One University of Arizona professor, geneticist and Ph.D. always knew he wanted to be some type of scientist.

Many of his family members also hold advanced degrees and are professionals in the medical field.

None of this is a surprise, of course, since the guy’s last name is Brilliant.

“I always joke and say you’re the first one to bring it up,” says Murray Brilliant, 55, when folks inquire about his name matching his profession.

But it’s neither a joke nor a coincidence, according to another professor, Lewis Lipsitt, who has studied how people end up the way they do because of their names.

Growing up Gargulinski, no wonder I’m confused.

And perhaps John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson should have been alerted to such research before it became too late.

In any event, Lipsitt’s name does not seem to match his status as psychologist and professor emeritus at Brown University. But he has long been fascinated with the aptronym, a name that’s somehow suited to the person carrying it.

Payne is the last name of one Tucson neurologist: Dr. Jeremy Payne.

Local dentists fall into the game with names such as Gary Silver, Charles Pick, Robert Crum and Susan Sharp.

A man named Arthur Ruff used to be director of the Pima Animal Care Center.

Lorraine Buck sent out plenty of press releases about saving wild horses before she retired as spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management.

Roderick Lane, 43, is the chief engineer of the Interstate 10 widening project.

Lane’s reaction to his name matching his profession as a road engineer was more perplexity than anything else.

“How did you get my number?” asked the senior resident engineer of the Arizona Department of Transportation. He admitted people brought up his name matching his roadwork from time to time, but it’s nowhere near a daily occurrence.

Nor is the Lane family stocked with cab drivers, traffic controllers and pizza delivery people.

“What a weird conversation out of the blue while I’m driving down the road,” he said of my phone call.

Lane, unlike Gargulinski, is mild enough to pose few problems in childhood.

Other names can actually be an asset throughout life, Brilliant said.

“You could try to tease someone who is Brilliant,” he said, “but it’s not very effective. What can you say?”

Gargamel. Gargoyle. Gargul-gargul-inski.

Brilliant says his name is not only memorable, but also brought hours of enjoyment in junior high.

He was in a class with students Kathy Wise and Rodney Smart. The teacher used to call students by their last names and once screwed up and called Murray “Mr. Smart.”

“I’m not Smart,” he told her, “I’m Brilliant.”

The class cracked up for days.

Brilliance aside, other names seem to mark someone to a life of gloom and doom. Literally.

At least five Tucsonans have the last name Gloom and one is named Doom.

None could be reached for comment. Perhaps they were wisely hiding beneath their beds.

It’s a running joke around the newsroom, too, that many folks with the middle name “Wayne” are destined to a life of crime.

Again, John Wayne Gacy should have been alerted to this stuff.

Pets, too, often end up acting in accordance with the names they are given.

Cats named Nasty, Scratch and Claws will not do well near children.

Dogs named PeePee and Chewie aren’t much fun in the house. Likewise, don’t name your dog “Take a Dump on the Couch.”

My dog Sawyer capitalizes on the “saw” part of his name by shredding the bark off the backyard palm trees.

But he’s still a bit bewildered on what to do with the Gargulinski.

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter who wouldn’t trade her last name for the world, mainly because no one would probably take it. Listen to a preview of her column at 8:10 a.m. Thursdays on KLPX 96.1 FM.


This column originally appeared in the March 13, 2009, issue of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.