He-Man’s name was really not her destiny
By Nury Vittachi
I once wrote an article about music copyright in China and the guy in charge was a Mr Song. And another about a Hong Kong car mechanic called To Bar, pronounced "Tow Bar".
It’s amazing how often you meet people with aptonyms – names which seem just right for them. Did you notice that the two US politicians who fought to delay taking action against global warming were Republicans named Doolittle and DeLay?
One of the UK’s top brain doctors is Lord Brain. A world-class hurdler is Maria Stepanova and a famous Israeli tennis player is Anna Smashanova. Then there’s the funeral company in Texas called Boxwell Brothers. Dentists called Payne are a dime a dozen and there’s even one in the United States called Chip Silvertooth.
A common name from northwest India is Butt, and there are loads of Dr Butts, some of whom must be proctologists. In the US there’s a Chinese ophthalmologist called Dr Look, a college professor scarily named is Dr Failor, and an insurance salesman with the wonderfully appropriate name of Justin Case.
Are these just chance? Some say not. Researcher Jen Hunt of the University of Manchester wrote in The Psychologist in 1994 that she had noticed: "Authors gravitate to the area of research which fits their surname." She pointed to an article on incontinence in The British Journal of Urology by J. W. Splatt and D. Weedon.
Intrigued by this, New Scientist magazine coined the term Nominative Determinism, speculating that names may guide their holders into specific jobs.
It’s all good fun, but a bit obvious from an Asian point of view. In this part of the world, we’ve always assumed that one’s name and destiny were indelibly connected.
South Asia is overflowing with drinks merchants named Bottlewalla, car salesmen named Tyrewalla and umbrella salesmen named Brollywalla (walla is Urdu for “job”). Reader Noel Rands once told me about a girl he knew called Jasmine Sodabottlepopbottleopenerwalla. Her surname was all one word, and her grandparents were retailers of—well, I don’t have to tell you.
In East Asia, too, names are linked to destiny. For decades, it has been common in Chinese society to name a female first-born baby “Brotherwanter”, to show fate that the female child’s main job was to prepare the way for a male child.
In rural China, you’ll find more than 10 varieties of the name Brotherwanter from Ushering-in-a-Brother to Hoping-for-a-Brother to the rather subtle name It’s-All-Right, which is short for (and I am not making this up): It’s-All-Right-To-Have-A-Girl-First-Since-A-Brother-Is- Coming-Right?
I’m not sure what the girls think about this, and frankly do not wish to ask them, since this is a touchy subject and they would probably kick me to death.
But if names guide your fate, what about people who have names that one really wouldn’t want as a destiny? I recall meeting Truly Man and He-Man in Hong Kong, and both were rather delicate females (although in Chinese the meanings were less macho).
There’s a girl in America named Tiny Bimbo. And a boy named Felon. Which proves what I have always said about parents: most should never be allowed to have children.
Anyway, I need to stop writing this column because it’s time to go to school to fetch my three children.
Have you met them? Their names are Fetch-Dads-Drink, Earn-Big-Bucks and Help-Dad-Retire.