National Dental Honor Society


Omicron Kappa Upsilon (OKU) had its inception with the class of 1914 at Northwestern University Dental School. A committee from this group submitted a petition to the faculty of the school which stated they were "desirous of organizing and funding a national honorary fraternity similar to other honor fraternities now existing in the leading universities…but which shall consist of dental students exclusively; admission and membership to which shall be based upon scholarship and character as manifested by election by the faculty."

The following statement appearing in the Northwestern Dental Journal, March 1914, was prepared by Mr. John C. Burg, Northwestern University, Liberal Arts, Class '09, who was requested to select a name and design a key for the new society-

"My duties and opportunities as Secretary to President Harris have been varied, interesting, and sometimes exciting, for I have been called upon to do many things. But the most original request was the one conveyed to me in a telephone conversation with Dr. Arthur D. Black when he asked me to 'think up' Greek letters for the new honor society in the Dental School, and to design a key as a badge. I wanted to please the doctor, and besides I felt that it was no small honor to have originated the insignia of a scholarship organization, so I undertook the task imposed.

"I first secured from Dr. C.R.E. Koch a statement outlining the ideals of the dental profession as he understood them. This I thought essential, as a basis. I know that his expression would fit, for few men have a greater knowledge of the history of the dental professional or a higher estimation of its purposes. I learned from him that the ideal of the modern Doctor of Dental Surgery is neither long nor tiresome; simply expressed, it is the conservation of teeth and health.

"I had, therefore, three words upon which to build the name-conservation, teeth and health. I then went to John A. Scott, Professor of Greek in Northwestern University, and asked him for the Greek terms expressing the three words, and he informed me as follows: SOTERIA (S w t h o i a ) is the Greek for conservation, ODOUS (O d o n t o V ) for teeth and HYGEIA (U g i e i a ) for health.

"Using this information I selected the initials of the last two Greek words, that is Omicron and Upsilon, chiefly because they were appropriate but also because they were euphonious and have now to suggest that the name for the new Dental Honor Society be OMICRON KAPPA UPSILON, - Kappa (K) being the initial letter of the Greek work for a (kai). Upsilon is the Greek letter which under certain conditions indicates the sound of the English letter 'h.'

"My reason for the design is obvious. Honor societies in other departments of education use the 'Key'". When Phi Beta Kappa was organized in 1776 the key was not only ornamental but useful, for in those days the wearer used it to wind up his watch. Few, if any, watches are made nowadays requiring a key, yet the idea of a key as the symbol of an honor society has persisted and is being used by scholarship organizations in medicine, law and oratory, each one varying from the others only in shape. It seemed altogether proper to let it be also the basis for the symbol design of the Dental Scholarship Organization. I, therefore, used it. The shape suggested is different; that is about all I can say for it.

"If you will note the design you will see that the most prominent letter is SIGMA (S ) which stands for conservation. OMICRON (O ) and UPSILON (¡ ) the initial letters for the Greek words meaning teeth and health, appear as they should be, within the larger symbol of conservation.

"Of course, that which I submit is in the nature of a suggestion. I have enjoyed contributing toward the accomplishment of what I believe is good and useful, but I would not take amiss if the founders of the Society saw fit to change both name and design.

Respectfully submitted,

John C. Burg."


OMICRON KAPPA UPSILON has as a standard for its membership certain ideals which are found in the preamble of the first Constitution. It read as follows - "To encourage and develop a spirit of emulation among students in dentistry, and to recognize in an appropriate manner those who shall distinguish themselves by a high grade of scholarship."

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