Preliminary note: An eponym is usually defined as ‘a name derived from the name of a (real or mythical) person’ (or as ‘the name of the person from which such a name is derived’). (For more see eponym.) However, the words listed on this page, though all derived from the names of (real or mythical) persons, are not names but common nouns, verbs, or adjectives. In the absence of any term meaning ‘word derived from the name of a person’ AWE has decided, rather than coin a new term, to use eponym in an extended sense with this meaning.
The words for some objects, activities, etc., derive from the name of an individual with whom the object, activity, etc., is particularly associated. For example, the word 'boycott', meaning 'the refusal to have any dealings with a person or organisation as a protest against their behaviour' - as when, e.g., one is unwilling to buy the products of a company because one strongly disapproves of its activities or policies - comes from the name of an Irishman, Capt. C.C. Boycott (1832-1897), who was land agent for the Earl of Erne in county Mayo in Ireland, and was shunned as part of a campaign of protest when he would not lower the rents of the properties for which he was responsible on the Earl's estates. ('Boycott' is also used as a verb).
- There is also the use of the names of distinguished individuals which are applied, as epithetical labels, to the titles of institutions - which are 'named after' them. The Albert Hall in London and the Carnegie Hall in New York are examples - as are the Nobel Prize in Sweden, the Fields medal (for mathematics) and the T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry awarded in the UK; Guggenheim Museums in different countries, Gulbenkian Theatres and arts facilities on various campuses; Kennedy and La Guardia airports in New York; Buckingham Palace and Somerset House in London; and countless street names throughout the world, with a myriad further examples. Individual buildings in large Institutions, particularly of research and HE, are often named after distinguished people who have worked there, or are otherwise connected to them: the University of Hull contains the Larkin Building, named after the poet and former University Librarian; the Wilberforce and Venn buildings, named after former citizens of Hull, and the Ferens, Gulbenkian, Allam and Blackburn Buildings, named after benefactors. Such names are too many to be dealt with individually or comprehensively in AWE.
Sometimes the individual's name, which is always written with a lower-case initial letter, is slightly changed, e.g., by the addition of a suffix - as in 'caesarean' and 'malapropism' (see further below). Note that aristocratic titles were traditionally the names of places which provided estates for the holder of the title; so that such names as cardigan and sandwich may also, or alternatively, be listed under Words Derived From Names of Places.
Here, in alphabetical order, are some more examples of words derived from the names of people:
- An albert is a type of chain used to attach a pocket watch to a waistcoat or some other article of clothing. It derives its name from Prince Albert (1819-1861), consort of Queen Victoria (1819-1901, reigned 1837-1901).
- Bakelite – the word is pronounced as three syllables, IPA: /'beɪ kə ,laɪt/ – is a durable plastic made from phenol and formaldehyde and used, e.g., in telephone receivers and many household articles. It is named after its inventor H.L.A. Baekeland (1863-1944), a Belgian chemist who emigrated to the United States in 1889.
- A biro is a type of plastic ballpoint pen: it takes its name from Laszlo Biró (1899-1985), a Hungarian journalist, who worked with his brother Gyórgy, a chemist, to develop the first workable ballpoint pen.
- The word bloomers (always in the plural) may be used in informal speech as a word for women’s baggy knickers. The word, which used to be used to refer to loose trousers gathered at the knee and worn by women for cycling and similar activities, derives from Mrs Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), an American social reformer who championed women’s rights and was an influential advocate of the wearing by women of loose trousers rather than dresses. (Note that in the singular bloomer may be one of three words whose meanings are all unrelated to the above and to each other: a bloomer may be either a plant which flowers or (in British English) a silly mistake or (also in British English) a medium-sized crusty loaf of bread, with a glazed top marked by a series of parallel notches.)
- A bougainvillea is a widely cultivated climbing plant, native to tropical climates, with small flowers (usually white) and brightly coloured leaves (usually red or purple). It is named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811), an admiral in the French navy, who was also an explorer and the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe (1766-1769): the botanist on de Bougainville’s expedition (Philibert Commerçant) was the first European to describe this plant, which he named after the expedition’s leader.
- The transitive verb 'to bowdlerise' (or 'to bowdlerize') - pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, which rhymes with 'cloud', IPA: /ˈbaʊd lə raɪz/ - means: to remove from the text of a play, novel, or other document material that is judged to be obscene, offensive, or in some other way improper, i.e., to expurgate or censor the text. The verb comes from the name of Dr. Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), an English physician and philanthropist, who in 1807 published The Family Shakespeare, an expurgated or bowdlerised version of the text of Shakespeare's plays. The text had been edited by Bowdler's sister, Henrietta Maria (Harriet) Bowdler (1750-1830), with the intention of producing a version of the plays that would not offend the sensibilities of nineteenth-century women. Bowdler later produced a bowdlerised version of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which was published posthumously by his nephew, Thomas Bowdler, the Younger. As well as the verb 'to bowdlerise' there is also a noun 'bowdlerisation' (or 'bowdlerization').
