Eponyms

Did you know that King Charles (Prince of Wales at the time), had a tree frog named after him? Because of his charity work in conservation, there is now a species of tree frog hopping around in Ecuador called Hyloscirtus princecharlesi (Prince Charles stream tree frog). This relates to the topic of eponyms, which we will be exploring today. 

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Table of contents

    We will look at the meaning of eponyms and some examples of the different types of eponyms. We will also consider why they are used.

    Eponyms meaning

    The meaning of an eponym is as follows:

    An eponym refers to a person, place or thing that gives its name to something or someone else. It is a form of neologism which refers to creating and using new words.

    Why do we use eponyms?

    Eponyms show the close connection between certain people and their discoveries/inventions and celebrate their importance. Because of this, eponyms can immortalise people and become of historical significance, giving credit to people who made a change in the world.

    Eponym in a sentence

    Before looking at the different types of eponyms, it is important to know how to use the word eponym in a sentence, as this could sometimes be confusing. You should refer to the proper noun first (the originator of the name) and then the new term. For example:

    [proper noun] is the eponym of the [common noun].

    James Watt is the eponym of the watt (a unit of power).

    Types of eponyms

    There are different types of eponyms, which differ in structure. The six main types of eponyms are as follows:

    • Simple
    • Compounds
    • Suffix-based derivatives
    • Possessives
    • Clippings
    • Blends

    Let's take a look at these types of eponyms in more detail.

    Simple eponyms

    A simple eponym refers to a proper noun used as a name for something else. A simple eponym usually becomes reclassified as a common noun due to the frequency of its use. For example:

    Atlas

    The Greek God Atlas (the God of astronomy and navigation) is the eponym for an atlas - a book of maps created by Gerardus Mercator in the sixteenth century. In Greek mythology, Atlas fought the Titan War against Zeus (the God of the sky) and lost. Zeus made Atlas hold the World on his shoulders for eternity as punishment. This eponym shows the connection between the symbolic reference of Atlas holding up the world and the atlas bool with world maps inside.

    FUN FACT: The phrase 'to carry the weight of the world on one's shoulders' comes from the story of Atlas.

    Eponyms Statue of Greek God Atlas StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Greek God Atlas is an eponym for an atlas (book).

    Compound eponyms

    This refers to when a proper noun is combined with a common noun to form a new term. For example:

    Walt Disney → Disneyland.

    Walter Elias 'Walt' Disney was an American entrepreneur and animator, best known for being a pioneer of cartoon animations (and creating characters such as Mickey Mouse). In 1955, the theme park Disneyland opened, which was designed and built under the guidance of Disney himself. This is an example of a compound eponym as the proper noun Disney is combined with the common noun land to form the new word Disneyland.

    Suffix-based derivatives

    These eponyms refer to a proper noun that is combined with a suffix of a common noun to form a new word. For example:

    Karl MarxMarxism.

    Karl Marx created Marxism, an economic and political theory that focuses on the effects of capitalism on the working class. Marxism is an example of a suffix-based derivative as the proper noun Marx is combined with the suffix ism to form the new word Marxism.

    Possessive eponyms

    This refers to compound eponyms written in the possessive tense to show ownership. For example:

    Sir Isaac Newton → Newton's laws of motion.

    Physicist Sir Isaac Newton created Newton's laws of motion to describe the correlation between the movement of an object and the forces that act on it. The use of the possessive tense gives credit to Newton for his invention and clearly shows that it belongs to him.

    Clippings

    This refers to eponyms in which part of the name has been removed to create a shortened version. These are not as commonly used as the previous types of eponyms. An example is as follows:

    Eugene KasperskyKasper.

    Eugene Kaspersky created a computer protection programme named after himself. This is often shortened to Kasper in casual speech.

    Blends

    This refers to eponyms in which parts of two words are combined to form a new word. For example:

    Richard Nixon Nixonomics.

    This blend combines the proper noun Nixon and part of the common noun economics. It was created to refer to the policies of President Richard Nixon.

    The same was done with other US presidents, such as Ronald Reagan - Reagan and economics combined to form Reaganomics.

