Wednesday, 22 April 2009

the ultimate case of nominative determinism

Nominative determinism, which was apparently a New Scientist coining of the mid-nineties, holds that if you are called Mr Goodkicker, there is a faintly better than average chance that you will graduate towards the football field.

Here is the NS piece which got the ball rolling:
WE recently came across a new book, Pole Positions - The Polar Regions and the Future of the Planet, by Daniel Snowman. Then, a couple of weeks later, we received a copy of London Under London - A Subterranean Guide, one of the authors of which is Richard Trench. So it was interesting to see Jen Hunt of the University of Manchester stating in the October issue of The Psychologist: "Authors gravitate to the area of research which fits their surname." Hunt's example is an article on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology (vol 49, pp 173-176, 1977) by J. W. Splatt and D. Weedon. (This really does exist. We've checked it.)


It wasn't a new idea - Karl Jung had written about it in 1952:
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. For instance ... Herr Feist (Mr Stout) is the food minister, Herr Rosstäuscher (Mr Horsetrader) is a lawyer, Herr Kalberer (Mr Calver) is an obstetrician ... Are these the whimsicalities of chance, or the suggestive effects of the name, as Stekel seems to suggest, or are they 'meaningful coincidences'?


I mention all this not just because I am tedious beyond the power of man to express, but because of this paragraph in Leviathan:
In Edgar Allan Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, published in 1838, a sixteen-year-old stowaway sails on a mutinous whale-ship out of New Bedford. After murder and shipwreck, Pym and his companions are forced 'to this last horrible extremity' - to dine on their young shipmate, Richard Parker ... [This story] had a strange reverberation forty years later, when the survivors of a shipwrecked yacht sailing from Southampton to Australia ate their own cabin boy. By remarkable coincidence, his name was also Richard Parker, and his memorial in the local churchyard, close to where I grew up, forever fascinated me with its ghoulish epitaph: Though he slay me yet will I trust in him.

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