I have been diagnosed


I’ve always known there was something special about me. But it only got worse when I moved to Los Angeles. Here, people are kind enough to constantly remind me that my bizarre behavior—severe ambulatory addiction, itinerancy, usage of shoes— is a sure sign that something’s not quite right. But until I brought it up in conversation the other night, I never knew exactly what it was that I have, or the fact that scientists have been doing research on people like me for years. Turns out I’ve got an acute case of nominative determinism:

A term created and popularized in the magazine New Scientist. It refers to amusing instances where people’s names suggest key attributes of their jobs, professions, or lives, with the implication that their names have influenced their lives. Technically “Mr. Bunn the baker” is nominative determinism, but real examples are more highly prized, the more obscure the better.

Apparently after New Scientist published a piece about this in 1994 they were bombarded with examples like: “Pole Positions: The Polar Regions and the Future of the Planet, by Daniel Snowman…and an article on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology by J. W. Splatt and D. Weedon.”

But why? I wondered. And more importantly, why me? Here’s some explanation from an article also in New Scientist:

On the assumption that “people prefer things that are connected to the self (for example, the letters in one’s name)”, authors Brett Pelham, Matthew Mirenberg and John Jones found people are “disproportionately likely to live in places whose names resemble their own first or last names (for example, people named Louis are disproportionately likely to live in St. Louis)… [and to] choose careers whose labels resemble their names (for example, people named Dennis or Denise are over-represented among dentists).” The authors conclude that “Implicit egotism appears to influence major life decisions” and state, perhaps rather gloomily, that “This idea stands in sharp contrast to many models of rational choice…”

Was my decision to ditch my a car influenced by the perceived desire to be true to myself? Did I want to write a book about walking tours because I was so in love with the sound of my own name? Do I choose to walk over driving because my name is my…destiny?

Are there an inordinate number of Walkers out there who champion an increasingly pedestrian lifestyle? (Not that I’m saying your life is boring.)

Now just today, thanks to a friend who felt the need to pass along this wisdom from a wifi network located at 35,000 feet, I hear of yet another affliction I most definitely have come down with intermittently over the last few years, especially since I’ve been freelance. In fact, last weekend I had a rather bad case of the busman’s holiday:

Free time spent in much the same pursuit as one’s work. For example, Weather permitting, the lifeguard spent all her days off at the beach–a real busman’s holiday. The term alludes to a bus driver spending his day off taking a long bus ride.

Not only have I had a severe flare up of busman’s holiday while suffering from chronic nominative determinism, I’m pretty sure it happened while I was walking to the bus.

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  • http://chiwanchoi.com chi


    some people, when i tell them my name is Chi, they say, “Like the energy? Like the life-force?”

    and i have to explain to them that my parents are ironic.

  • http://www.minus-five.com minus five

    so if my name is sarah coffman and i’m from texas and live in brooklyn, does that mean that i’m even more confused than i originally thought?

    every single day i’m a busman.
    that much i do know.

  • Alissa

    Well, Chi, speaking of nominative determinism in light of ironic parents, you should know my brother’s name is Luke Sky Walker. And yes, he does have his pilot’s license. And the force.

    I’m not sure about your situation, Sarah, maybe that’s why you had to invent a certain Mr. Stamps?

  • Jill Singer

    have you ever wondered why i love karaoke SO MUCH?

  • Alissa

    Duh! Our karaoke excursions make so much sense now. And you’re a very good singer, too, Jill Singer.

  • http://www.kristylund.com Kristy Lund

    Hmm, this is interesting. My husband and I chose our last name “Lund” when we got married. It’s the town where we met in Sweden. So I guess it would be the reverse phenomenon, though now we are considering moving there, further supporting the nominative determinism theory…

  • http://www.gooddayallnight.com Emily Craig

    How about Flora Grubb?

  • Alissa

    Nice, Emily! And she does great work, too!

  • Laura Kate Jones

    Ha, I love this post Alissa! But, am I going to live my life always Jonesing for something? LOL!

  • Alissa

    Unfortunately, yes, Laura Kate, but perhaps once you get married, you’ll Jones no more!

  • Lauren Lomma

    hmmm maybe this is why I moved to LA? A place where there are like a million streets such as: Loma Vista, Alta Loma, and Loma Linda. Also, my mothers name was Linda Lomma (Loma Linda?) and her maiden name was Guthrie… yet another LA street. Yesssss…..

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