What is an Eponym?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Eponym refers to a person, real or imaginary, after whom something has been named, as well as to the name itself. These names are found in many different branches of knowledge, industry, and enterprise, and it's not unusual to find eponyms used for company names, places, discoveries, honors, and inventions. There are also eponymous products, anatomical entities, ideologies, foods, and other items that recall someone by name. An eponym is distinguished from a toponym, which is a name derived from a place or region, like tangerine, a fruit named for Tangiers, Morocco.

The Stetson hat, named after a hat maker, is an eponymous item.
The Stetson hat, named after a hat maker, is an eponymous item.

Cuisine Eponyms

The Granny Smith apple, like many botanical species, is named for its New South Wales discoverer and grower. Foods may be named for their inventor, as Graham flour is named after its inventor Rev. Sylvester Graham, and prepared dishes may be named after the person they were created for or after the chef who created them. Peach Melba, prepared by the chef Auguste Escoffier for Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, was named after the woman who inspired it, while Sachertorte, a chocolate cake created by baker Franz Sacher for Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, was named for the chef, not the patron.

Augustus, whose name is used for the month August.
Augustus, whose name is used for the month August.

Music Eponyms

The Sousaphone is named after its inventor, composer and conductor John Philip Sousa. The Tourte bow for string instruments bears the name of its inventor, French bow-maker François Xavier Tourte. The Landini cadence was named after Italian composer and organist Francesco Landini. The Bartok and the Verdi scales were named after composers Bela Bartok and Giuseppe Verdi.

The Hoover Dam was named for US President Herbert Hoover.
The Hoover Dam was named for US President Herbert Hoover.

A set of chord changes — Coltrane changes — is named after the innovative jazz saxophonist and composer who came up with them, John Coltrane. The music notation software application, Sibelius, bears the name of composer Jean Sibelius. A special meaning of eponym specific to the music industry is an album that takes its title from the name of the recording artist(s) or one of its tracks.

The Granny Smith apple is named for its discoverer and grower, Maria Ann Smith.
The Granny Smith apple is named for its discoverer and grower, Maria Ann Smith.

Science Eponyms

Eponymous names have been given to elements, like Einsteinium named after physicist Albert Einstein; planets, like minor planet (3834) Zappafrank, named after rock musician and composer Frank Zappa; and animals, like the spider named Mastophora dizzydeani after the Major League pitcher, Dizzy Dean. Laws, theorems, and principles, such as Ampère's law, named after French physicist André-Marie Ampère; units and constants such as Avogadro's number or constant, named after Amedeo Avogadro, an Italian chemist; and diseases, such as Hodgkin's lymphoma, named after the man who described it, Thomas Hodgkin, also take their names from individuals. Others include anatomical structures, such as the Adam's apple, named after the first man; and tests, such as the Rorschach inkblot test, developed by Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach.

Tangerines are named after Tangiers, Morocco.
Tangerines are named after Tangiers, Morocco.

Time Eponyms

Some of the days of the week, like Wednesday — named for the Norse God Odin — are eponymous. Thee are also months named after Roman gods and emperors: January for Janus, the god of beginnings, and July and August for emperors Julius and Augustus Caesar. The Julian and Gregorian calendars — the first introduced by Julius Caesar, the second named after Pope Gregory XIII who decreed its use — are further examples.

The Teddy bear got its name from President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.
The Teddy bear got its name from President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.

Place Eponyms

Islands, states, countries, towns and cities, and bodies of water have all been named after people. Saint Kitts and Nevis was named after Saint Christopher. Pennsylvania was named after its founder's father, Admiral Sir William Penn. Bolivia was named for the South American revolutionary, Simón Bolívar. Seattle, Washington, was named for Chief Seattle, leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes. The Hudson River was named for English explorer Henry Hudson.

The Adam's apple is an anatomical eponym.
The Adam's apple is an anatomical eponym.

Airport, Dam, Park, Road, and Bridge Eponyms

O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named for Edward "Butch" O'Hare, a World War II medal-winning aviator. The Hoover Dam was named for President Herbert Hoover, and Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon, is named after a former governor of the state. Boulevard Jacques-Cartier in Longueueil, Quebec, is named for French explorer Jacques Cartier. The Arthur Fiedler Footbridge in Boston, Massachusetts is named after conductor Arthur Fiedler, long time leader of the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Toy, Company, Vehicle, Sports, and Clothing Eponyms

There are many more eponymous items, including these examples:

  • The Teddy bear is named after President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • The Ford Motor Company and the cars it makes are named after inventor Henry Ford.
  • The Fosbury flop, a method for high jumping, is named after its inventor, Dick Fosbury.
  • The Stetson hat is named after John B. Stetson, the hat maker. There is also a Stetson Fedora — named after the play Fedora by Sardou. This play has an eponymous title, as it is named after the heroine, named the Temple/Indiana Fedora after the movie character Indiana Jones.
The Gregorian calendar was named after Pope Gregory XIII.
The Gregorian calendar was named after Pope Gregory XIII.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments

nemphlar

What is the name of the item of clothing named after the person who is said to have “invented” it after burning part of his clothes while standing in front of the fire?

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