What´s the deal with nominative determination?

I´m a huge fan of studying how language affects our life. So big of a fan that I even put “words” in the title of my blog. Nominative determination is the best example that shows just how important words are. It´s a long name for something as simple as it is funny, namely the idea that a person´s name reflects key attributes of his job, profession or life.

 What is nominative determination and why should you care?

The term entered the dictionaries and the language in 1994, when the magazine New Scientist  noted a few coincidences. The author Daniel Snowman wrote a book about polar explorations and there was an article written on the subject of urology by authors D Weedon and J Splatt.

Then there  was James Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila in the Philippines and William Headline, Washington bureau chief at CNN. 

Sir Richard Makepeace Former British Consul-General in Jerusalem.Firefighter(source)

Larry Speakes, Whitehouse spokesman to US Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was Marion Moon.

Margaret Spellings: United States Secretary of Education.

Guess who was the inventor of modern penis extensions operations? That´s right, Doctor Long.  (I heard about him in one of my favourite podcasts )

Newer examples come to light every day. How about Mr. Cocaine who got arrested for drug possesion?

And of course, there´s Bolt.

 Nothing beats experiencing nominative determination up close and personal

There are many examples that I can take from my very own experience:

I had a kindergarden teacher whose family name was “Moustache” and she proudly wore a big black thick one. Nominative determination. There was also a couple of married teachers both named “Man”. The man was, obviously, manly; almost as manly as his wife. Nominative determination. Also, there was a music teacher whose name was “Quickly” and she was always in a rush. We used to hardly contain our laughter when she would repeatedly say “Come on, quickly, we don´t have time.” She would say the word “quickly” in almost every sentence, without trying to be funny.


There are always exceptions to the rule. I had a colleague in primary school whose family name was “sausage” and she looked nothing like one. Although, to be fair, I haven´t seen her lately.

31 thoughts on “What´s the deal with nominative determination?

  1. I didn’t know anything about this concept before, but because I had to laugh all the way through your article, I am sure to remember it now.

    In German, there is a verb “mosern” (= to moser) which means “to complain and nag and criticize all the time”. Honestly, I think there is something to your theory.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My last name means something akin to “of the river.” I don’t know how well it suits me, though — I’ve never really lived near a river, or had any particular preoccupation with riparian pursuits. Hmm…
    Also, I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the 2017 Blogger Recognition awards. Here’s more info, if it’s something you’d be interested in participating in: http://marblecrow.com/blogger-recognition-award-2017/ If not, that’s cool too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I did not know that there was a name for this idea/concept! I first started to think about it when my Latin language teacher in high school talks about that -that he would love to write a book about such strange coincidences.
    His name was Dupont which is a very common name in French, and also the name of the funny/dumb-dumb policemen in Tintin. I don’t know if that’s because of his name that he started to explore the relationship between names and professions/ways of life ^^


  4. I didn’t know if there’s a special term of this normative determination, but I watch football and when I saw Raheem Sterling for the first time, I made this lame joke like, “Imagine if I have his own baby and I want to name him Pound and then there’s no need to worry about money.”

    Fast forward to 5 years later, he was named to be the most valuable young player in Europe when she moved to Manchester City. Coincidence? I don’t think so. 😂


  5. mamsikettle

    Humorous and informative! Thanks for his article. It may be of note that my name is Audrey and people often say I look like Audrey Hepburn. I don’t feel like I do but I’ll sure take it!


  6. Elizabeth O

    This is such a quite interesting and fun article. I didn’t know if there’s a special term for this nominative determination. Gonna check this out more.


  7. This made me smile. At first I was questioned by the title but then when I read the whole post I found myself smiling, its funny indeed. I just thought of my name Mary Jane amd in spanish its mari juana, just like the weeds lol


  8. Preet@thevelvetlife

    This is very interesting post, and humourous too. I am glad to know a new term, nominative determination, although I did encounter many examples in my culture. There are names in my native language which means butter or onion in English to name a few, they sounded too funny when I first heard them, those people didn’t look like them in any way. Good idea to explore more.


  9. Vasundhra

    I found the title of the post very interesting because I had never heard of this term earlier. And, could not stop laughing after reading it. It was simply amazing and I learned something new today!


  10. Different Frame of Mind

    I definitely knew nothing about this concept, actually I had not even heard of it! But they say you learn something new everyday and this was my new thing for today! Thank you for sharing this, I definitely learned a lot.


  11. I love the concept and humour of your article, I have a lot of encounters with nominative determination as well. Now that I’m residing in a foreign country it’s sometimes ridiculous to hear names of people who are referring to another meaning in my mother toungue or perheps words that are similar and doesn’t have the same meaning. Just a quick example of a name “lola” which means grandma in my language and at first it made ma aback to digest this adaptation of names. haha well that’s life.


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