Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Aptly named professors, or not? "Nominative Determinism"

Sometimes your name can have a professional impact on your career, like when you are in academia...

The good

Taken from
Section: Short Subjects
Volume 51, Issue 40, Page A6

They Are What They Teach

Tulane University students who signed up for a course on natural selection and The Origin of Species may have thought that their instructor was carrying on a family tradition: "Darwin and Darwinism" is taught by Steven P. Darwin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

"I'm sure some students register thinking they'll get the story from the horse's mouth," says Mr. Darwin, who has checked the family tree and says he is not related to the 19th-century naturalist.

Mr. Darwin is, however, among several college professors who have particularly apt names.

Randall Toothaker (pronounced "tooth-acher") teaches dentistry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Dentistry alongside his partner in private practice, Jeffrey B. Payne (The Chronicle, April 25). Charles J. Love has been a cardiologist for more than 20 years at Ohio State University's College of Medicine & Public Health. Richard E. Smalley, a Nobel-winning professor of chemistry, physics, and astronomy at Rice University, is a giant in the field of nanotechnology.

"It's been pointed out to me that it's ironic," Mr. Smalley says of his surname. "It's a little silly."

Some observers think not. Since the late 1990s, New Scientist magazine has taken note of "nominative determinism," the phenomenon of people whose career choices could have been inspired by their surnames. Just this year the magazine said: "We keep trying to get away from nominative determinism, but the world seems determined not to let us. Why else would the Bush administration appoint Margaret Spellings as the U.S. secretary of education?"

Ken Rainwater, a professor of civil engineering at Texas Tech University and director of the Water Resource Center, says he "just gravitated toward the water issues" after entering college as a prospective mathematics major.

Mr. Rainwater is from bone-dry West Texas, and he speculates that if you grow up in a place where a resource is scarce, "you might feel something about the preciousness of that resource. It seemed to be attractive."

Other professors with apt names say any alignment with their jobs is a fluke. Barbara Stump, a research associate at the arboretum at Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches, Tex., says she was interested in gardens before she ever met her husband. "I think it's just a happy coincidence that I found Mr. Stump," she says.

And as far as Mr. Darwin can tell, there was nothing specific that led him to evolutionary biology.

"Unless it was subconscious, I never felt really compelled," he says. "I wasn't much interested in science until I got to college."



Kathleen Book, assistant professor of education, Wartburg College

Robert L. Bugg, cover-crops analyst who has done research on insects at the University of California's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program

Mary Case, forensic pathologist at Saint Louis University School of Medicine

David H. Crumb, assistant professor in the hotel-management program at Rochester Institute of Technology

James S. Fellin (pronounced "felon"), an adjunct professor who teaches forensic accounting at Carlow University

Ernest B. Fish, director of the Texas Tech Wildlife and Fisheries Management Institute

John M. Grammer, associate professor of English, University of the South

Michael S. Greenwood, professor of forest-ecosystem science, University of Maine

Merrin E. Jump, director of marketing promotions and group fitness, Miami University (Ohio)

David W. Music, professor of church music, Baylor University

Stephen J. Pope, associate professor of theology, Boston College

SOURCE: Chronicle reporting

and not so good...

Lifted off (and slightly edited) from

I propose a dream team in a dream university, a team that would make a splash in the academic world. Instead of staying in frigid Montreal, we intend to set it up in sunny Argentina, on the campus of Universidad de Moron.

Presenting Professor Alberto del Bimbo from the University of Firenze, Italy, a computer engineer.

Electrical Engineering will be covered by tubing specialist Dr. Murat Kunt from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) where, presently, he is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Director of the Signal Processing Laboratory.

Since Dr. Kunt's French is abysmal, we suggest hiring a professor of French, someone with the credentials of Dr. Jane Kuntz from the University of Illinois.

And we can't mention Jane Kuntz, without mentioning in the same sentence Professor Reinhardt Adolfo Fuck from the Institute of Geosciences at the University of Brasilia. The Fuck-Kuntz team has no equal on the American continent.

Jane will be able to practice her French also with our future Dean of Medicine, Dr. Martin Zizi, a well-known Belgian neurophysiologist who teaches at the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels and the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven. If you think that size does not matter, wait until you have seen Zizi.

The seminal Zizi-Wanker paper led us to complete the medical department by hiring Zizi's coauthor, Dr. Erich Wanker, a researcher from the Max-Planck institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany.

The Faculty of Engineering will be built around Dr. Ammar Kaka, who teaches in the Department of Building Engineering at the University of Liverpool. His regularity is legendary.

To those who object to my suggestion of Kaka, I say Fuk Yu. I mean, the Faculty of Engineering's computer support network will thrive in the capable hands of Mr. Chik Fuk Yu Joe , who currently works in the Faculty of Information Technology of Monash University in Australia.

I will make a bold move for the Faculty of Science. The only scientist I know who has simultaneously published on mudskippers, the snakehead Channa asiatica, and the intestine of Bostrichthys sinensis, and the author of the masterpiece ``Tolerance and Excretion'' (Academic Press, 2001), Professor Chew Shit Fun, will have to be lured away from the National University of Singapore to head our Faculty of Science.

From the University of Minnesota's Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature comes Swiss-born internet specialist Dr. Peter Krapp.

But long before Krapp, we heard from Professor Saul Gass in Management Science and Statistics at the College of Business and Management, University of Maryland. He will join our statistics group. The quartet Gass-Krapp-Kaka-Shit Fun will be housed together in a carefully isolated sciences and engineering building. Smoking will not be allowed in the office of Professor Gass.

The Faculty of Arts will showcase Professor Dolly Pussi, an Argentine film maker, and Professor at and President of FEISAL, the Federación Latinoamericana de Escuelas de la Imagen y el Sonido.

Christopher Cock, a music professor from Valparaiso University, will join Pussi. For this occasion, we have created the Cock&Pussi Student Scholarship to support exceptionally talented violinists.

Now can anyone tell me what exactly is a 'Zizi'? I am surprised to find out there's a Prof in NIE named Chew Shit Fun, and even more so that she has published a book titled "Ammonia Toxicity, Tolerance and Excretion in Nitrogen excretion" (Academic Press, 2001). Looking at her list of publications, you can tell that she's a specialist in ammonia, a pungent gas whose derivatives (amines) are largely responsible for that 'shitty' smell...

No prizes for guessing why she abbreviates her first name.


Lynne said...

Came across a new report on TV the other day, where this black kid's name was pronouced "She-Thay". Know how it is spelt? "Shithead" (supposed to be "Shi-Thead", I guess).

One Little Twit said...

Hmm, that's interesting. *ponders* because my actual surname is Liu. Does it mean that i will associate with anything that is flowing .. ceaselessly?


Ang Ku Kueh said...

the worse name I ever heard was Woffles Wu. For a guy wose a famouse plastic surgeon, he has a name of a dog....

Biased Observer said...

Zizi is slang (in mandarin) for the male anatomy.

As for Chew Shit Fun, she had her full name on the NIE website until word got out on the 'net sometime last year and the link was circulated and posted far and wide. Shortly after, the info on the website was amended to reflect her initials only.

takchek said...

biased observer - Thanks for the info. I had found (by means of google) her original webpage. Now being mirrored somewhere else.

Yeah, I also came across online forums discussing her name.