When you meet Robert Cialdini -- author of the definitive Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and according to his biography "the most cited living social psychologist in the world today" -- you know you'll learn something.
What I had not expected was that it would be an idea called "nominative determinism". That, he explained, was the tendency for our names to influence our life decisions, as we subconsciously gravitate towards choices that remind us of ourselves.
To take one favourite Cialdini example: when Rolling Stone magazine identified "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in December 2004, top of the chart was Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" -- with, at number two, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"... by the Rolling Stones. "And that's a coincidence?" Cialdini asked with a mischievous smile.
Nominative determinism was coined in a 1994 issue of New Scientist. The magazine cited a piece in The Psychologist which found that "authors gravitate to the area of research which fits their surname" -- a prime example being a paper on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology (vol 49, pp 173- 176) by... AJ Splatt and D Weedon.
Would Igor Judge have become Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales had he been differently named? Did his surname predispose Bernard Madoff to a career of fraud?
The science is persuasive. Brett Pelham and colleagues at the State University of New York found that people are disproportionately likely to live in places whose names resemble their own (so men named Louis will favour St Louis); choose careers whose labels resemble their names (so Dennis and Denise are overrepresented among dentists); and that your birthday can determine your home town (people born on February 2 are more likely to live in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin). Pelham calls such preferences "implicit egotism". Similarly, owners of hardware shops are 80 percent more likely to have names beginning with H as compared with R; roofers shared the reverse pattern. And Ernest Abel, of Wayne State University, found that people with the surname "Doctor" were more likely to be doctors than lawyers, and vice versa for the surname "Lawyer".
The moral? Be careful what you decide to name your children.