Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Nominative determinism

It is estimated that in the 13th century about a third of men in England were called either John, William or Richard. I suppose the addition of an extra name was inevitable. One way that people 'earned' surnames back in the olden days (with such precision as this it's clear that I studied history isn't it) was through their occupations. John the blacksmith became John Smith, John the Carpenter became...well it's pretty obvious. Here are some more:

Archer = professional Archer
Bailey = bailiff
Carter = cart maker
Carver = sculptor
Chaplin = chaplain
Chandler = candle maker
Cooper = barrel maker
Day = dairy worker
Fletcher = arrow maker
Frobisher = Polished armour and swords
Gardner = gardener
Hooper = Fitted hoops on barrels
Kellogg = A killer of hogs
Leach = doctor
Machin = stone worker
Naylor = nail maker
Proctor = steward
Redman = thatcher (reed man)
Sawyer = wood sawer
Trinder = wheel maker
Ward = watchman

Puts a whole new light on Kellogg this does. Suddenly the name is elevated in my mind from the bland to the rough and ready.
"Matt Kellog is in the neighbourhood ma!"
"Lordy lordy, hide them hogs now boy."
The famous Kellogs should have done gritty, no-nonsense muesli, not golden flakes of nutritionless cardboard.

Anyway, I got to thinking about nominative determinism yesterday. The term is a coinage of the Feedback column in the British popular science journal New Scientist, stemming from this item in 1994:

"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."

In a sense it's like names have come the full circle. What you were once named for is somehow in your psyche and you end up being pulled towards those jobs. The reason I was thinking it is because someone applied for a course because he wants to be a swimming instructor. I can't say what his name is here but suffice to say it suits the job to a tee. Other occupations he may consider is baggage handler and elephant inspector.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks !! very helpful post!

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