ‘No, no, it’s my real name,’” he said.

Hamburg said his name is fun for children.

“When I work in classrooms and cafeterias the kids always giggle and call me Mr. Hamburger. It just slips out,” he said.

Like the 4-H’ers, Hamburg said his career field has been a magnet for people with related last names.


Nancy Veal has had fun with her name while working at the Cooperative Extension Service and through her involvement with 4-H.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“When I was a cook on a submarine in the U.S. Navy, the other two cooks’ names were Butcher and Baker, which the crew got a kick out of. Then when I went to restaurant school there was a guy in my class with the last name Frankfurt,” he said.

Robin West, manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said that his forename was derived as a compromise between a father who wanted Rodney and a mother who wanted Robert — not as a nod to the avian harbinger of spring.

West said he believes a person’s name could affect their destiny to a degree, but doesn’t wholly subscribe to the idea that his name resulted in his overseeing the conservation of numerous species of wildlife, including birds.

“I liked watching robins and there was plenty of them, but I was very interested in everything outdoors while growing up in southern Oregon,” he said.

West said he pursued a major in general biology after high school and has focused on wildlife from then on.

Even though robins weren’t the sole impetus for his career path, West admitted they held a special place in his childhood.

“As a boy with a BB gun I may have been tempted to go for a sparrow or starling, but robins were off limits,” he said.

Like West, Steve Bear’s name bears a similarity to his work as a lieutenant with the Alaska State Troopers Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement. The sergeant he replaced while moving up the ranks to his current position was named Fox. He said this quirk led to a few funny moments.

“After I replaced Sgt. Fox, a guy came looking for him and was directed to me. He asked my name and after I told him there was silence. Then, after a minute he asked if they gave us fake names,” Bear said.

He said this wasn’t the only time people have been confused by his name. Bear said he gets a lot of comments from the public when out in uniform with his “S. Bear” name badge on.

“People ask if it means Smokey the Bear,” he said.

Tim Bowser, a veterinarian at Soldotna Animal Hospital, said that he believes his name has had a positive impact on his work treating dogs and other pets.

“It’s obvious it fits the profession fairly well and it’s been a good way to open conversation with clients. Probably once a day someone will ask me about it,” he said.

In addition to helping with existing clients, Bowser said the novelty of his last name may also draw in new clients, particularly those new to the area who randomly pick a veterinarian by name.

“I think it may be appealing to some people when looking in the phone book at names. It can help attract people, but only initially,” he said. After that, the quality of animal care and services available determine whether people return, he added.

Like the others, Bowser said he didn’t believe it was his destiny to end up working with dogs, but he did say the connection between canines and his kin goes way back.

“I’m not much into genealogy, but I have seen a coat of arms for my family and there were dogs on it, so there may be some history or tradition there I’m not aware of,” he said.

Although not related to animals, domestic or wild, Bob Hammer’s last name is striking in its relation to his work. Hammer a contractor, the past president of the Kenai Peninsula Builders Association and current secretary of the Alaska Home Builders Association.

“People always ask if I changed my name as part of a business gimmick, and it definitely helps out in my business since you can’t buy advertising like that, but I never changed it. It’s the name I was born with,” he said.

Hammer said he believes his family history, more than his surname, influenced his career path.

“My grandfather and dad were both carpenters, so what else could I do?” he said.

Despite being from a long line of Hammers, he said he doesn’t have any brothers or kids named ball-peen or claw — although sledge was his nickname in high school.

While some names that reflect professions are purely coincidental, others have been systematically chosen, often due to a person’s passion for their profession.

While not an Alaskan, Priscilla Feral — president of Connecticut-based animal advocacy organization Friends of Animals — is often involved in Alaska issues, particularly those related to wolves.

Friends of Animals maintains an Alaska tourism boycott in protest of the aerial hunting of wolves through the controversial predator control program.

Feral said she views wolves as wild, untamable symbols of nature that have resisted human control and persecution.

“Wolves are an exception. They eek out a living without our interference and intrusion,” Feral said. And like these independent canines, Feral often challenges convention — as her name implies.

“It’s fitting” she said. “Fitting because of what it means — an animal that defies domestication. I’m not a passive observer. I’m independent. I define success on my own terms.”

Feral wasn’t always her last name, though. She was born with the surname Brockway, which later changed to Brennan after her wedding, but the marriage didn’t last.

“In 1974, I was getting a divorce and trying to decide between the family name or the married name and I decided to define myself,” she said.

Feral said she was interested in civil rights, women’s rights and animal’s rights, and wanted a name that reflected a relationship to these interests. Feral was a natural fit, she said.

Unlike picking a name that echoes defiance, Chuck Kopp — chief of the Kenai Police Department — chose a name that reflected just the opposite.

Born with the last name Crapachuttes, Kopp and his brother changed their last names when they turned 18 years old.

“We both assumed the name for ease of use,” he said.

Kopp was a family name — he had a grandfather named Charles Kopp — which was more the reasoning behind the new name than a plan to end up in law enforcement, Kopp said.

“When I chose the name, I had no idea what I would be doing now. I thought I would be a commercial fisherman, airline pilot, or maybe work in some kind of international business,” he said.

Kopp said what put him on his career path was seeing the satisfaction friends had with their work in law enforcement.

“They loved their jobs and loved going to work. That’s what I wanted from a job, so I pursued that path,” he said.

Kopp said becoming a cop with his last name was amusing initially.

“It was a little ironic the first year. I was Officer Kopp, which was redundant, but now that I’ve been doing it 20 years and I’m Chief Kopp, I don’t even think about,” he said.

As to if Kopp believes his name made it his destiny to become an officer of the law, he said, “Who knows? I don’t really believe in that sort of stuff, but I do believe we’re drawn to certain fields that we may end up being gifted in. So if that’s destiny, then yeah, I guess I do.”

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us