- Braille, the system which enables the blind to read and write by representing each letter of the alphabet as a distinctive pattern of raised dots, is named after its French inventor, Louis Braille (1809-1852), who was himself blind from the age of 3 and taught blind children in the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute for Blind Children) in Paris.
- A brougham - pronounced BROO-erm IPA: /ˈbruː əm/ or BROOM IPA: /ˈbruːm/ - is a type of horse-drawn carriage which has four wheels, an enclosed cabin for the passengers, and a raised open seat at the front for the driver. (The word also used to be applied to a large motor car which had an open compartment at the front for the driver.) The word 'brougham' comes from Peter Henry Brougham, first Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868), who either invented this type of carriage or, more probably, popularised its use. Brougham was a Scots lawyer who in the course of his long life helped in 1802 to found the Edinburgh Review and, after moving to London, entered Parliament as a Whig in 1810, was involved in the struggle against the slave trade, was one of the founders of University College, London (1828), and became Lord Chancellor (1830-1834).
- A caesarean or caesarean section is an operation in which the surgeon cuts the walls of the mother's abdomen and uterus in order to deliver her baby. The word is commonly said to come from the name of Roman general, politician, and dictator Julius Caesar (101-44 BCE), who was believed to have been born in this way; but it is as likely to be derived directly from the past participle caesus of the Latin verb caedere, 'to cut'. (See further Caesarean.)
- A cardigan is a knitted jacket buttoned at the front. The word comes from the seventh Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868), who was an officer in the British cavalry and led the ill-fated charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava (1854).
- Chauvinism is extreme and/or aggressive patriotism, though the word is also used, more generally, of (behaviour resulting from) any strong, unwarranted belief in the superiority of a group to which one belongs (e.g., male chauvinism). Chauvinism is so called after Nicolas Chauvin, a (probably apocryphal) French soldier said to have served under Napoleon Bonaparte and to have been famous for his uncritical and enthusiastic patriotism.
- A chesterfield is either a large sofa, with back and arms of the same height, often upholstered in leather or a man’s overcoat, single- or double-breasted, with a velvet collar. Both the sofa and the overcoat are named after members of the Chesterfield family, the sofa after Philip Dormer Stanhope, Fourth Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773), a statesman and writer, who was the first person to commission a sofa of this type, and the overcoat after George Philip Cecil Arthur Stanhope, Sixth Earl of Chesterfield (1805-1866), a Tory politician and race horse owner, perhaps because his wearing one set a fashion for wearing this type of overcoat.
- A dahlia (IPA: / 'deɪ lɪə/) is a perennial plant with showy flowers and fleshy roots. It is named after the Swedish botanist Anders Dahl (1751-1789), who was a student of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).
- A davenport may be either a type of desk or a type of sofa: in Britain a davenport is a tall narrow desk with drawers at the side and a slanting top for use as a writing surface, but in the United States and Canada it is a large sofa, especially one which may be converted into a bed. The use of the word davenport to refer to a type of desk comes from a Captain Davenport, who towards the end of the 18h century was the first person to commission a desk of this type, while the use of the word to refer to a type of sofa comes from A.H. Davenport and Co., a firm, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which made this type of sofa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- De-gaussing, a procedure for demagnetizing ships so that they would not detonate magnetic mines, was named after K. F. Gauss (1777-1855), German mathematician and formulator of two Laws of Magnetism - half of Maxwell's Four Laws - the basis of classical electrodynamics.
- Diesel (or diesel fuel) is a type of liquid fuel obtained from petroleum by distillation and, when used in an internal combustion engine, ignited not by a spark but by compression. It is named after Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913), a German engineer who first produced the fuel and invented the diesel engine.
- The adjective 'draconian', meaning 'harsh, severe, or very strict' and typically used of laws, penalties, and the like, comes from Draco (in Greek δράκων, Drakon), an Athenian lawgiver who in 621 BCE drew up and imposed on the city of Athens a harsh code of laws which prescribed death for almost every offence. (Draco's legal code remained in force until the second half of the 590s BCE when the statesman Solon (?638-?559 BCE) replaced it with a more humane code which prescribed the death penalty only for murder.) With an initial capital 'Draconian' means 'of or relating to Draco or his legal code'. Be careful not to confuse the adjectives 'draconian' and 'draconic': the latter means 'of or relating to a dragon or dragons', and comes from the Latin draco, a dragon, which in turn is almost a transliteration of the Greek word for a dragon, δράκων, drakon.
