Wednesday, 6 April 2011

What's in a name, actually?

Heard of the science called nominative determinism? If, like me, you've ever marvelled that the 1994 film starring Macaulay Culkin, depicted the world's richest boy as a twelve year old called Richie Rich, or that the man who currently holds the world record in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, runs with the speed of a lightening Bolt, chances are you've scoffed or wondered fleetingly why it seems certain people have names that suit their personality, career choice or general life. Now I'm just glad to know that it actually has a name.

Only an article I read recently threw more light on this oddly interesting phenomenon. You see, over the years I've come across a few names which struck me as fitting the person who bore it, either by their physical appearance or the job they did or some other intangible way. Some, I know personally, others not so much. I've met:

Ella Swan - who moves with short, unhurried steps, and carries herself with the grace of a..swan

Toby Pastell - whose eyes sparkle with boyish mischief, and always, always smells faintly of toothpaste, with a beautiful smile to match

Betty Speechy - who rolls her eyes good-naturedly when people remark that she is a speech therapist called..Speechy

Betty Boop* - the animated character with the..ahem..celebrated assets.

M Strong - a friend who often gets asked, 'are you really strong?', with varying degrees of admiration (from women), and aggression or envy (from men). He has a buddy whose surname is Power. Talk about the forces uniting

Usain Bolt* - need I say more?

Ruth Solomons - an acquaintance who always has a witty saying up her sleeve. Think King Solomon...

A preacher called Tarry - on the day I briefly met this preacher, the congregation had only hours before sang the Charles Wesley hymn, Fainting Soul Be Bold and I'd found myself sniggering like an immature kid at the line, '..though it seem to tarry long..'

Ben Tame - who was a little startled by my laughter the first time he told me his name. It's because he seemed to be channeling a wild-haired Russell Brand look, that, for ages I thought he was joking when he said his surname was Tame, until exasperated, he whipped out his driver's licence to prove his point. I still cringe when I remember..

Gabriel Gabriel (not to be confused with the angel of the same name) - an elderly man I know from my neighbourhood. An early conversation went something like this -
Him: Your name is Davida? That's an unusual one...
Me: (shrugging) It's just an 'a' after David, really. What's yours?
Him: Gabriel Gabriel
Me: (smiling) It's so good, you have to say it twice?
Him: (unsmiling) No, love, that's my name
Me: Yea right. Gabriel Gabriel what?
Him: Gabriel Gabriel
Me: (feeling a bit dumb by now) That's what your parents called you?
Him: (winking) They thought it would be fun
Me (shuddering a little. (I don't like it when people wink at me)) Oh...

But of course, it's not really surprising, is it? The world must surely have many David Davids, Richard Richards, John Johnsons and such...but meeting a Gabriel Gabriel was a first for me.

Tony Gentleman - who is as impeccably-mannered as his name suggests

George - whose name isn't so much a giveaway as his cap, perched jauntily on his head with the inscription, 'work like the devil, sleep like an angel.' The problem is, George always looks sleepy.

It is interesting that nominative determinism took shape from 1994, because in practice it goes back to the beginning of time. Names during biblical times held utmost significance and gave an indication of the period, the person/people and their actions, so that posterity would know the history behind it. Within the traditional Ghanaian setting, the days of the week are important aspects of the naming culture. In addition to a child's given name, their day of birth determines a day-name which may or may not be used in official documents. Different ethnic groups have names which come in pairs; one for males, another for females. Names are crucial in distinctly describing the circumstances of an individual's birth, tribe/lineage or ranking in the family: 'Mansa' is the third consecutive girl born in an Akan family, 'Badu' is a tenth-born child, 'Antobam' is a child whose father died before they were born, and so on. The peculiarities depend on which ethnic group it is.

And if it all gets too technical for you, just take a cue from the Ghanaman, who, in the face of difficulty and hardship, will still embrace creativity and humour. I've always thought it brilliant that 'HIPC Junction', a bus stop in Accra, was so named because Ghana was described as a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) by the Kufour Government in a bid to gain some financial relief from international agencies. And since the bus stop was near the president's house...

Of course, it is the seemingly coincidental link between a person's name and their life that makes nominative determinism what it is. Is it a whimsical link or more? Whatever it is, don't let it quell you if, say, you want to call your child Eliahuratham. Like I always say, each to their own.

Nominative determinism. How weirdly fascinating.

* I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Mr Bolt, nor the character Miss Boop


Hanni-"CaRiBbEaN-eUrOpEaN" said...

Excellent article. I look forward to reading some more. Keep them coming!

DIDI said...

U nailed it dear..Good JOb.

Davida said...

Thank you :-)

Omalicha Searching said...

very insightful.