Silly Names

What’s in a Name?

The name Smellie never fails to inspire mirth. My least favourite environment is the doctor’s waiting room, where I always wait, tensed with pre-emptive shame, for my slot. Even those patients who appear on the verge of death revive a little for a swift snigger as ‘Mrs Smellie’ is called by a smirking member of staff.

But the insanity of our name means that I have a heightened awareness of the surnames of others, and have often noted that people appear drawn to jobs which are appropriate to their surnames.

When I read today that the Royal Horticultural Society has eight staff with names linked to plants or the garden, it came as no surprise. They have a Shears, a Marsh, four Heathers, three Berrys, as well as Moss, Hill, Goodacre and Bird.

A very small amount of investigation reveals that this may be more than sheer coincidence. The phenomenon is called nominative determinism, a phrase coined by a New Scientist journalist John Hoyland. He became interested after seeing a research paper written by JW Splatt and D Weedon.

The idea is that you are attracted to a certain profession because of your name.


To this end, I conducted further research (in the form of a Facebook post) and was instantly swamped with the most improbable list of name + job combinations. Some of them are so outrageous that even Smellie is put to shame.

There is the London based consultant gynaecologist Professor Studd.  Dr Lisa Minge works as an obstetrician (this is a personal favourite). Of course. Mr Nicholas Brian Waterfall is a urologist and there is apparently an anaesthetist called Dr Sleep. Danielle Pain is an osteopath and there is a dietician wandering around called Carol Fudge as well as Judge Judge.

There is no proof that these people were attracted to their jobs by anything more than academic interest and aptitude, but it is nonetheless a brilliant list.

And to this I can absolutely add Smellie. One of the most pleasant parts of my job is writing perfume features and seeing it published with the most appropriate by-line.

Photo by Kai Bossom on Unsplash

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