Living up to one's name

Is it mere coincidence that a man named Robbins becomes an ornithologist, or does a person's appellation suggest his destiny?

Observations

August 15, 1999|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff

Did anyone else notice the news item about Levon Outlaw? He is the man police suspect of trying to hold up an off-duty Secret Service agent in downtown Baltimore on July 22.

I noticed, because I keep a list of people who seem to be following a destiny mapped for them by their names.

We have no more intimate possession, nor anything more persistently present in our day-to-day lives. We're constantly called on to repeat it, or answer to it, or spell it for people.

Why would it be surprising then, to discover that a name can somehow work itself into our thinking, or set a subconscious focus for our preoccupations, our interests and our careers?

What if my name were Outlaw? Might I have identified as a kid with the bad guys on Hopalong Cassidy's TV show? Could an Outlaw be taunted or bullied into living up (or down) to the name?

For most people, absolutely not. Levon, after all, may well be innocent. But for a few?

How about Chandler Robbins, a bird biologist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. I once quoted him in a Sun story about birds colliding with tall buildings in the fog. Might his name have led to his interest in birds?

Collecting the evidence

My theory requires names that mean something obvious, like Carpenter or Flowers. It can't work with a moniker like mine. Roylance doesn't mean anything, at least not anymore. Genealogies say it's a corrupted spelling of Rylands, which I assume means my forebears came from the "rye lands" of England, wherever they are.

But, I digress.

Mr. Outlaw went to the hospital after the agent shot him, putting his life on hold. But, pending formal charges and a verdict, I added him to my growing collection of people whose occupations seem to track their names. Consider my evidence.

In the same avian category with Chandler Robbins I've listed Derek Partridge, a spokesman for the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. He figured in an Associated Press article in July 1997. (I have citations for all of these people, none of them more than about two years old. They're all real. Trust me here.)

I've opened an invertebrate subdivision for Jim Worm, a Caroline County farmer whose name appeared in a Sun story in 1997. He could have become a fisherman, I suppose. But who would be closer to the soil than Mr. Worm?

Under plants, I've listed Corey Branch. He's vice president of Pinehurst Nursery in Baltimore, and a good guy to call for help with stories about late freezes and droughts. Surely branches are his business.

Christopher Landsea will probably turn up in the news again this year. But he's already on my list. He's a scientist doing hurricane research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Elizabeth Stone is an archaeologist at (where else?) the State University of New York's Stony Brook campus. She hit the news wires last year when she reported the discovery in Iraq of the oldest known example of faux stone. (Don't tell me that's her married name. I think I'm on to something here.)

The sky's the limit

The heavens seem to lure people with astronomical names -- people such as Luigi Stella, of the Astronomical Observatory of Rome and Charles Telesco, of the University of Florida.

Joe Halley was the chief technician at the Maryland Science Center who restored a 1927 Alvan Clark & Sons telescope for the center's observatory. Joe and I will both be dead, but the telescope should still be working in 2061 when Halley's Comet returns.

Can anyone doubt what got Jim Fones interested in applying for work with Bell Atlantic? He was quoted in an Associated Press story in June.

And what about Nathan Beveridge, manager of the Havana Club in Baltimore?

People with liquid names like Nathan's seem drawn to that element of nature. After all, John Flood is a former bulkhead builder and now a Chesapeake Bay marsh consultant. And William Showers is an associate professor of marine, earth and atmospheric Science at North Carolina State University.

Finally, there is Wayne Lemons. He's not a Florida citrus grower. But he did grow up and get himself a job as the director of the Delaware State Lottery. He oversees that state's slot machines.

It could be a coincidence. But what are the chances?

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