    Eponym examples

    Here are some more eponym examples that are frequently used! Are you familiar with the people who gave their names to the following terms? It is typical for the eponymous part of a term to be capitalised, whereas the common noun isn't.

    Amerigo Vespucci = the eponym of America.

    Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian explorer who recognised that the lands Christopher Columbus travelled to were continents separate from the rest of the world. This eponym was first used by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller on both a globe map and a wall map that he created.

    Barbara Handler = the eponym of the Barbie doll.

    American inventor Ruth Handler created the Barbie doll, which debuted in 1959. Ruth named the doll after her daughter Barbara.

    Fun fact: Barbie's boyfriend Ken was named after Ruth's son Kenneth.

    Eponyms Image of a Barbie doll StudySmarterFig. 2 - The Barbie doll was named after the inventor's daughter.

    The 7th Earl of Cardigan (James Thomas Brudenell) = the eponym of the cardigan.

    Brudenell created this example of an eponym when the tail of his coat burned off in the fireplace, forming a shorter jacket.

    Louis Braille = the eponym of braille.

    Louis Braille was a French inventor who created braille in 1824, a writing system for the visually impaired consisting of raised dots. This invention, named after Braille himself, remains mostly the same to this day and is known as braille worldwide.

    James Harvey Logan = the eponym of the loganberry.

    Named after court judge James Harvey Logan, the loganberry is a mix between a blackberry and raspberry. Logan mistakenly grew this berry hybrid when trying to create a superior blackberry.

    Caesar Cardini = the eponym of the Caesar salad.

    In this example of an eponym, although many people think the popular salad was named after Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, it was Italian chef Caesar Cardini who supposedly created the Caesar salad.

    Eponym vs namesake

    It is easy to get eponyms and a namesake mixed up as they both refer to the use of names, but there are differences between the two. Let's begin by looking at the meaning of a namesake:

    A namesake refers to a person or thing that has been given the same name as someone/something else. They are named after someone/something that originally had the name. For example, Robert Downey Jr. is the namesake of his father, Robert Downey Sr.

    On the other hand, an eponym refers to the person or thing that has given its name to someone/something else. Think of an eponym as the originator of that name.

    List of eponyms

    Bet you didn't know these common words were an example of an eponym!

    Common eponyms

    • Sandwich- named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich who supposedly invented it.
    • Zipper- the brand name of the zip fastener which also refers to the product itself.
    • Fahrenheit- originating from Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit who invented the mercury thermometer and the Fahrenheit scale.
    • Lego- the brand name of the toy which also refers to the product e.g. 'a piece of lego'.
    • Sideburns- the funky facial hair was inspired by Ambrose Burnside who sported the look.
    • Diesel- originating from engineer Rudolf Diesel who invented the Diesel engine.

    Eponyms - Key Takeaways

    • An eponym refers to a person, place or thing that gives its name to something or someone else.
    • An eponym is a form of neologism.
    • The six main types of eponyms are simple, compounds, suffix-based derivatives, possessives, clippings and blends.
    • Eponyms are used to show the close connection between certain people and their discoveries/inventions and celebrate their importance.
    • Eponyms are not to be confused with namesakes, which refer to people or things that are named after someone/something that originally had the name.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Eponyms

    What is an eponym?

    An eponym refers to a person, place or thing that gives its name to something or someone else. 

    What is an example of an eponym?

    An example of an eponym is as follows:


    Louis Braille is the eponym of the word 'braille', a writing system for the visually impaired.

    Are eponyms capitalised?

    Most eponyms are capitalised as they are proper nouns (the names of people, places). But this is not always the case.

    Can a thing be an eponym?

    A 'thing' can be an eponym. For example, 'hoover' (a vacuum cleaner brand name) is an eponymous term often used to refer to vacuum cleaners in general.

    What are the six types of eponyms?

    The six types of eponyms are:

    1. Simple

    2. Compounds

    3. Suffix-based derivatives

    4. Possessives

    5. Clippings

    6. Blends

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false?Eponyms are used to show the difference between someone and their invention.

    True or false?Simple eponyms are often reclassified as common nouns.

    True or false?The eponymous part of a term is usually capitalised.

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