Nominative Determinism: Mr Weed Heads RHS

Updated: Jun 13

Pictures flashed around the world earlier this week of the Queen being escorted around the Chelsea Flower Show, in a very stylish golf buggy, by Keith Weed - appointed president of the RHS a couple of years ago.

Weeds in the sunshine

Is this nominative determinism? i.e. how your name can influence your career.

In Mr Weed's case, it wouldn't surprise you that his father’s name was Weed but, somewhat more surprisingly, his mother’s name was Hedges. ‘If a Weed gets together with a Hedges, I think they’re going to give birth to the president of the RHS,’ said Mr Weed. And, sure enough, that's what happened.

His appointment is a triumph for those who believe in what is officially called ‘nominative determinism’, which technically means ‘name-driven outcome’ - the theory that people gravitate towards areas of work or behaviour that reflect their name.

This is part of what researchers call ‘implicit egotism’. Certainly it seems to bear weight at the RHS. Two years ago, the organisation realised that one in eight of its staff had a name suited to their involvement with nature and the great outdoors. On the payroll were a Moss, Heather, Berry, Shears, various permutations of Rose and, naturally, a Gardiner (shame about the spelling).

It wasn’t until 1994 that the term ‘nominative determinism’ was coined by John Hoyland, who wrote a column called Feedback in New Scientist magazine. Hoyland’s interest in the subject was sparked by finding a book called Pole Positions by a man called Daniel Snowman, and another, London Under London, by Richard Trench.

Then he read a scientific paper about incontinence by two urologists, Splatt and Weedon. From that day forth, his column became a depository for news about people whose names matched their lives.