Nominative Determinism. Does your name influence what you become?

What’s in a name? Does your name influence what you become?

Surely not.

Yet there are some striking examples when it seems to have done just that. The phenomena even has a name – ‘Nominative Determinism’.

I was recently reminded of this concept after reading an account of a skeleton exhumed from under a car park in Leicester which has been identified, beyond reasonable doubt, as that of Richard III. It was headline news last month – you probably saw it.

Richard III, as you may recall, was killed in the battle of Bosworth in 1485. His death marked the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and he was the only king of England whose burial site has, until now, remained elusive. And now he’s been re-discovered! The grave under the car park contained not a commoner – but a king.

But what has all this got to do with Nominative Determinism?

Only that the person who led the conclusive DNA research was called Turi King.
To re-king. Get it? Well I think that’s pretty amazing…

But perhaps you need further convincing. If so, try these for size:

Jaime Cardinal Sin. Archbishop of Manila in the Philippines. Yup. I kid you not.
William Headline. Served as a Washington bureau chief for 12 years during the formative years of CNN. He also headed the Voters News Service during the United States 2000 Presidential election.
Lord Justice Judge. Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. Judge Justice Judge. Hmm.
Larry Speakes. Whitehouse spokesman to US Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
Margaret Spellings: United States Secretary of Education.
Patty Turner: Wife of McDonald’s CEO Frank Turner. As we all know, McDonalds is famous around the world because of its hamburger patties..
Wolfgang Wolf: Manager of German football club VFL Wolfsburg from 1998 to 2003.
Bernard Madoff (pronounced made off). Perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme – a huge financial scam. He literally ‘made off’ with a lot of money from his clients.
Alex Hogg. Pig researcher.

The list goes on and on.

I am saving the best until last of course…

But first a few examples from my own experience: As a young social worker I used to have to phone up a doctor called..uh..Doctor. Honest to God.
“Hello is that Dr Doctor?” I would ask.
“Just call me George” he would reply wearily.

Then there was the psychiatrist, Dr Bhatti, with whom I used to make mental health assessments: “Mrs Blogs I am so sorry to disturb you, we have had a number of reports that you may not be very well, psychologically, so I am here to discuss this with you. Sorry about this. And my colleague here is an expert in the field of mental illness, please don’t be alarmed. Allow me to introduce him: his name is… his name is um Dr – um – Bhatti.” If they weren’t mad already it tipped the balance….

And the sign for a dentist that I saw whilst travelling as a student in Istanbul: Dr Oral Fukup. I swear I wasn’t on drugs.

The whole phenomena, as I said, is called ‘Nominative Determinism’. And, as if that wasn’t enough of a mouthful, there are several other names meaning the same or similar: nominal determinism, onomastic determinism, aptronym, apronym, aptonym, jobonymns, namephreaks, Perfect Fit Last Names (PFLNs), psychonymics, and classically: nomen est omen. And you and me for looking into the matter are ‘comiconomenclaturists’.

Several have gone as far as arguing that the phenomena might be more than a coincidence – most notably: Carl Jung in his seminal 1952 paper on Synchronicity:

“We find ourselves in something of a quandary when it comes to making up our minds about the phenomenon which Stekel calls the ‘compulsion of the name’. What he means by this is the sometimes quite gross coincidence between a man’s name and his peculiarities or profession…. Are these the whimsicalities of chance, or the suggestive effects of the name, as Stekel seems to suggest..?”

Whether or not you believe there is a link, the fact remains that if you havent already noticed this phenomena I guarantee that now that you have been alerted to it you will start to see examples everywhere. And please : Add your examples in the comments.

Which reminds me. That last example:

A paper on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology by, wait for it, A. Splatt and D. Weedon.


8 thoughts on “Nominative Determinism. Does your name influence what you become?

  1. This was both fascinating and amusing! I can’t think of any examples right now, but when I do (I’ll be on the listen/look-out) I’ll be back!

  2. Hi Wyon,
    I have a few to add. The first four are from my life and the other four are ones I came across from time to time. Richard says that his name continually raises questions when he introduces himself – Sayles, in Sales.
    Richard Sayles – Sales (our sin-in-law)
    Ed Buckle. – structural engineer
    Professor Wise – architectural professor
    Dr. Bridger – dentist.
    Cash Fortune and Gains – Stockbrokers.
    Hatcher and Slaughter – Medical practitioners.
    A. N. Aperture – dentist
    I. Yawn – statistics lecturer.
    Nice piece – thank you for the erudite dictionary lesson – very enlightening and, of course, thoroughly light- hearted – a good elixir for this morning.

  3. I believe many modern names birthed from trades of old. Miller (no explanation required) and Schneider (tailor) and of course Taylor… quite a list

    I wonder whether these count…

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