- A dunce is a person who is stupid or slow to learn. The word comes from the great medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus (c1265-1308): in the sixteenth century his followers, who were by then often regarded as wedded to outmoded forms of thought, were referred to disparagingly as Dunsmen or Dunses. A dunce cap or dunce's cap was a cone-shaped paper hat which in earlier times was sometimes placed on the head of a child at school if he or she was slow to learn. (Duns Scotus took his name from his birthplace, the town of Duns in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders.)
- A fedora is a type of hat: it is made of soft felt and has an indented crown and a wide brim, often turned down at the front. The hat is named after Princess Fédora Romazov, the heroine of Fédora (1882), a play by the French dramatist Victorien Sardou (1831-1908). On stage the actress (Sarah Bernhardt) who played the part of Princess Fédora wore a hat with an indented crown and a wide brim, and the fedora became, for a time, a very popular type of hat for women. (Cf. trilby below.)
- The foxtrot, a ballroom dance in 4/4 time with long, flowing movements, is said to have been named after Harry Fox (1882-1959), an American musical hall artist, whose regular performance on stage of an early version of the dance did much to popularise it.
- The verb ‘to galvanize’ (or ‘to galvanise’), meaning either ‘to excite or stimulate to action’ or ‘to cover (a metal) with a protective coating of zinc by means of an electro-chemical process’, is formed from the name of the Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), who observed that muscles contracted when in simultaneous contact with two different metals, a discovery which led to the theory that muscles are controlled by electrical impulses in the nerves and to the invention by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) of the pile battery.
- A gardenia is a shrub or small tree with large white or pale yellow flowers. It is named after Dr Alexander Garden (1730-1791), a Scottish-born physician who emigrated as a young man to North America. He was a keen amateur botanist, studying the flora of South Carolina and sending many specimens to the great Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus (1707-1778), who named the gardenia after him.
- The adjective gargantuan (pronounced with the stress on the second syllable) means: huge, enormous. The word tends to be used in the context of food (as in ‘He has a gargantuan appetite’ or ‘This is a gargantuan portion’), though it is sometimes found outside this context (as in ‘I have a gargantuan amount of work to finish before the weekend’). The word comes from the fictional character Gargantua, the central figure in The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel (La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel, 1534), a set of five satirical novels by François Rabelais (?1494-1553). Gargantua is a gigantic king renowned for his ability to consume great quantities of food and drink.
- The word greengage may refer either to a variety of plum which has a green-gold skin and similarly-coloured flesh or to the tree which bears this fruit (prunus domestica italica).. The greengage owes its name, or at least the second part of its name, to Sir William Gage (1695-1744), who in 1724 imported the tree to England from France. (You may want to see further Gage - gauge.)
- A guillotine is an instrument for beheading persons and consists of a heavy blade set between two upright posts. It derives its name from Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), a French doctor and politician, who did not invent the instrument but in 1789 in a speech to the Estates General in Paris argued on humanitarian grounds that it should be used for judicial executions in France. For more see Guillotine. See also guillotine.
- A hansom cab is an older name for what is now usually called a 'taxi[cab]'. It was originally a particular design of two-wheeled carriage drawn by one horse, with the driver seated behind the passenger compartment. The hansom could be seen 'plying for hire' like a modern black cab. The vehicle was designed in essence by the architect of Birmingham Town Hall, Joseph Aloysius Hansom, (1803-1882), a native of York.
- A jeremiad is a long, sorrowful complaint or lamentation. The word comes from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah (7th-6th century BCE), who foretold great evils for the inhabitants of Judah if they did not repent of their sins - see the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Lamentations of Jeremiah. A person who prophesies doom and disaster or denounces the evil ways of his society may be referred to as a Jeremiah.
- A jeroboam is a large wine bottle with a capacity four times that of a normal wine bottle. The word, perhaps most commonly used in connection with champagne, comes from Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel, who reigned towards the end of the tenth century BCE. The choice of name seems to involve a humorous reference to two passages in the Old Testament (I Kings ch. 11, v. 28 and I Kings ch. 14, v. 16) in which Jeroboam is described as a 'mighty man of valour', who 'did sin and who made Israel to sin'. The names for the other, even larger wine bottles also derive from persons mentioned in the Old Testament. A rehoboam, with a capacity six times that of a normal wine bottle, is named after Rehoboam (10th century BCE), one of Solomon's sons and his successor as king of Israel (see 1 Kings ch. 12 & ch. 14, vv. 21-31 and II Chronicles chs. 10-12). A methuselah, eight times the size of a normal wine bottle, takes its name from the patriarch Methuselah, said in Genesis ch. 5, v. 27 to have lived to be 969 years old; a salmanazar, twelve times the size of a normal wine bottle, is named after Shalmaneser, a ninth century king of Assyria (see II Kings chs. 17-18), while a balthazar and a nebuchadnezzar, respectively sixteen and twenty times the size of a normal wine bottle, are both named after rulers of Babylon - Balthazar or Belshazzer (see Daniel chs. 5 & 8), and his father Nebuchadnezzar (634-562, reigned 605-562, see II Kings chs. 24-25 and Daniel). (A wine bottle which has double the capacity of a normal wine bottle is known as a magnum (from the Latin adjective magnus, large).)
