Saturday, May 12, 2007

Nominative determinism

The SSCP is feeling a little contrite that his contributions to the global discourse appear to be limited to the weekends and, worse, the subject matter rather self-centeredly has concerned his own physical well-being. His adoring fans - thanks for the avalanche of sympathy notes - will be pleased to learn that pharmacy is not just a public relations exercise and that the troublesome back has been largely repaired by a few capsules of Ibuprofen. Some halting steps were taken by means of constitutional this week, without undue stress upon the offending component, although the fall of in fitness level in just a few days is quite maddening.

Now to the topic of my subject line. The connection between a person's name and their profession and/or character has been neatly encapsulated in the phrase nominative determinism. I came across it recently in "Amazing Disgrace" by James Hamilton-Paterson. This is the sequel to the successful "Cooking with Fernet Branca" and is one of those rare laugh-out-loud books - witty and cleverly written and just outrageously funny. Dulcie had unearthed it at the Glen Ellyn Library, but the bounders do not own the first book. I have had to resort to Amazon to track down a modestly priced used edition. I read much of it on my flight to San Francisco, prompting my neighbour to enquire as to the nature of the piece since I was so evidently enjoying it. He, meanwhile, was deeply engrossed in some Cisco manual about wireless networking. He sighed that he had not read a novel in years. Anyway, I digress; but in the book the term nominative determinism is introduced in regard to the name of the fictitious yachtswoman that the hero, Gerald Samper, is ghosting a biography about. If you are wondering what the heck am I talking about, nominative determinism would be used when a person's name suits their vocation: as in Mr. Bun the baker.

The odd thing is, a few days later, I heard the same term applied by New Scientist in a podcast. It made reference to a pair of urologists called Splat and Weedon, and also made other hilarious references to similar improbable examples. Wikipedia credits New Scientist with coining the phrase, the Splat and Weedon reference being a crucial early finding, but the online encyclopedia also notes that no less of an authority than Carl Jung ponders the issue in his work on synchronicity, although he did not go beyond posing the question.

Recently I was given pause to apply the theory once again when listening to a scientist by the name of McNutt discussing plans for an interstellar voyage which would explore the outer reaches of the galaxy. There are a great many things I am woefully ignorant about. About some of them that is perhaps a good thing.

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