What’s in a name?
Last week the Nobel Prizes were awarded. The Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology went this year to three American researchers involved in for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. Dutch medical researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology for three times so far. Willem Einthoven in 1924, Christiaan Eijkman in 1929 and Niko Tinbergen in 1973. Most part of their lives is covered in monographs, biographies and articles. More then often the family life of these scientific champions was and is hidden, never to be revealed. But sometimes you have the chance to meet laureate family members in real life.
As a curator I had the honour to meet members of the Einthoven family in personal in our museum. The sheer historic sensation to talk about and to listen to stories about Willem Einthoven who won the Prize for the discovery of the mechanism of the electrocardiogram is one of the reasons why I love this job so much! One of the questions while I was doing research on Willem Einthoven’s scientific work was what it means the have the family name of a Nobel Prize winner, in other words: What’s in a name? I was told the following humorous anecdote. When one of Einthoven’s great-grandchildren had to do a school project on encyclopaedias he turned to his mother for help. She said: “ Well if you don’t know what subject to choose, why not start with your own name?” Unaware of his great-grandfathers scientific work he of course found his family name in the encyclopaedia. The next day at the school’s playing ground he asked his friends whether they had found their names as well…
The example above is not only a nice anecdote but it’s also a good lesson for young historians. Always ask yourself : What’s in a name?