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Usain Plod

By David Butler Metaphor and language 21 Feb 2014

I am reading Adam Alter’s delightful “Drunk Tank Pink” (2012) at the moment. The first chapter is about how we may be shaped by our names and the names of others.
Altar reminds us of an article by the urologists Splatt and Weedon (Splatt AJ, Weedon D 1977 Br J Urology 49: 173). I always enjoyed the Israeli tennis player Anna Smashova last decade. There are many more examples of this seemingly professional determinism. Altar asks whether Usain Bolt could run as fast if he was named Usain Plod. Or maybe even Umad Plod would be even slower!
My dear friend, the PT Luca Buongiorno may well have a head start over an Adam Payne for example. I wonder if my own name, Butler may have moulded my very passive inclinations earlier in my career. Maybe David Helpman would have been better? And even the term “Physiotherapy” to me seems to denote more of a passivity than the more robust “Physical Therapy”.
Our names do determine our actions to some degree. One study brought up by Altman was donations for the Hurricane Katrina. Usually people with names starting with K donate 4% to all disasters, but with Katrina it was 10%. A similar pattern exists for all hurricanes – Rita, Ivan etc.

Passing interest perhaps, no need to rush and change your name, but more than anything it suggests how easily our brain, master organ as it is, may be influenced by unexpected and unknown forces.

David Butler


  1. timcocks0noi

    Hey Dave, what an interesting theory.
    No, I’ll just leave it at that
    Tim Cocks

  2. David, Unlike you, my name is unique. In fact, as far as I can tell, I’m the only Barrett L. Dorko on Facebook, which means “the universe.” A while ago a young kid laughed at my last name and started to convulse when he heard that there was an “L” in there. To him, this was unbelievably funny and now I see that the Urban Dictionary is occasionally #1 if you put “dorko” into Google. It’s not pretty.

    However, if I changed it, many, many people would be upset.

    I have no idea what all of that may mean, but I remember Paris speaking of a physician in New Zealand originally named “Dr. Death.” He changed it to “D’arth.” Probably for financial reasons.

  3. So interesting, David. It reminded me of my ‘maiden’ name. I took my husband’s name when we married in 1974, and the sense of myself is so different as Catherine Wakefield than as Catherine Hamber!

  4. I wanted to call my integrated psychotherapy & physiotherapy practice “Shrink & Stretch” but then thought better of it …..

    1. timcocks0noi

      David, that could be the name of an S&M shop were people might go to buy certain “Ladies Accessories that vibrated” as recommended by Pat Wall could it not?

  5. timcocks0noi

    The, now retired, orthopaedic surgeon that operated in Adelaide for some time comes to mind – Dr Kneebone. Not sure what to make of the chiropractor up the road from me though- Dr C. Slaughter.

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