Thursday, January 10, 2008

NYT's Story a Story Machine. Coincidence?

I can't help noticing how often the "most popular" list on the New York Times site includes articles by recent Columbia J School grad Louise Story. Today, for example, I noticed that her piece on Burt's Bees was number five, despite the fact it appeared last Sunday. Great story, too, as are so many she finds on the advertising beat. In fact, Story writes one killer story after another, starting with her Sept. 2005 front pager on Ivy League women who want to be stay-at-home moms and going up to the present.

Could her name have something to do with it?

Turns out there's a term for this kind of thing, "nominative determinism," coined by the "Feedback" column in the New Scientist. They've also been called "aptonyms." Turns out there are several Dr. Doctors out there, not to mention all these appropriate doctor names.

Other examples include: Larry Speakes, a White House spokesman for several presidents, most notably President Reagan, and elite runner DeeDee Trotter. There are a whole lot of others on the Wikipedia entry on the topic, which also lists the many academic studies into the question, at least one of which suggests that people will move to a city or town that matches their name. So, for example, people named Louis live in disproportionate numbers in St. Louis.

I can attest that there is something to all this. I have chosen to live most of my adult life in California, a Sunshiney state if you ever saw one. Not only that, but my last name means (roughly translated) "from the west." Though I did marry into it, it's still a bit eerie, don't you think?


Zierot said...

Sunshine's uncle has the adopted surname "Ditto," coming from the Latin root "decare" and meaning "having been spoken for." Not surprisingly, he took the name when he was spoken for after marrying the former Beverly Botto. Combined with his given name, "DeWitt" the new name was a kind of anagram. Moreover, it foretold the intentions of the married couple who now have a little Ditto.

Zierot said...


Weekend Edition Saturday, January 5, 2008 · Larry Ashmead is the author of the book Bertha Venation: And Hundreds of Other Funny Names of Real People. Ashmead talks with Scott Simon about the list of improbable and amusing names he has compiled over the years. The names range from his mother's friend, Bettina Button, to a dentist named Dr. Fang.