Meet the British Columbians whose names match their lives

Usain Bolt, the sprinter. Scott Speed, the racing driver. And Jake Butt, the award-winning tight end.

Sometimes you come across apt names for people that are simply too good to be true — names that are befitting of their jobs or where they end up in life.

The idea of nominative determinism — that your name ends up matching what you do in your life — isn’t a new one, and a psychologist says the phenomenon has been observed in large-scale studies of entire countries’ census data.

CBC News spoke to a few British Columbians whose names lined up with their jobs.

They say that circumstances, and maybe something subliminal, led them to where they are today, and that their experiences have made them realize the power and importance of one’s name.

“A lot of thought has to be given to a name,” says Lesley Fox, the executive director of non-profit The Fur Bearers. “I do think it, in some ways, can kind of create a destiny for someone — or a blueprint, maybe, which they operate.”

Fox says that she grew up loving animals, and wanting to protect them became her life’s sole purpose. 

Lesley Fox is the executive director of non-profit The Fur Bearers. She says that she always knew she wanted to protect animals growing up — and her name may have played a big part in that. (The Fur Bearers)

At first, that took the form of her trying to be a veterinarian — before she says she found her calling advocating for animals.

“I see a lot of inner connectedness — maybe more so than the average person,” she said. “I’m very in tune with relationships, relationships we have with animals, relationships we have with ourselves, the environment and, sort of, the intersectionality of it.”

Fox says that having that connection made her want to reform society for the better, and make it prioritize the interests of other beings and the environment.

A house of birds

At the Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) in Victoria, the board of directors features not one, but four people with avian names — a Chick, Nightingale, Robyn, and appropriately, a Bird.

Two women set up a net in a forest.
Ann Nightingale, left, and Jannaca Chick, right, are seen setting up a mist net for an owl banding demonstration as part of their roles with the Rocky Point Bird Observatory. They’re just two of the four people on the board of the observatory that have avian names. (Submitted by Ann Nightingale)

“When people do meet me now and I’m out birding, they think, ‘Well, of course you’re a birder, your name is Robyn,'” says volunteer co-ordinator Robyn Byrne. “But I really didn’t think about it until 10 years ago.”

The four directors on the RPBO’s board all said they were often teased about their names growing up, but never imagined they’d wind up devoting time to observing and documenting birds later in life.

WATCH | RPBO vice-president Terry Bird talks about his name: 

Terry Bird says the jokes fly at his work thanks to his avian name

The vice-president of the Rocky Point Bird Observatory says having a name like his in the job he works means jokes are just around the corner.

“We all do promotion for Rocky Point Bird Observatory and people love the fact that we have bird names,” says Ann Nightingale, the observatory’s migration co-ordinator. “It’s turned out to be very good all around for us, personally, and for the organization.”

Nightingale says that, while the observatory’s bird names can be a source of fun among the birding community, being part of the non-profit has impressed upon her how important birds are to the environment.

WATCH | RPBO owl bander Jannaca Chick takes pride in her name: 

Jannaca Chick says she now takes pride in her apt last name

Chick, who leads the owl banding programs at the Rocky Point Bird Observatory, was teased growing up for her name — but now takes pride in it as a bird enthusiast.

Conspiracy theories

Most people that CBC News spoke to for this story found their names a source of amusement. Forrest Tower, who works for the B.C. Ministry of Forests as a wildfire information officer, is no exception.

But for Tower, his name is a double-edged sword. In 2021, he was the subject of a conspiracy theory that alleged he was a “false flag” crisis actor and not a real person, given how well his name — both his first and last, which evokes the lookout towers used to spot wildfires — suit his job.

“It can impact the operations we’re doing and, even broader, the public trust in authority and government,” Tower said of the conspiracy theory last year.

WATCH | Tower talks about not taking jokes about his name personally: 

Wildfire information officer Forrest Tower takes jokes about his name in stride

Tower, who has worked with the B.C. Wildfire Service for close to a decade, has previously been the subject of a conspiracy theory that claimed he wasn’t a real person.

On the whole, Tower said he takes the ribbing about his name in good humour — especially as he became a communications officer almost by accident, having initially applied for a summer position in the finance section of the government.

But he says that the pointed criticism of the wildfire service, which he often has to face, can take its toll.

Tower said he’s always happy to answer any questions that the public may have about the wildfire service — even if they do all inevitably start with whether he’s realized how fitting his name is.

Phenomenon backed by science: psychologist

Numerous theories abound as to how nominative determinism could work on a psychological level.

Brett Pelham, a psychology professor at Montgomery College in Germantown, Md., links the idea to implicit egotism — an unconscious preference for things resembling the self, developed through associating positive feelings with the name given to you by your parents and family.

Pelham published a paper in 2015 that looked at U.S. and British census data, examining people’s last names to see if there was empirical evidence backing his idea.

WATCH | Pelham says unconscious associations are a part of life: 

Psychologist Brett Pelham says unconscious associations are a fact of life

The psychology professor at the U.S.-based Montgomery College says people shouldn’t be too afraid of factors outside their control influencing their decisions.

“We saw a very clear and pronounced preference for people to take on occupations that were their last name,” he said. 

“People named Carpenter were, in fact, more likely to work as a carpenter than they should be — based on how many people work as carpenters.”

Pelham says that many people he has encountered over the years have dismissed the idea of nominative determinism, but studies inside and outside university settings have proven the effect has some validity.

He even says that your name could determine whom you marry and where you move.

“Some people find the idea that we’re not always in control of our behaviour scary or threatening … I treat it as a fact of life,” said Pelham.

“I would argue we do all kinds of things, lots of times, that are happening for reasons that we’re not aware of.”

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