A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but would Usain Bolt, by any other name, be as fast? How much do our names determine what we do in life? We've taken a look at why a disproportionate number of those of you named Baker are probably bakers.
Contrary to what Juliet has to say about it, a rose by any other name probably wouldn't smell as sweet. There have been plenty of studies that show that the name given to a scent will affect how people feel about it. Butyric acid is the chief olfactory influence found in both vomit and parmesan cheese, and while the cheese is an acquired taste for some, it's scent is far more popular than eau de vomit. People are influenced by a product's labeling, its packaging, and what store it's sold at. If roses didn't get the kind of spin they do, they wouldn't smell as sweet to anyone. Which is why the idea of nominative determinism - a phrase coined in a joking article in New Scientist - has a certain allure to it.
Sure, we notice when, for example, a study about nitrates in groundwater is authored by someone named Laurie Drinkwater or a book about Polar regions is authored by Daniel Snowman, but can a name so completely change your life? Surely not, you think. But it's possible. It's not even unprecedented. Two psychologists noticed that, a nontrivial proportion of married couples (out of 42,000 studied) had alliterative names. Allison was most likely to hook up with Andrew and Carrie with Chris. There are few things more important than death do you part, and names, at some level, worked their magic on that. Work just might be the same. A 1994 article in The Psychologist stated that "Authors gravitate to the area of research which fits their surname." Why? Well, it certainly breaks the ice at stale conferences, and assures that, when someone is looking to collaborate with on their important study, the appropriate name will stand out. For example, the article cites a study in the British Journal of Urology which was written by J W Splatt and D Weedon.
Primarily, though, nominative determinism would be a numbers game. Any given person could have a thousand reasons why they wouldn't wish to gravitate towards a profession that has a connection to their name. But the connection would, at least, get their attention. Out of a thousand people who thought about the idea of writing because their name was, for example, Scribbler, one might actually find a profession that they wouldn't have considered otherwise. Draw that out among millions of Banks, Shoemakers, Parks, and Bakers and nominative determinism just might work.
Aptronyms are cataloged lovingly on many websites. There are a few very good ones. There are three rather famous people named Bass. Two are Colin and Eric, both bass players, and one is George, a deep sea diver. There's a Marc Breedlove, who conducted experiments to get female rats to display mounting behavior. And there's a Ron Rumble, who is an acoustic and vibrational engineer - and, I like to think, a member of the Jets from his first cigarette to his last dying day. These are all good, and worthy pursuits. But if it is an influence on the world, is nominative determinism keeping up with the world we live in? I think we need to update our names to keep up with the times. There are lots of Bakers in the world, but how many Engineers? Names like Martian, Moonwoman, Rocket, Singularity, and Dark-Matter (love those hyphenates) need to be brought into circulation. If our names are our fates, let's choose really good ones.