The Name Game

Congratulations to Usain Bolt, who’s now achieved his “triple triple” winning gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4×100 metre relay in three successive Olympics. I can safely say that I probably couldn’t do that. But then I haven’t tried, so I can’t say for sure. Many people have pointed out the curious coincidence of his surname being Bolt, and him being as fast as, well, a lightning bolt. Or is it a coincidence?

If you believe in nominative determinism, you might not think so. Nominative determinism is a theory that a person’s name determines aspects of their life such as their personality or job. So being named Bolt might inspire someone to become sprinter due to the sense of speed inherent in the name. There are quite a few funny examples of situations where nominative determinism may have played a role in someone’s life:

Mark De Man: Belgian footballer (defender)

Storm Field and Sara Blizzard: meteorologists

Rich White: conservative American politican

I’d like to think that their names set on their life courses (and “mark the man” translates as “markeren de man” in Mark De Man’s native Flemish, so it could apply to him too), they’re probably a little too on the nose to be truly plausible.

Still, I think our names can influence how our lives turn out, and a lot of research has suggested that this is the case. A New York University study, for example, found that easier-to-pronounce names are judged more favourably. Sadly, another study also indicates that in the United States, people with white-sounding are more successful at getting callbacks for interview after job applications than those with names considered to be typically African American.

Even without getting into statistical analyses, we can all identify certain names which have certain connotations. Some names are considered more masculine or more feminine respectively. Or, certain names might seem to be associated with certain social classes. One would be amazed to meet a plumber named Tarquin, for example, or an aristocrat named Stacey. And inevitably, a vicious circle develops, in which these names become so associated with certain connotations that parents avoid choosing them from a fear of how people might react to it, how their child might be treated, or they might simply never consider a certain name in the first place due to its associations.

Where these associations originally developed from is, in most cases, probably long lost, and yet the associations remain. It must make it so difficult to choose a baby’s name, though at least now one can google a potential name for a baby to get a sense of how it might be perceived. And as new names come along, it’s interesting to wonder how people will react to them. I can’t wait to see how all the little Khaleesis turn out! Will they get the royal treatment their name would suggest they deserve? Hopefully they at least get a few dragon eggs as baby gifts.


9 thoughts on “The Name Game

  1. I’m hoping that by the end of GOT/ASOIAF Daenerys turns out to be the ultimate psychopathic villain, and all those morons who named their kids after her are left with (dragon) egg on their faces.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even after the first few chapters it’s a strange choice: “Mommy, why did you name me after the naked underage potentially-mentally-ill girl whose brother has a poor sense of physical boundaries?”


  2. I always thought that Wolf Blitzer, who started out with CNN as a military correspondent, was appropriately named. And Usain Bolt’s competitor, the Canadian Degrasse, is also accurately named because he certainly runs with grace–and speed! Great post.


  3. […] And I’m not one to argue with Shakespeare, usually (though, based on how the events of Romeo & Juliet turn out, he may have intended Juliet to be wrong in making the statement). However, I think that a name can become very attached to that which it represents, to the point of us being unable to imagine something under another name, in some cases. Imagine changing your own name. It can be quite easily done in most countries, but still, I imagine most people would hesitate to change their name, at least without having a long think about it. Our name is often the first thing people know about us. It can play an important part in our conception of ourselves, as well as how others see us, considering the fact that certain names have certain connotations. […]


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