What Is Antonomasia?

Elvis Presley "the king" example of an Antonomasia

Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

Antonomasia is a rhetorical term for the substitution of a title, epithet, or descriptive phrase for a proper name (or of a personal name for a common name) to designate a member of a group or class.

It is a type of synecdoche. Roger Hornberry characterizes the figure as "basically a nickname with knobs on" (Sounds Good on Paper, 2010).


From the Greek, "instead of" plus "name" ("to name differently").

Examples and Observations

  • The character of James "Sawyer" Ford in the ABC television program Lost (2004-1010) regularly used antonomasia to annoy his companions. His nicknames for Hurley included Lardo, Kong, Pork Pie, Stay Puft, Rerun, Barbar, Pillsbury, Muttonchops, Mongo, Jabba, Deep Dish, Hoss, Jethro, Jumbotron, and International House of Pancakes.
  • Calling a lover Casanova, an office worker Dilbert, Elvis Presley the King, Bill Clinton the Comeback Kid, or Horace Rumpole's wife She Who Must Be Obeyed
  • "When I eventually met Mr. Right I had no idea that his first name was Always."
    (Rita Rudner)
  • "If the waiter has a mortal enemy, it is the Primper. I hate the Primper. HATE THE PRIMPER! If there's a horrifying sound a waiter never wants to hear, it's the THUMP of a purse on the counter. Then the digging sound of the Primper's claws trying to find makeup, hairbrushes, and perfume."
    (Laurie Notaro, The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club, 2002)
  • Jerry: The guy who runs the place is a little temperamental, especially about the ordering procedure. He's secretly referred to as the Soup Nazi.
    Elaine: Why? What happens if you don't order right?
    Jerry: He yells and you don't get your soup.
    ("The Soup Nazi," Seinfeld, November 1995)
  • "I told you we could count on Mr. Old-Time Rock and Roll!"
    (Murray referring to Arthur in Velvet Goldmine)
  • "I'm a myth. I'm Beowulf. I'm Grendel."
    (Karl Rove)


"This trope is of the same nature as metonymy, although it can not be said to exhibit the idea more vividly. It consists in putting in place of a proper name, another notion which may be either in apposition to it or predicated of it. Its principal use is to avoid the repetition of the same name, and the too frequent use of the pronoun. The most frequent forms of it are, naming a person from his parentage or country; as, Achilles is called Pelides; Napoleon Bonaparte, the Corsican: or naming him from some of his deeds; as, instead of Scipio, the destroyer of Carthage; instead of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo. In making use of this trope such designations should be selected as are well known, or can be easily understood from the connection, and free from ambiguity--that is, are not equally applicable to other well-known persons."
(Andrew D. Hepburn, Manual of English Rhetoric, 1875)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Antonomasia?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/antonomasia-figure-of-speech-1689109. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). What Is Antonomasia? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/antonomasia-figure-of-speech-1689109 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Antonomasia?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/antonomasia-figure-of-speech-1689109 (accessed February 3, 2023).