Sunday 15 January 2012

What's In A Name?

There is an article in the current edition of The Economist (Baby Names, Thanks Mum) which explores the different rules around the world for baby names. For example, it is illegal to call your child "*" in New Zealand. Using names that suggest rank is also banned in NZ - so perhaps "My Name is Earl" is not broadcast there.

More interestingly, there is evidence that people called George are more likely to become Geologists, while a Dennis is more likely than most to become a Dentist.

Since many of our names derive from our real or hoped-for activities (surnames often reflect profession or trade) while given names are often encouragements to virtue or success - for example "Patience Potter".

I've long wondered the extent to which names are destiny - in other words whether causation flows from the name to the nature rather than the other way round. Are people called Patience really more patient? Would that which we call a Rose by any other name smell as sweet?

I think HR departments may have some explaining to do here. The British military spokesman in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was a Colonel Coward. He was replaced by a Colonel Chicken - was this pure coincidence? I once visited a Royal Navy ship whose captain was called Commander Thicknesse. He was replaced by Commander Bone ("bone" is military slang for "stupid").

And do people with problematic surnames suffer in the marketplace - both professionally and personally? Is Miss Hoare more likely to marry hastily and Mr Snodgrass more likely to remain a batchelor? Is Master D'eath drawn irresistably towards medicine?

Do you have any experience of nominal determinism? If so please share!

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