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What’s in a name?

A lot, it would seem, especially if you can find the humor in the law of unintended consequences in the child naming arena. And sometimes the last name is an indicator of the career choice of its owner.

When parents pick names for their children, they typically rely on family tradition, personal preferences, or what is currently popular. They do not think ahead to the implication of the awkward possibilities that a marriage or career choice might produce.

When I was growing up in East Texas, I had a friend. His last name was Fernley. He was cool. A lot of girls agreed, including the daughter of a local OB-GYN. Her name was Finley. Luckily, the romance ended in high school and we were spared  dealing with Finley Fernley.

In an earlier married life, I had a sister-in-law whose first name – her only name – was Morgan. She fell in love, got engaged and then, fortunately, the romance faded.  The good news is that the world was spared a woman whose name would have been Morgan Morgan.

In my days of reporting for The Houston Post, I frequently worked with a photojournalist – a photographer – whose last name was Click. He liked to hang out in a bar on Buffalo Speedway. Dave Press was a foreman in the press room of one of my former newspaper employers.

When I left the news business, I joined Hermann Hospital in Houston as their public relations director, and I met an aspiring Colon and Rectal surgeon whose last name was, no kidding, Dr. Butts. Fortunately his first name was not Seymour. 

BNET Blogger Steve Tobak wrote last week about a Wall Street Journal article that discussed aptonyms – when your name reflects your profession, like my teaching hospital acquaintance, Dr. Butts.

Mr. Tobak thoughtfully assembled a list from the WSJ as well as “reliable examples” from the comment section. Kudos to Mr. Tobak for bringing these wonderful examples to our attention:

  • Personal injury attorney:  Patricia Boguslawski of Teanack, NJ. Her name is apparently pronounced Bogus–law-ski. Really
  • Urologist:  Rick Chopp of Austin
  • Doctors Toothman and Brush – two dentists from a location unknown
  • Will Wynn – a former mayor of Austin
  • Dr. Chu – an orthodontist
  • Dr. Butcher – yes, a dental surgeon
  • Dr. Jacqueline Hott – a sex therapist
  • A urologist who did vasectomies – Dr. Harold Stop
  • Laureen Light – a psychologist
  • Soo Yoo – an attorney

Finally, apparently the founder of the University Of Rhode Island Graduate School Of Oceanography was Charles Fish. And then there was a family Realtors in West Virginia with the surname of Greathouse, Mr. Tobak wrote.

He asks us not to forget about the financial advisor whose name was actually Rich Widows.

I am John G. Self of Dallas and Tyler, Texas.  Clearly my name has nothing to do with recruiting or any of my earlier career pursuits.  I have been accused of being “self”-centered, but I will just ignore that for now.  My father was a very successful retail baker in Tyler. By ancestry we are Dutch by way of Arkansas. An earlier spelling of the family name, changed prior to my father’s arrival in this world, was Selph.  No humor there, thank goodness. My grandfather, also a baker and later in life a city judge in Terrell, Texas, did ride his bicycle through Indian territory — now known as Oklahoma — when his family decided to forego the wilds of Arkansas for Texas.  If you can’t tell, I’m very interested in family history. Give yourself thirty minutes researching old censuses, like these at, and I bet you’ll share my passion.

No, I do not have children with the names of “Him” or “Her” but my name does come up frequently in Sunday morning sermons.


2011 John Gregory Self

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