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Categories: Brain

What’s in a name? How we describe something influences our experience! 

By  Lysette Offley

What's in a name? - Baby talkingNotwithstanding the terrible devastation going on in certain parts of the globe at the moment, how we describe something affects our experience of it.

And astonishingly, people tend to put themselves in harm’s way when the storm, or hurricane, if you’re in the States – has a female name! Because then it seems, we tend to not take storm warnings seriously!

There’s a lot that can be said about that.

Perception is reality, for example.

I was absolutely blown away to discover in my first year at university, when I chopped my long blonde curly hair off, choosing instead to sport a short boyish mop, that certain people spent longer talking to me and listening to my point of view.

I’m not talking about friends here, I’m talking about acquaintances who barely knew me, and took me more seriously when my appearance changed. Perhaps if I had worn glasses as well I would have been viewed as an intellectual!

That would have been a first!

They call the wind “Maria”

Aren’t we just influenced by appearance, though? Or rather, our perception of reality is usually triggered by the way something looks.

Also, depending on what we call something, our expectations and even behaviour can change.

New Scientist magazine has been having fun for years with Nominative Determinism, and being an avid reader of the magazine once won me a point watching University Challenge! It’s the theory that if your family name is Baker there’s far more chance of you ending up in the catering industry!

What's in a name? Name tagsMaybe that’s how come I shared a house during my first teaching job with a very nice chap, engaged to a doctor called, wait for it, Dr Proctor. Planning to do the conventional thing, taking his surname for hers, she was soon to be Dr Heald.

Of course!

And then there’s the dentist, called Pullem, the accountant called Penney and the builder called Cowboy. Oh no… Hang on… I think I might have made that up!

It’s also true to say that the way we feel is determined by how we describe it. If I say I’m absolutely furious I will experience much bigger negative emotions than if I say I’m a tad miffed and take the wind out of its sails.

Talking of sails, with the terrible storms passing through the Caribbean lately, I’m enormously grateful that my brother and his family are now back from Tortola, where they used to live, and I hope all their friends still on the island, continue to be safe and are managing some semblance of normality, as everyone attempts to rebuild their houses and their lives, despite the next gusts of destruction arriving.

We are so lucky to live where we do, where it’s relatively rare for major weather events to hurt us.

As I walked down our garden path today, something dived into the flower bed. I spent a little while trying to discover what sort of an animal it was. Just out of curiosity. But in certain parts of the world, any movement in a bush would have been an indication of danger. On the whole, we don’t have to worry about nature doing for us. Happily, most of it’s benign.

Of course, there’s plenty to moan about if you feel so inclined.

Yeah, it’s drizzling a bit today – but I’m not complaining.

Inny or Outy?


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Lysette Offley

Genius Maker & Founder of Genius Material and The Genius Principles. Working with professionals who need exceptional academic & professional development.

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