lindsay macrae’s “happy families”

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. 

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.

What will you be when you grow up — and will your job match your name?

“Three Men in a Tub” by Tim Egan
by Lindsay MacRae

Mr Pill the pharmacist
Mrs Bunn the baker
Master Leak the plumber’s mate
B. Grave the undertaker.

Mr Blast, who in the past
once mended broken hooters
Mr Spider – web designer
Miss Take – in computers.

Ena Hurry makes strung curry
Old MacDonald farms
Mr Cue is in the theatre
Bill Ithole sells arms.

Master Void is unemployed
Reg Card – a referee
When I grow up, I worry what
my name suggests I’ll be.

What kind of job might go with Robb?
I bet you think you know it.
But I’d rather rhyme than turn to crime
So perhaps I’ll be a poet.

~ from How to Avoid Kissing Your Parents in Public (Puffin, 2000)


How much fun is this poem? I love messing with names, tracing their origins, riffing on their possible meanings, and savoring MacRae’s delightful wordplay.

Threshing and pig feeding (Workshop of the Master of James IV of Scotland, Flemish, c. 1541)

Occupational surnames in the English language date back to Medieval times (before the Norman Conquest, surnames weren’t even used). You know the sort – Miller, Fisher, Mason, Smith, Usher, Dyer, Deacon. In small communities, people were named by craft or trade. These occupational surnames became hereditary, as crafts persisted in families for generations. But over time, the appropriateness of occupational names decreased, since tradesmen didn’t necessarily follow in their fathers’ footsteps.

So – Beatrix Potter wasn’t a ceramicist, Anderson Cooper doesn’t make casks, and Sigourney Weaver probably isn’t into creating textiles for her alien friends.

(Still – there is Alicia Keyes, who regularly works magic with her ivory black and whites.)

“In the Dentist’s Chair” by Kurt Ard (1957)

What about the flip side of the coin – consciously (or subconsciously) choosing a job to fit your name? Nominative determinism happens more often than one might think. Studies have shown, for example, that there’s a higher than average rate of people named Dennis or Denise who become dentists. And is it just crazy happenstance that there are many urologists with names like Cox, Ball, Dick, and Waterfall? It does seem that for some, names influence occupational choices. 

Psychologist Carl Jung was an early advocate of this theory, citing Sigmund Freud as an example (he pursued pleasure; his surname means “joy”).

Fascinating to ponder, in any case.

“The Apothecary” by Norman Rockwell (1939)

In “Happy Families,” MacRae ratchets things up a notch with clever, inventive names that suggest certain occupations (my fave is Mr Spider, web designer). Love how Master Robb the narrator addresses his concerns by proving himself a poet with his verse.

Lindsay MacRae is a new-to-me poet and I liked learning that “Happy Families” was printed on a postcard for National Poetry Day in 2008. The Scottish Poetry Library publishes eight postcards each year to celebrate National Poetry Day, distributing them to schools, libraries, and other venues. The 2008 theme was “work.”

I thought it would be fun to create my own list of suggestive names (the ones with an asterisk are real people I found online).


Harry Slaughter (butcher)

C.U. Soon (peeping tom)

Atta Clip (speedy barber)

U.R. Wrong (professional contrarian)

Mr. Boing (bouncer)

In Toon (musician)

Kat Gutt (violinist)

Haff Witt (short comedian)

Sue Yoo (lawyer)*

Ka Ching (cashier)*

John Butt (gastroenterologist)

Kanyu Seawright (optometrist)

Miss Dee Sharp (music teacher)

Chase Weed (marijuana enthusiast)

Amy Freeze (weathergirl)*

Aaron Farr (runner)*

Scott Forrest (tree climber)*

Rachel Pullin (dentist)*

Justin Payne (dentist)*

Francis Bacon (deli manager)

Scott Speed (race car driver)*

Can you think of any others? What does your name say about you? 🙂


The ever wonderful Kathryn “Kat” Apel is hosting the Roundup today. Sashay on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Happy March!

*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

20 thoughts on “lindsay macrae’s “happy families”

  1. Oh, my goodness…I have to share this post with my students. I’m so glad I had a few minutes to read before school. It’s fun and funny and makes one think too! A+++

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  2. Very fun! My mom’s maiden name is Cook. Then there are unfortunate names—you mention Butt above. When I was a kid, we knew a family at church named Butt. They were teased so mercilessly that finally the parents changed their last name officially, though they did keep some of the letters and went with Busset or Busett, something like that. Understandable.

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    1. Yes, perfectly understandable! We have a friend whose last name is Cook, and I knew another Cook in college. Good name, I say. 🙂


  3. True story — my middle school music teacher was Mrs. Flatt! Fun post! I like that you actually found some names that fit the person’s career! (The ones you made up are quite clever!!)

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  4. Thank you for the chuckles today, Jama! My maiden name’s Purdie, and though it wasn’t occupation-related, I grew up with way too many, “Aren’t you purdy?” and “Purty ugly” comments to want my name. But I guess it would be funny if I’d become a cosmetologist (or whatever a makeup artis is called) or a model–hahaha.

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  5. Yes, there are so many interesting things to ponder about names, and always in your posts, Jama. Fun poem and I love the list of names you collected. Sue Yoo and Ka Ching are some of my favorites.

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  6. Ha! These are hilarious, Jama! My hubs lol’d at “Kanyu Seawright (optometrist)”
    I’ve had a few run ins with “interesting” names – my dentist when we were living in Wisconsin was Dr. Bracey.
    And more personally, my hub’s last name is Uhlik (pronounced YOU-LICK – is it a wonder why I kept my maiden name?)
    To make matters worse, his dad/my FIL went by Dick Uhlik for most of his life. Need I say more? 😉

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  7. Jama, this was such fun to read — the poem and your incredible research and playfulness! I love too, thinking about the origins of names. I come from an Italian background; my maiden name was “Nunziati” – a translation of annunciar (to announce). My family were the postmen of their Roman hill town… the messengers! I love that my writing picture books is somehow connected to that tradition.

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    1. That is so cool — I love the name Nanziati (it makes me want to kiss my fingertips after saying it). Hooray for messengers and writers and communicators!


  8. Fun post, Jama! My last name is simply a non-hyphenated surname combining two common surnames, which is what Germans have done for generations. Essen means eat and wein means wine, so when the original ancestors married, they became Essenwein – which was then anglicized when they came here from Bavaria in the mid-1800s.

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