Most people have absolutely no choice in the matter about what they’ll be called. It’s set up in this whirly-bird that the name you’ll be responding to until the end of your own personal whirly-bird is thrustily bestowed on you before you get to see even an ounce of what you’ll be living in and how you fit into it all. Sure, there are nicknames and nacknames and usernames and switcheroos and all, but for the most part, we take what we’re given, no matter what it assumes about who we are.
There’s a theory of nominative determinism that asserts that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names. Bad enough we have pressure from all sides to become a doctor or a lawyer or a tailor or what have you, but now your initial handle is subjecting you to the same.
The founder and president of Food for the Poor, a Christian organization dedicated to feeding the needy in Latin America, fell victim to this. Robin Mahfood dreamed of the artist’s life, struggling to make ends meet in the Meatpacking District while translating the human experience for the world around him. But he was compelled to start the non-profit to escape his discordant name, and in the end, which is yet to come, he will squeal in agony over his lost potential, no matter his role in feeding hungry mouths.
Call Me By Your Name star Armie Hammer was so-called to carry on the name of his great-grandfather, a successful businessman. Armand Hammer happened to be a director and major shareholder of Church & Dwight, the company that manufactures Arm & Hammer products. His choice was none at all, as the path was paid for him at birth.
On some level, this nominative determinism comes from implicit egotism, which states that a person will unconsciously prefer things they associate with themselves, which leads to the development of an ’aptronym’, a personal name aptly or suited to its owner. Basketball player Lonzo Ball’s mind got blown when someone pointed this out to him, and politician Anthony Weiner claimed it as a defense after his sexting scandal.
There can also be a natural rebellion over this idea, leading to the inaptronym. Frank Beard, the only member of ZZ Top to not have a beard, along with infamed white supremacist Donald Black can attest to this.
A number of lazy writers repurpose the aptronym to avoid having to properly develop a multitude of dimensions for their pro and antagonists. The ensuing characteronym is also great for people whose reading comprehension could use a little boost. Dickens’s tyrannical schoolmaster Mr. Gradgrind and Shakespeare’s lost baby Perdita can be forgiven because they’re old as the hills and may have been some of the first to actually be subjected to this technique.
In the end, all I ask is that when considering baby names, put down your books and your discussions until the child pops out of the yoo-hoo and has a little time to get their bearings in this whirly-bird. Their name will present itself as it should, only after the kid claims it sincerely as their own.
[Author’s note: I too am parodic in my musicality, and I considered sending you one of my recent pieces (like Women Are Great, Rhyming Palinilaps or Holler Back Lady), but I bet you’re plum sick of unsolicited sing-songs by now. Give me some real tunes, with feelings and originality, am I right? Am I? AM I??????? I AM. IAN IAN IAN IAN IAN IAN IAM IAN.]