Definition and Examples of Eponyms in English

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An eponym is a word that is derived from the proper name of a real or mythical person or place. Adjectives: eponymic and eponymous.

Over time, the name of a well-known person (such as Machiavelli, Italian Renaissance author of The Prince) may come to stand for an attribute associated with that person (in Machiavelli's case, cunning and duplicity).

Etymology: from the Greek, "named after" 

Pronunciation: EP-i-nim

Examples and Observations

  • "We are well-armed for battle in a Machiavellian world of reputation manipulation, and one of our most important weapons is the delusion that we are noncombatants."
    (Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Basic Books, 2006)
  • Jeff: You probably just Britta’d the test results.
    Britta: No, I double--wait! Are people using my name to mean ‘make a small mistake’?
    Jeff: Yes.
    (Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs in "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps." Community, October 27, 2011)
  • "[Alton] Brown can fill an entire episode on popcorn, teaching you how to MacGyver a nifty, cheap popper (hint: a stainless-steel bowl and some perforated foil)."
    (Entertainment Weekly, August 14, 2009)
  • "The crowd parted reluctantly, and [Lance Armstrong] glided off, Batmanning through the crowd toward the start line."
    (Daniel Coyle, Lance Armstrong's War. HarperCollins, 2005)
  • Lily: Don't Ted-out about it.
    Ted: Did you just use my name as a verb?
    Barney: Oh, yeah, we do that behind your back. Ted-out: to overthink. Also, see Ted-up. Ted-up: to overthink with disastrous consequences. For example, "Billy Tedded-up when he--"
    Ted: All right, I get it!
    ("Matchmaker." How I Met Your Mother, 2005)
  • "Americans now nibble their way through two billion popsicles a year; their favorite flavor is a Jaggeresque red cherry."
    (Oliver Thring, "Consider Ice Lollies." The Guardian, July 27, 2010)
  • Sandwich: named after John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718–1792), a British politician.
  • Cardigan: a knitted garment, such as a sweater or jacket, that opens down the front. Named after the Seventh Earl of Cardigan, James Thomas Brudenell (1797–1868), a British army officer.
  • Andy Bernard: I really schruted it.
    Michael Scott: What?
    Andy Bernard: Schruted it. It's just this thing that people say around your office all the time. Like, when you screw something up in a really irreversible way, you schruted it. I don't know where it comes from though. Do you think it comes from Dwight Schrute?
    Michael Scott: I don't know. Who knows how words are formed.
    ("Traveling Salesmen," The Office, Jan. 11, 2007)
  • "Let's not Rumsfeld Afghanistan."
    (Senator Lindsey Graham, quoted in Time magazine, Aug. 24, 2009)
  • Saxophone: named after Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax.
  • Other eponyms in English include boycott, braille, camellia, chauvinist, dahlia, diesel, dunce, gardenia, gerrymander, guillotine, hooligan, leotard, lynch, magnolia, ohm, pasteurize, poinsettia, praline, quixotic, ritzy, sequoia, shrapnel, silhouette, volt, watt, and zeppelin.

Achieving Wordhood

"As a word, eponymous is a bit anonymous itself. Its moment in the sun came with the release of REM’s album Eponymous, a subtle dig at musicians who name records after themselves, such as Peter Gabriel, whose first four albums are all entitled, Peter Gabriel. In short, an eponym is anything that’s ever been named after anybody. . . .
"But a name only crosses into true wordhood once it is no longer used as a reference. When we speak of hectoring wives and philandering husbands, it is without a picture of valiant Hector or lover-boy Philander popping into our minds, the way a bespectacled Viennese man with a pipe does when we say 'Freudian slip.'"
(John Bemelmans Marciano, Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words. Bloomsbury, 2009)

Eponyms and Allusions

"An eponym is similar to an allusion, referring to a specific famous person to link his or her attributes with someone else. Using an eponym well can be something of a balancing act; if the person is too obscure, no one will understand your reference, but if it's too well known, it may come across as a cliché."
(Brendan McGuigan, Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers. Prestwick House, 2007)


"When CNN's Jeff Greenfield assured the crowd, "I haven't planted a Skutnik here," I stopped him: I had heard of a Sputnik, the Russian word for the first Soviet satellite, but what was a Skutnik?
"Greenfield directed me to his book Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow! about the media failure on election night: 'A Skutnik is a human prop, used by a speaker to make a political point. The name comes from Lenny Skutnik, a young man who heroically saved lives after the Air Florida plane crash in Washington in 1982 and who was introduced by President Reagan during his State of the Union speech.'
"The introduction of heroes became a staple in presidential addresses to joint sessions of Congress. In 1995, the columnist William F. Buckley was one of the first to use the name as an eponym: 'President Clinton was awash with Skutniks.'"
(William Safire, "On Language." The New York Times, July 8, 2001)

The Lighter Side of Eponyms

"First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me."
(Steve Martin)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Eponyms in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Definition and Examples of Eponyms in English. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Eponyms in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).