Bolt, Crook and Payne: What’s in A Name?

Usain Bolt bolts, Anna Smashnova was a tennis pro, Bob Flowerdew is a gardening expert. Coincidence?

In this episode of the pod, criminal defense lawyer Frances Crook and vicar Michael Vickers discuss their own names and vocations with John Hoyland of New Scientist. Hoyland first became interested in nominative determinism—a term he coined—after being told about a study of incontinence authored by JW Splatt and D Weedon. On the same day he came across a book on the Polar regions by Daniel Snowman.

Among the questions discussed: why do some people feel drawn to professions predicted by their names? Why do others enter professions that their names suggest might be inappropriate (Dr De’ath or airline planner Rod Muddle)?

Of course in the old days, people were often named after the family profession—Smith, Baker, Potter, Cooper. But that doesn’t happen any more.

Hoyland hasn’t come upon conclusive research on any of this. All he has is a hunch. A slight one. As he puts it, “there’s something going on here, or maybe there isn’t.”

Also in the pod:

    • Clemson Smith Muñiz has been the play-by-play voice of Los Knicks en español. He talks about how basketball terminology in Spanish has many regional variations. The word dunk for example, translates as donquear in Puerto Rico, mate in Spain, volcada in Argentina, and clavado in Mexico and central America. You’d have thought Smith Muñiz was spoiled for choice. But no, he’s come up with his own expression: martillazo, which means a hammer blow.
    • In the wake of the death of Kim Jong Il, it’s a good time to check in on freedom of expression south of the DMZ. While it’s in as short supply in the North as food and electricity, that’s not the case in South Korea. But there are limits. We have a report on a podcast that’s hugely popular there. It’s a part satirical, part serious indictment of  South Korea’s president Lee Myung Bak. It’s called (in translation) I’m a Petty-minded Creep. On December 22, 2011, one of the podcast’s hosts was sentenced to a year in prison for spreading false rumors. The host, who was once an opposition politician, is also barred from running for office for ten years.  So now we know a little more about the limits of free speech in South Korea. More Korean language coverage here and here.
    • And, the late Christopher Hitchens discusses the power of debate with his brother Peter Hitchens. The two disagreed on just about everything—except for the value of argument as a means to arrive at principled positions.

Listen via iTunes or here.


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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Bolt, Crook and Payne: What’s in A Name?

  1. Tom Bloom

    I love your podcast. My name is Bloom, and I have a degree in botany and like to garden. I later became a physician, and made referrals the best urologist in the area (Iowa) named, sorry, Dr. Dick.

  2. Daniel Henry

    I discovered your podcast after taking a linguistics class in college. Been a fan of it ever since. What is the song in French at the beginning of this one?

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