Rebecca Tyrrel: 'If there is such a thing as 'nominative determinism', why didn't George Bush hide behind one?


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Who knew that Buzz Aldrin's mother's maiden name was Marion Moon? And who can say for sure whether this fact subliminally influenced the course of his life? It is entirely possible that, had his maternal grandparents been grandma and grandpa Seabed, Aldrin would have travelled in the opposite direction and become the American rival to Jacques Cousteau.

According to New Scientist magazine, there is such a thing as 'nominative determinism', where family names shape behaviour and career choices. This could explain why Bernard Madoff made off with his client's billions, Usain Bolt is able to bolt and the British heavyweight boxer has the classic Martin Amis character name of Tyson Fury.

The findings do seem to apply somewhat randomly; why, for instance didn't George Bush go and hide behind one? It is true, however, that there is a statistically greater chance of an American man called Dennis becoming a dentist than you might expect. (Pronounce dentist with an American accent and it makes more sense.) Also, in the US, people called Louis are, it has been found by scientists with nothing better to do, disproportionately likely to live in St Louis.

Buzz Aldrin's real name was Edwin, but his sister pronounced the word brother, 'Buzzer', and it stuck. So why, one might reasonably ask, didn't he go into doorbell manufacturing or become a barber, giving buzz-cuts to soldiers?

Asked about his mother's maiden name he simply says, "I didn't feel Nasa needed to know that. Somebody would think I was trying to get favoured treatment... and that's a joke." He sounds a little bitter.

Sadly, Buzz suffers from depression. He has written about it in his autobiography, Magnificent Desolation, the two words he said on de-rocketing back in July 1969 and possibly what he feels he has suffered since becoming the second rather than the first man to step on the moon.

What he doesn't reveal in his book, probably because I just made it up, is that using the nominative determinism theory, he and Neil Armstrong arm-wrestled and the astronaut with the appropriate name won.