Kaye received a hilarious email today from her sister Suzy, who lives in New Zealand.

Suzy had been reading this blog, and was impressed with how dynamic and successful our names made us sound. Apparently, the names Elaine Gunn, Stephanie Wilson and Kaye Taylor bring to mind the following (I quote)…

“Elaine Gunn sounds like a murder mystery novelist who also does private eye work on the side, Stephanie Wilson sounds like the shoulder pad queen of day time soap operas and Kaye Taylor sounds like, well for some reason what came up was an Oscar winning costume mistress on the set of a Jane Austen adaptation movie – sorry about that one! Anyway, stars in the making from the names alone ;)”


So in true private-eye style investigative fashion, I promptly went off and did a bit of Googling to find a fabulous new (to me) term, “Nominative Determinism”. This was coined by New Scientist magazine around 1994 to describe the phenomenon of peoples’ lives and career choices being influenced by their names.

It all sounds a bit like codswallop, until you read up on the examples provided, most notably the research paper on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology, written by J.W Splatt and D. Weedon, or the Ayrshire history teacher whom my Dad reliably assures me was named Norman Conquest.

I’ve often wondered if my maiden name, Duff,  has influenced my life at all. Certainly at high school I felt the bite of having an unfortunate surname. I was commonly known for my first four years there as “Duff’s little sister” – so not only was I without my own identity, but my second-hand persona actually stemmed from a word with negative connotations.

I’ve spent twenty or so years twitching uncomfortably when newly-pregnant women have been described as “up the duff” – not the most dignified use of my erstwhile surname – progressing to full-blown disgusted tuts of disapproval when colleagues or friends refer to “duff” information or “duff” items as being broken or somehow sub-standard. Honestly, how tactless…

If names are meant to influence the lives of their bearers, then maybe this perceived negativity around my surname had something to do with my aggressively (attempted) overachievement at school. I was never one to cope particularly well with failure, in fact when I received my higher results at 16 and saw to my horror two Cs nestling in between my A’s and B’s I spent the rest of the afternoon howling inconsolably on the sofa. It turned out some time afterwards that there had been a horrible mistake, and I’d actually achieved the straight A’s and B’s I’d expected (I fear I became a bit smug when that information came through…), but I do remember that afternoon as the blackest of adolescent holes from which there seemed to be no possible escape.

You never know, perhaps my pathological fear of failure and my incessant need to be perceived as over-performing, stem from an unconscious rebellion against the negative connotations of my name. Maybe I’ve been trying for years to prove to the world that I’m neither broken nor sub-standard, and that I’m most definitely not an example of nominative determinism.

That’s partly why, despite being a bit of a borderline feminist, I took my husband’s name when we got married. As Elaine Gunn, I feel quite comfortably that I’ve got nothing to prove, and it’s nice. And when the inevitable pitter-patter of tiny feet is heard, it’ll be comforting to know that my offspring won’t be doomed to spend their lives twitching uneasily as their names are used tactlessly.

Apart from anything else, the mere thought of being up the duff as Elaine Duff is torturous, and would almost certainly prove too much for my friends’ fragile self control. I don’t think I’d ever hear the end of it.