Nominative determinism: who has the best name in running?


Usain Bolt

Yes, you may have seen this guy mentioned once or twice before: recently retired multiple world record holder, possessor of more gold than the national bank of a middling nation, and generally reckoned to be pretty speedy on his feet. But would he have achieved all this if he’d been called Usain Jones? A paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2002, snappily titled ‘Why Susie Sells Seashells by the Seashore: Implicit Egotism and Major Life Decisions’ concluded that people were in fact disproportionately likely to ‘choose careers whose labels resemble their names’. So athletics gain was meteorology’s loss.

Ricky Lightfoot

Fell, trail and mountain runner, Lightfoot has lightfooted his way to victory in many big races, including the Three Peaks and the trail running World Championships. No one who has had Lightfoot fly past them on a hill would dispute that his name is extremely apt. Oh, and he’s also a full time firefighter at Workington Fire Station in Cumbria.

Marina Stepanova

Stepanova was – naturally – a hurdler. She held the 400m world record holder and won the 1986 European Championship gold in the event. It’s likely she would have done the same at the 80 and 84 Olympic games, but the 400m hurdles was not an event for women in the former, and in the latter the Soviet boycott scuppered her changes.

However, in news that will in no way surprise followers of athletics, it turns out that it wasn’t even her own name. Admittedly taking your husband’s name upon marriage is probably not the worst form of enhancement that Russian athletes of the 80s have been accused of, but still … would Marina Makeyeva have stepped over those hurdles as nimbly?

Tripp Hurt

Tripp Hurt
(@TrippFallHurt)

Another workout complete in the beautiful fall weather! #teamruneugene pic.twitter.com/rba3LOzgXS


November 3, 2015

US steeplechaser and proud holder of Running World’s coveted “best name in running” title, in which he just pipped Gretchen Speed to the post, Hurt participates in an event that involves jumping multiple times over barriers and water jumps. Perhaps, therefore, this is not so much nominative determinism as a constant reminder to keep his feet up.

Holly Rush

She ran in the Commonwealth games marathon for England in 2010, won the Edinburgh and Pisa marathons in 2014, and these days is as likely to be found running (and winning) ultras and trail races as road ones. Perhaps the ultras are an attempt to be in less of a rush, or perhaps they are just an attempt to eat more pork pies. Either way, Rush by name, Rush by nature.