- A leotard is a skin-tight or close-fitting garment which covers the torso, leaving the legs and sometimes also the arms uncovered. Worn by acrobats, gymnasts, and ballet dances, it derives its name from Jules Léotard (1838-1870), a French acrobat and trapeze artist (and the inspiration of the 1867 song The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze), who popularised the garment. (Note that in his native language the garment Léotard popularised is not named after him: in French a leotard is a justaucorps.)
- A Luddite is a person who opposes innovation and the use of new technology, especially in an industrial context. The word was first applied to textile workers in Nottingham and adjacent areas who in the second decade of the 19th century rioted and damaged industrial machinery in protest at its introduction, which they believed posed a threat to their livelihoods. Luddites are so called after Ned Ludd, a (probably apocryphal) figure said to have been a Leicestershire workman who in 1779 damaged two stocking frames in a fit of anger at the introduction of machinery into his workplace.
- The transitive verb to lynch - the 'y' is pronounced as a short 'i', IPA: /lɪntʃ/ - is used when an angry crowd takes justice into its own hands and, dispensing with a proper trial, seizes and punishes, usually by hanging, a person thought to be guilty of a crime. The etymology of the word is disputed, but most probably it comes either from Captain William Lynch (1742-1820), who in 1780, with the support of his neighbours in Pittsylvania County in Virginia, set up his own court of justice, or from Charles Lynch (1736-1796), a Justice of the Peace in Virginia, who during the American War of Independence (1775-1783), imprisoned supporters of the British without legal authority. A lynch mob is a crowd which takes justice into its own hands and punishes a person it believes to be guilty of a crime, and the practice of so doing is sometimes referred to as lynch law.
- A mackintosh - also spelt macintosh, and pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, IPA: /ˈmæk ɪ(or ə)n tɒʃ/ - is a raincoat made from a special type of rubberised cloth and named after its inventor, Charles Macintosh (1760-1843). The word 'mackintosh' may also be used to refer to any type of raincoat, whatever its material.
- A malapropism is the unintended misuse of a word by confusing it with another which sounds similar. The word comes from the fictional Mrs Malaprop, a character who misused words in this way in the eighteenth-century comedy The Rivals (1775) by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). Sheridan's invention of the name 'Malaprop' drew on the French mal à propos, 'not to the purpose'. (See further Malapropism.)
- A martinet – pronounced with the stress on the final syllable, IPA: /,mɑː tɪ 'nɛt/ - is a disciplinarian, i.e., a person who demands and enforces strict discipline, especially in a military context. The word comes from Jean Martinet (died 1672) – pronounced IPA: /mar ti 'nɛ/- a lieutenant-colonel and inspector general of the armies of Louis XIV: he devised and established a system for turning raw recruits into a disciplined fighting force. (In contemporary French one of the meanings of martinet is ‘cat-o’-nine-tails’ (i.e., a whip made of rope, with nine knots, used in times past to flog prisoners); but the French word martinet may also mean either ‘swift’ (i.e., a species of fast-flying bird with long slender wings) or ‘tilt hammer'.)
- Masochism, in everyday speech, is the tendency to derive pleasure from the infliction of pain or suffering on oneself – though it is not defined in precisely this way by psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. The word – or rather its German equivalent Masochismus – was first used in 1886 by the Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902), who coined it on the basis of the many descriptions of masochism in the novels and short stories of the Austrian aristocrat Leopold von Sacher Masoch (1836-1895).
- A mausoleum is a large, impressive building which houses a tomb or a number of tombs. The word comes, through Greek and Latin, from Mausolus, who ruled Caria (in southwest Turkey) from 377-353 BCE and planned a stately tomb for himself in his capital city, Halicarnassus (the site of the modern city of Bodrum). The tomb, which was made of white marble and was in fact built by Mausolus’ widow, Artemisia, became one of the wonders of the ancient world.
- A maverick is an independent-minded person, especially one with unorthodox or unconventional views. The word was originally used - and still is - in the cattle-ranching regions of the United States and Canada to refer to an unbranded animal, especially a stray calf – a use of the word which derives from the name of a Texas lawyer, land-owner, and rancher, Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870), who did not have his cattle branded: when one of his animals strayed onto the land of another rancher (who would immediately have it branded as one of his own) it was referred to as a maverick.
- The verb 'to mesmerize or mesmerise', meaning 'to hypnotize, fascinate, or hold as if spellbound', comes from Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a German doctor who practised in Vienna and studied animal magnetism. See further Memorize - mesmerize.
This list continues at Eponyms N-Z.