Western Pennsylvania workers' names echo different career paths

| Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

The jokes are inevitable, predictable, unavoidable.

But for the veterinarian named Fish and the animal keeper named Fawn, the jokes are all in a day's work.

It's called an aptronym when a person's name reflects his or her profession, often in a humorous or ironic way.

For those whose monikers mirror their life's work, it's a never-ending source of puzzled stares, probing questions and even a few giggles.

On this day, typically set aside to honor the American worker, some professionals whose names are anything but typical share their stories.

Fawn-ing over the zoo

Fawn Dumbauld's hair color was enough to help her parents decide what they should name her when she was born.

“They were torn between Fawn and Amanda,” Dumbauld said.

Her golden brown locks — resembling the soft fur of a young deer in its first year — broke the tie.

As a zookeeper at Living Treasures Animal Park in Donegal Township, Dumbauld spends her days with deer, a porcupine, an Asian tiger, an alpaca and a best friend who loves to inspect her fawn-colored hair — a Patas monkey named Patsy.

Dumbauld, 32 — whose father, Tom Guiher, built Living Treasures parks in Donegal Township and New Castle in the 1990s after raising his two children around animals — manages the Donegal park and lodge with her husband, Matt.

Dumbauld's life is all about the park's 300 animals that keep her on the run from dawn to dusk.

When she tells people her name, she often is amused by their reactions.

“A lot of people don't believe that my name's Fawn,” she said.

When it's mispronounced, she tells them, “My name's Fawn, like a deer.”

— Renatta Signorini

Save the bickering for the courtroom

For attorneys Robert and Diane Bickers, their last name often is their best marketing tool.

“Some people actually select us for our name,” said Diane Landis Bickers, 57, half of the Murrysville-based Bickers & Bickers legal team.

Diane Bickers opened a solo firm in 1996. When her husband joined in 1999, they made it official by putting up a with a bold green-and-white Bickers & Bickers sign outside their office.

It's a sign that has received its fair share of national television exposure; residents sent photos to The Late Show with David Letterman, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and a slew of websites that take good-natured pokes at the ironic juxtapostion of the names and its owners.

For the record, the pair doesn't handle divorces but litigates other types of civil cases, many of which involve — of course — bickering.

Bob Bickers, 58, said it seems that all the good-natured ribbing about the firm's name might be a ‘Burgh thing.

No one said a word when he had a legal practice with his dad — called Bickers and Bickers — in Memphis.

“No one ever brought it up, but up here it's the funniest thing,” he said.

— Kari Andren

Fish tells tales of work with animals

She has given an ultrasound to a pregnant stingray, performed CPR on a shark and X-rayed a seahorse.

So it seems only natural that her last name is Fish.

Dr. Pilar Fish is used to comments about her name.

“The biggest thing they say is, ‘Why aren't you Dr. Bird?' ” said Fish, 46, of Ross, director of veterinary medicine at the National Aviary in the North Side.

Fish, who received her doctorate in veterinary science from the University of Florida, spent time working with fish at zoos, catfish farms and koi ponds before coming to Pittsburgh 11 years ago, where she worked at PPG Aquarium.

The jokes about her name often take a predictable turn.

“A common thing I hear is, ‘A Fish loves birds,' ” she said.

Though she is devoted to maintaining the health of 500 birds from 150 species at the aviary, she has not forgotten her fish background.

“As the National Aviary, we're trying to develop treatments that will help birds worldwide ... and the occasional fish,” she said.

— Stacey Federoff

‘My name is Officer Kopp. Really.'

Smithton police Chief Glenn Kopp sometimes has a hard time convincing people of his last name.

When he responds to a call and someone asks for his name and badge number, they don't always believe that his name matches his job until he spells it.

“They'll say, ‘No, what's it really?' ” Kopp said. “They think I'm just pulling their leg.”

Kopp, 44, of Monroeville has spent 22 years as a police officer, first for various Allegheny County communities and now as a full-time patrolman and instructor for UPMC's police force at Children's Hospital.

Kopp also oversees nine part-time officers in Smithton who patrol the tiny boroughs of Madison and Sutersville.

Kopp's name didn't drive him toward law enforcement. Rather, it was friends who were police officers and liked the job, he said.

The idea of serving the community appealed to him.

“Anytime you get to help anybody, that, I think, is what makes the job,” he said.

— Kari Andren

Stakes savors work serving smiles

Few days pass when customers of Eddie Merlot's Downtown steakhouse don't remark about General Manager Larry Stakes' name.

“My favorite line is, ‘Well, when I worked for a seafood house, I was Larry Lobster,' ” said Stakes, 50, of Dormont.

Stakes was studying hospital administration in college but took a job as a bus boy and was “sucked in” by the restaurant industry, he said.

He worked for Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Washington, then was recruited to the Pittsburgh location, where he stayed for 19 years before opening Eddie Merlot's, a lush, 300-seat space.

“This is a fun business ... and (the last name) helps people remember me,” Stakes said.

It appears that Stakes developed a taste for steaks at a young age.

The San Antonio native had five brothers, so his mother would order whole sides of beef to feed the family.

“We were all raised on meat,” he said. “I tell people I was born to work in the industry.”

— Stacey Federoff

Kari Andren, Stacey Federoff and Renatta Signorini are Trib Total Media staff writers.

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