Friday, March 3, 2017

Nominative Determinism and Fictional Characters

Originally coined in 1994 in New Scientist magazine, the term "nominative determinism" is basically the idea that a person's name affects their destiny. It can lead them to a career, such as Tito Beveridge who grew up to craft a vodka that is now a popular favorite. Or Usain Bolt, one of the fastest Olympic runners in history. Or maybe this guy:

The ancient Egyptians believed that your name was part of your soul and that your soul would survive as long as your name was spoken.  The Puritans also knew the power of names.  They named their children with personality traits they wanted them to have like Faith, Hope, Charity, Obediance, Abstinance, Constance, Rejoice, and even Silence.

Nominative determinism has been going on in the fictional world as long as storytellers have existed. Because unlike real life where a parent names a child and then they grow into a name, writers can give clues to a protagonist's character with their name. Who remembers the cold and calculating "Roger Chillingworth" of The Scarlet Letter, torturing and leeching off the other characters emotionally? Shakespeare made the ultimate pun in naming one of his characters "Nick Bottom" in A Midsummer Night's Dream and then turning him into an ass. Or maybe you'd like a more recent example, like "Remus Lupin" from the Harry Potter franchise. His first name harkens back to Remus and Romulus, the mythological Roman twins suckled by a she-wolf. And his last name Lupin is similar to the word lupine meaning wolf-like.

With nominative determinism in mind, I named Forbes Pohle, the protagonist of The Applicant and The Break-in. He is named Forbes because the character comes from a background of wealth. The name is taken from the business magazine Forbes, which regularly posts about wealthy individuals. His last name is reminiscent of Frederick Pohl or Poul Anderson, both science fiction authors. As my book was also science fiction, I thought this was quite fitting.

So the next time you sit down to read a book, think about a character's name and how that might reflect the story they inhabit. You might discover a little about how the author shaped the character!

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