Nominative Determinism

When I tell people my name is Stevie Smiles they don’t believe me. They think I made it up to sound cool, like Art Vandelay or Dr Octopus.

When I say that the moniker is real, they usually laugh. Not in a cruel way. More to say ‘I want to be called Stevie Smiles too’.

But it wasn’t always like that. As a kid, being called Stevie Smiles was a ball and chain. In my working class corner of West London it stuck out like a sore thumb. And because I was cripplingly introverted, being hi-vis was horrible. Something I avoided at all costs.

One time while in the post office, a rotund lady sitting behind the counter said what everyone else used to say, ‘I can see why they call you Smiles’. Even at 12 years old, this throwaway comment had become an unavoidable consequence of being nice to people. A way of suggesting that my politeness was directly linked to the words on my birth certificate.

When I looked at the lady’s name tag, it read ‘Rachael Stout’. I looked her in the eye then I looked back at the name tag. I looked at her again. My smile gave me away and she was clearly offended by the reaction.

And fair enough. It was a cruel thing to do and I still feel bad about it. But I think it’s when my fascination with nominative determinism really began. Nominative determinism is the hypothesis that people gravitate towards things that fit their name.

Take, for example, the Belgian footballer Mark De Man. Or Ann Webb, author of ‘the proper care of tarantulas’ and Storm Field, the veteran US weather man. Even better, Sir Henry Head, who was replaced as editor of the science journal ‘Brain’ by Russell Brain (of course he was).

The Germans refer to this phenomenon as Die Verpflichtung des Namens, or ‘the obligation of the name’. My mum likes to call it ‘last name / job same’ but that doesn’t really work in my case because I ‘m not a professional clown.

Instead I’m just a bloke with a smiley face who likes hearing about the hurdler Vania Stombalova, Christian Guy from the Centre for Social Justice and Rich White, a right wing Republican nominee from Stokie Illinois.

I’m also amused by nominative contradeterminism, which involves people straying from the path their surname suggests. A doctor called Kill, a vineyard owner called Waterhouse or the clean-shaven drummer from ZZ Top, Frank Beard.

Of course, the truth is it’s all nonsense. Just simple coincidences that only appear when you’re looking for them.

But let’s not take anything away from the lawyer Sue Yoo. Or the former British Consul-General in Jerusalem, Richard Makepeace. Or, for that matter, Dr. Richard Chopp, a leading urologist specialising in vasectomies.

Until recently, the Archbishop of Manila was Cardinal Sin. You can decide for yourself whether that’s nominative determinism or nominative contradeterminism. Either way it’s pretty funny.

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