Nominative Determinism In Teaching

Your surname can have a significant role in determining key aspects of your job, profession, or even character.

Some people have names that perfectly fit their chosen profession. You know the sort I mean – Mr Limb the orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Brain the neurologist, Dr Dentith the dentist, Mrs Keys the music teacher, Sara Blizzard the weather presenter, Bob Flowerdew the gardener, Sue Yoo the lawyer or Usain Bolt, the fastest human on the planet. In the world of fiction, authors often use names that reflect what a person does or is.

For those whose names and occupations are ‘apt’ and have a close correspondence or dovetail, Frank Nuessel, in The Study of Names, coined the term ‘aptonym‘. This has also been referred to “nominative determinism” by John Hoyland. Over 40 years before Hoyland, Swiss analytical psychologist Carl Jung had noted “the sometimes quite gross coincidence between a man’s name and his peculiarities or profession.

Does the name we are born with influence our life choices? Do some of us change our characters to match our surnames? Is there any coincidence in the career choices of doctors selecting medicine as a career and in their choice of specialty?

It seems so. There is a dermatologist called Rash and a rheumatologist named Knee and a psychiatrist named Couch.

Pelham et al (2002) note most people prefer things that are connected to the self and more likely to find careers with a label closely related to their name. Some use nominative determinism to shape their business success.

Is there a connection between people’s names and their health? Keaney et al (2013) looked at whether people with the name Brady had an increased incidence of bradycardia in Dublin and they found that patients named Brady were at increased risk of needing pacemaker implantation compared with the general population.

So what about nominative determinism in teaching?

Well it might not be such a coincidence that there are music teachers called Miss Fiddle, Miss Beat, Mrs Horn, Miss C Sharp and Mr Score.

There are the PE teachers Mrs Shute, Mrs Ball and Mrs Hall.

Then there are Home Economics teachers called Mr Pickles, Mrs Pie and of course Mrs Baker.

and yes, Mr Head is an Assistant Headteacher and it will be even better when he’s No.1 in charge.

No one will forget their English teacher – Mrs Paige Turner or indeed a Mrs Slapp.

And what about Sir Michael Scholar the former President of St John’s College, Oxford? Then there’s Professor Michael Lean who is the Chair of Human Nutrition at the University of Glasgow. You couldn’t make it up!

Names really matter and our surnames can push us towards certain jobs.

Are you a teacher with a surname that matches what you teach?

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