Eponymous Words

Eponymous means named after a particular person. For example, the Harry Potter series and Reaganomics are both eponyms. This is another way that words are added to a language.

Eponyms are actually all over our language. Did you know the Pavlova (a meringue dessert) was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1885-1931)?

The volt (the unit of electromotive force) was named after the Italian physicist Allessandro Volta (1745-1827). He invented the electric battery.

Nicotine (the drug in tobacco) was named after Jean Nicot (1530-1600), a French intellectual who first brought tobacco to France.

The magnolia genus (a type of shrub or tree) is from Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), a botanist from France who came up with a system of taxonomy.

The cardigan (a sweater with buttons) was first coined during the Crimean War when soldiers wore them to keep warm. It was named after an English officer who happened to be the seventh Earl of Cardigan (James Thomas Brudenell, 1797-1868).

A more common one is the teddy bear: it was named after president Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), who was nicknamed Teddy. One time while he was bear-hunting he left a bear cub unhurt, which led to a comic, which led to this eponym.

Some eponyms are obvious (Disneyland or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), while others are more subtle (adidas). Here are some more eponyms that come from people’s names: guillotine, Graham crackers, Dewey Decimal System, diesel, Mount Everest, guppy, lutz, lynching, narcissism, pasteurization, shrapnel, and zamboni (the thing that makes ice smooth).

We have eponyms from famous fictional characters: “keeping up with the Joneses” (comic strip characters, 1913), herculean (Hercules), and quixotic (Don Quixote de la Mancha).

We can have eponymous places, too: bourbon (Bourbon County, Kentucky), copper (Cyprus), jeans (Genoa, Italy), labrador (Labrador, China), pheasant (Phasis, Georgia), pistol (Pistoia, Italy), suede (Sweden), and tuxedo (Tuxedo Park Country Club, New York) are all eponyms based on locations.

[Some of these examples come from The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language by David Crystal. It’s the best linguistic reference book that I own.]

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  1. 1

    Graham makes sense, Dewey, Everest, and Paseurization….and Zamboni…I actually KNOW what that machine is…

    but guillotine, and shrapnel and NARCISSIM…
    wouldn’t have guessed.

    this was a fun one….

  2. 2

    The word hooligan might also be an eponymous word. Here is what an online etymologycal dictionary says about it: “1890s, of unknown origin, first found in British newspaper police-court reports in the summer of 1898, almost certainly from the surname Houlihan, supposedly from a lively family of that name in London (who figured in music hall songs of the decade). Internationalized 20c. in communist rhetoric as Rus. khuligan, opprobrium for “scofflaws, political dissenters, etc.”

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