I have discovered a poet. She was a Victorian, her name was Joanna Baillie and I had never heard of her; obviously a great omission as her work has a toughness generally absent from female poets of her time, with the exception of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I shall say more when I know her better.
But Joanna Baillie was clearly not an example of nominative determinism: I don’t know where the name Baillie originates from (it may be a cognate of bailiff or something similar, perhaps I’ll look it up*) but Joanna Bard might be more appropriate, especially since as a playwright she was compared in her time to Shakespeare. Nominative determinism crops up far more than you’d think:
How often have you come across someone whose name quite inexplicably describes their job? Like, say, Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the flushing toilet; or, to give a more recent example, Usain Bolt, until recently the fastest runner in the world? How does this happen?
Historically it’s easy to see how, given that surnames were likely to indicate a person’s occupation; so, for example, you may be genetically predisposed to become a baker, a butcher or a chandler because, if that’s your name it means that somewhere in history, that’s what your family did. (I’m not sure what to make of mine, incidentally, since we don’t seem to have a predisposition to go grey early in my family.) Another explanation is that we may be drawn to occupations which reflect our name through a sort of unconscious egoism, as suggested here:
What examples of nominative determinism have you found? I’m sure there are some corkers out there.
And back to psycho-geography which, as I’m sure you recall, is the way in which the landscape can reflect an inner state. This is evident in works such as Wuthering Heights (incidentally how many people have the name Bronte?) and much of Dickens’ urban landscapes reflect the turmoil and oppression of his characters’ lives. It is also in Joyce’s Dublin, Rankin’s Edinburgh and, if you want to see it that way, Dante’s Inferno. Which brings us neatly back to spirals and to the novel I have once more picked up, determined to finish it by the end of November. Of course by ‘finish’ I mean ‘complete a first draft’ – which will of course be rough, incomplete and awful. But as I was decorating it occurred to me that writing is like painting a wall. First you clean and prepare; then you put the first coat on. You stand back. God, that’s awful, you think. What a mess. And it’s true – the old paint shows through, the edges are rough and you can’t believe it’ll ever look like it did in your mind. But you persevere because you realise that this is just the first coat – and once the edges are neatened with a fine brush and more coats have been applied and everything cleaned up, it’ll look much better. Of course writing is not that simple: would that it were! (that phrase always reminds me of Robert Robinson. Not a case of nominative determinism). With writing you have to apply several coats and very often change colour half way through and start again, not to mention sanding down in between. It’s a hell of a thing. Incidentally I can’t think of any writers with nominative determinism – can you?
*It’s Scottish and means a kind of steward or sheriff, so I guess it’s not dissimilar