Can Your Name Determine Your Fate? Research Says Yes

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The concept of destiny is loose, speculative, and contains no sound science proving its existence. It’s become more of a personal belief than anything, as some prefer to think they’re on a set path carved out for them by the universe, while others find more solace in thinking we forge our own way forward.

The closest thing we’ve found to something resembling destiny is the concept of nominative determinism, or the idea that your given name can influence your career path.

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What’s In A Name?

Choosing a name for someone is no easy feat. Whether you’re having a child or writing a book in which you need to name every character, the title you choose could have a lot more impact than you might believe.

A table covered in colorful children's name tags.
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In stories, it’s common for names to reveal something about the character. Be it the origins, meaning, or theme of the name, all can add layers to the character’s depth or cleverly hint at their future.

This isn’t really possible in the same way in real life, as our names don’t play into the lives we lead…Or do they?

Career Choice

Enter the concept of ‘nominative determinism.’

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Nominative determinism is the idea that your name can, in fact, have an impact when it comes to determining your future career or even indicating parts of your personality.

This idea was born out of the known history of peoples’ last names often indicating what they did for work. Those with the last name Baker were bakers, Smiths were blacksmiths, Carpenter were carpenters, and so on and so forth. This was sort of the opposite order, though, with the job influencing the surname rather than the surname influencing the job.

Self-Fulling Prophecy?

However, there are a number of cases of the opposite happening in more modern times.

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Think of the fastest man alive, Usain Bolt. How about famed poet William Wordsworth or the real neurologist Lord Brain? There’s also an optometrist named Dr. Seawright and a meteorologist named Amy Freeze.

But these are just coincidences, right? With all the names in the world, surely some people are bound to stumble into a job that fits it. To understand the answer, we’ll have to go back a few decades and examine the term’s origins.

Speculative Beginnings

Nominative determinism was coined in a 1994 edition of the New Scientist magazine. They had a casual and humorous feedback column, a column that sparked this discussion of people with funnily fitting names for their line of work. Some of the original examples were a book about polar explorations written by a Daniel Snowman, as well as an article on urology done by researchers named Splatt and Weedon.

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Readers and writers alike became interested in the light-hearted idea that maybe there was some psychological influence taking place behind the scenes.

And, as it turns out, they might have been right.

Punny Findings

A few general studies, largely focused within the field of medicine, have taken place examining the frequency of thematically fitting names with certain professions.

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A 2015 study, conducted by a team who all had the last name Limb, by the way, analyzed a document that contained the names of all the medical specialists registered as doctors in the U.K. They found that “the frequency of names relevant to medicine and to subspecialties was much greater than that expected by chance.”

Some of the noted findings were the amount of ‘Dr. Payne’s and ‘Dr. Painstill’s in anesthesia, ‘Dr. Child’s and ‘Dr. Kidd’s in obstetrics, as well as ‘Dr. Gore’s and ‘Dr. Butcher’s as general surgeons.

A Bigger Brush

There was also a 2013 study that had an even broader scope, finding a correlation between names with variations of ‘doctor’ or other medical typing (such as Dockery or Medina) were much more likely to end up as doctors. The same also went for those with ‘lawyer’ themed or sounding names (such as Lawrence) pursuing legal careers.

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Though it sounds ridiculous at first, it does seem like there’s a potential connection between one’s name and their potential future career.

A Clear Connection?

Now, does this mean you should go ahead and name your baby something medically related to get them to become a doctor? I wouldn’t go that far, no.

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There are plenty of people with themed names who end up somewhere completely unrelated. Anecdotally, I knew someone with the surname Sheriff growing up who did not become a police officer, and the person I knew with the last name Death is not only not in the mortuary sciences, but she was also very pleasant.

In All Areas

The two studies above do lend some credibility to nominative determinism as a concept, it’s true. There was also a 2002 study that found people are generally more likely to live in places similar to our own names, prefer numbers close to our own birthdays, and of course, prefer jobs similar to our names as well.

Street name signs of Bull Street corner West Gordon Street under oak trees of Monterey Square in Historic District of downtown city of Savannah, Georgia, GA, USA
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This all might be less about our names determining our fates and more about enjoying familiarity. That 2002 study referred to this phenomenon as ‘implicit egotism,’ the unconscious pull towards things already similar to us.

Creature Comforts

Humans are creatures of habit. No matter how much of an open person you are or how often you seek out new experiences, there’s no denying the comfort that comes from returning to that which is familiar to us. That’s why we consider our homes peaceful sanctuaries, why we rewatch the same TV shows when we’re bored, and have our favorite meals that make us feel all warm inside.

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This is all to say, don’t stress about your name too much. Don’t think your destiny is fixed because of it, nor should you be optimizing the names of your kids or grandkids for some sort of optimal outcome. There’s likely no real influence to be had besides that of close comforts and similar scenery.

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Daniel Mitchell-Benoit

Dan is a content writer with three years of experience under their belt, having mostly covered viral media but now shifting toward spirituality and astrology. He’s a strong believer in using one’s beliefs as a means of self-improvement and being in touch with whatever messages the universe has to offer.

He can’t wait to share his insights with a[…]