The Scientific Indian

Nominative Determinism

A name is a mark of existence: past, present or future, real or imagined. People, places, things, non-things, every conceivable entity in this universe has a name. You may even say something is conceivable because it has a name. No wonder then that we try various things with such an important aspect of our lives.

We name a child – atleast in India – to somehow cause nominative determinism (Nominative determinism is where your name apparently determines what you become in your life). My own name, for instance, is Selvakumar. I was given this name by my parents in the hope that I would have all the wealth there is to be had (‘Selvam’ in tamil is wealth. All sorts of wealth: money, health, wisdom, etc. My parents are not sure if the name worked, especially when it comes to wisdom). If our parents were lax and have given us a pathetic name, we rename ourselves adding more letters or dropping some offending ones – not for better vocalization but purely to appease gods and stars.

A case of nominative determinism I noticed yesterday started me on this post. A large truck was parked on the road and the name of the owner was painted in large letters: Mr Tripp and Sons.

New Scientist has been running a series on its Feedback page on nominative determinism for long. The recent one was about a WHO doctor who advocates circumcision for adult men to reduce HIV prevalence. His name: Dr De Kock.


  1. #1 Gork
    May 30, 2007

    Years ago I read a book on animal ethology whose authors were Fox and Wolf. Go figure.

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