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On season 9 episode 4 (Before the Flood) of Doctor Who, The Doctor talks about the bootstrap paradox:

So there's this man. He has a time machine. Up and down history he goes, zip zip zip zip zip, getting into scrapes. Another thing he has is a passion for: the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. And one day he thinks, what's the point of having a time machine if you don't get to meet your heroes? So off he goes to eighteenth century Germany. But he can't find Beethoven anywhere. No one's heard of him, not even his family have any idea who the time traveller is talking about. Beethoven literally doesn't exist. [...] [T]his is called the Bootstrap Paradox. Google it. The time traveller panics. He can't bear the thought of a world without the music of Beethoven. Luckily he'd brought all of his Beethoven sheet music for Ludwig to sign. So he copies out all the concertos, and the symphonies and he gets them published. He becomes Beethoven. And history continues with barely a feather ruffled. But my question is this. Who put those notes and phrases together? Who really composed Beethoven's Fifth?

Anyway, Amy and Rory's daughter Melody (aka River) went back in time and befriended her parents as children and Amy and Rory unknowingly named their daughter after the childhood friend who was their daughter. I was wondering if this is an example of the bootstrap paradox. My parents seem to think it makes perfect sense but I guess I just can't wrap my head around it.

Where did the original thought of the name Melody Pond come from?

  • Also, there isn't any evidence that the Doctor (any of them) had a passion for the music of Beethoven. His current incarnation is into guitar rock. So he wasn't even talking about himself. – Mr Lister Nov 28 '15 at 9:29
  • Both answers are fine. It's a stable time loop. Cause and effect cannot be told apart. – tilley31 Nov 28 '15 at 19:39
  • @MrLister Indeed. As he says in the middle part of the quote which isn't included in this question: "This didn't happen, by the way." – Rand al'Thor Oct 28 '16 at 22:23
14

There is no easy answer

Welcome to the wonderful world of paradoxes.

The naive answer is that Amy and Rory chose the name, on behalf of their childhood friend Mels:

Doctor: Mels, short for...

Mels: Melody.

Amy: Yeah, I named my daughter after her.

Doctor Who Series 6 Episode 8: "Let's Kill Hitler"

But this is complicated by the fact that Mels is actually a pre-regeneration River Song, Melody Pond from the future. Hence the paradox, and the Doctor's next line in that episode:

Doctor: You named your daughter after your daughter.

Doctor Who Series 6 Episode 8: "Let's Kill Hitler"

Obviously this is a bootstrap paradox, so a firm answer is largely impossible; that's more or less the point.

Fortunately, Doctor Who lore gives us a possible way out of this paradox, but note that there's no confirmation that this theory is true.

Recall that, in Doctor Who, the past can be changed underneath you; from the minisode "Good Night":

Doctor: The thing is, Amy, everyone's memory is a mess; life is a mess. Everyone's got memories of a holiday they couldn't have been on, or a party they never went to, or met someone for the first time and felt like they've known them all their lives. Time is being rewritten, all around us, every day. People think their memories are bad, but their memories are fine. The past is really like that.

Doctor Who Minisode "Good Night"

So it's not necessarily a paradox, in Doctor Who, for Amy and Rory to have previously invented the name "Melody," only for their daughter to go back in time, become Mels, and inspire the name "Melody" in a different timeline.

Wibbly-wobbly...

4

Nobody: it was a bootstrap paradox.

From the episode Let's Kill Hitler:

DOCTOR: Mels. Short for ...
MELS: Melody.
AMY: Yeah. I named my daughter after her.
DOCTOR: You named your daughter after your daughter.

Amy named her baby daughter after the girl Mels, whom she'd met before her daughter was born (in Amy's timeline), but who was in fact her daughter.

So Amy got the name from Mels, who was given it by Amy, who got it from Mels, who ...

That's the thing with paradoxes: there's no clear answer.


There's an interesting blog post here which analyses how common the first name Melody was and how strange it would be for Amy and Rory to come up with such a name (the answer: not very). Sorry for the massive quote:

Melody is currently (2010 figures) sitting at #198 in the US girls’ charts. It’s been climbing steadily for the last decade – it was #436 in 1999, jumped in 2000, and continues to rise. On a longer scale, it’s a keeper: Melody hasn’t been out of the top 1000 since 1942. Its heyday was the late 1950s through to middle 1960s, reaching an all-time usage high in 1960: 479 Melodies in every million baby girls.

The last Melody spike is about two generations ago – assuming a 25-year generation gap (it’s widened slightly over time, but it’s a round figure) the adult Melodies are going to start becoming grandmothers right about now.

People don’t tend to give their children names of their own generation. When naming a child, people want something that sounds interesting and fresh, not something that conjures a mental image of name-calling and school registers. [...] Sure enough, Melody goes down and down and down after the 1960 spike, and its absolute nadir is in the mid-1980s – just about when, with a 25-year generation, the 1960 Melodies would be naming their own children.

Names from one’s parents’ generation, though, are sometimes fair game, especially if they’re known-but-not-common. They aren’t depressingly familiar, but you heard them around somewhere. And they’ve had a generation out of the public eye to recover, as it were. Three generations apart, the effect can be even more pronounced, as people jump on their grandparents’ names that are just so delightfully vintage and retro now. (Florence, Faith, Lacey, Stanley and Arthur are all currently in the England and Wales top hundred.) Depending on the age of Amy’s parents and grandparents, we could be seeing either the two-generation or three-generation cycle in effect – remember, it’s been charting in the US since 1942.

So it’s actually pretty plausible that Amy would have come up with Melody from somewhere, if she had childhood memories of an adult Melody – perhaps even her geography teacher – and nicely poised between trendy and zany, which seems pretty in line with Amy’s traditional but not too traditional character. (White wedding, but didn’t change her name.)

This isn’t the first time Doctor Who, and specifically Stephen Moffat, have proven surprisingly astute in their baby-naming choices. Way back in 2008, Moffat’s two-parter Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead saw then-companion Donna Noble uploaded into a simulation wherein she married another uploaded personality and had little simulated babies whom she named Joshua and Ellie. That year in England and Wales, Joshua was #5 on the boys’ charts and Ellie #16 on the girls’. Bang on trend.

  • 2
    From "Let's Kill Hitler": Doctor: "Mels, short for..." Mels: "Melody." Amy: "Yeah, I named my daughter after her." Doctor: "You named your daughter after your daughter." So they got it from Mels, who got it from them, who got it from Mels,... – Jason Baker Nov 28 '15 at 1:08
  • @JasonBaker Dammit! That's what comes of not having watched series 5-6 yet... Thanks :-D – Rand al'Thor Nov 28 '15 at 1:11

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