Eponym

eponyms

An eponym [ep-uh-nim] is a word, usually a person’s name, that is used to name something else. One who is referred to as eponymous is someone who gives his or her name to something, e.g., John Schnatter, the eponymous owner of Papa John’s Pizza. A common nonstandard usage is that something eponymous is named after a particular person, e.g., Julian’s eponymous restaurant. In contemporary English, the term self-titled is often used to mean eponymous in the case of a work with the same name as the person or persons who created it (e.g., the song ‘Black Sabbath,’ from the album ‘Black Sabbath,’ by the band Black Sabbath).

In intellectual property law an eponym can refer to a genericized trademark or brand name, a form of metonymy (a figure of speech used in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept — e.g. ‘Kleenex’ for all tissues).

An founding myth is a ‘reverse eponym’ in the sense that a legendary character is invented in order to explain a term. This is one example of folk etymology.

In different cultures, time periods have often been named after the person who ruled during that period. In Ancient Rome, one of the two formal ways of indicating a year was to cite the two annual consuls who served in that year. For example, the year we know as 59 BC would have been described as ‘the consulship of Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus and Gaius Julius Caesar’ (although that specific year was known jocularly as ‘the consulship of Julius and Caesar’ because of the insignificance of Caesar’s counterpart). Under the empire, the consuls would change as often as every two months, but only the two consuls at the beginning of the year would lend their names to that year.

During the Christian era, many royal households used eponymous dating by regnal years (a year in the reign of a sovereign). The Roman Catholic Church, however, eventually popularized the Anno Domini dating scheme based on the birth of Christ with both the general public and royalty. The regnal year standard is still used with respect to statutes and law reports published in some parts of the United Kingdom and in some Commonwealth countries (England abandoned this practice in 1963): a statute signed into law in Canada between February 6, 1994 and February 5, 1995 would be dated 43 Elizabeth II, for instance.

Government administrations or political trends often become eponymous with a government leader. North American examples include the Nixon Era, Trudeaumania, Jeffersonian economics, Jacksonian democracy, McCarthyism, Thatcherism, Kennedy’s Camelot, or Reaganomics. British monarchs have become eponymous throughout the English speaking world for time periods, fashions, etc. Elizabethan, Edwardian, Georgian, and Victorian, are examples of these.

Both in ancient Greece and independently among the Hebrews, tribes often took the name of a legendary leader (as Achaeus for Achaeans, or Dorus for Dorians). The eponym gave apparent meaning to the mysterious names of tribes, and sometimes, as in the Sons of Noah (an extensive list of descendants of Noah appearing in Genesis), provided a primitive attempt at ethnology as well, in the genealogical relationships of eponymous originators.

Places and towns can also be given an eponymous name through a relationship (real or imagined) to an important figure. Peloponnesus, for instance, was said to derive its name from the Greek god Pelops. In historical times, new towns have often been named (and older communities renamed) after their founders, discoverers, or after notable individuals. Examples include Vancouver, British Columbia, named after the explorer George Vancouver; and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, originally called Isbister’s Settlement but renamed after Queen Victoria’s husband and consort in 1866.

In science and technology, discoveries and innovations are often named after the discoverer (or supposed discoverer) or to honor some other influential participant. Examples are Avogadro’s number, the Diesel engine, einsteinium, and Alzheimer’s disease.

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