Improve Your Vocabulary: Eponyms

An eponym is the name of a person (whether real or fictitious) that is used to name something, which can be as varied as a disease, novel, idea, tribe, historical period, or invention. In effect, an eponym is a common noun derived from a proper noun. You might be surprised at some of the eponyms we use every day without knowing it!

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Here is a list of just a few of the better known eponyms, and where they came from. 

Achilles tendon (tendon connecting the heel to the shin) — named after Achilles (hero of Greek mythology)

Aegean (as in Aegean Sea) — named after Aegeus (Greek mythology)

algorithm (rules followed in calculations) — named after al-Khowarizmi (Arabic mathematician)

Apgar score (measure of condition of newborn babies) — named after Virginia Apgar (American anaesthesiologist who devised the method)

axel (ice skating jump) — named after Axel R Paulsen (Norwegian skater who invented the move)

Battenburg cake (check-patterned cake) — named after the Battenburg family (German royalty living in England, became the Mountbattens)

Béchamel sauce (rich white sauce) — named after the marquis de Béchameil 

begonia (flower) — named after Michel Bégon (governor of the West Indies, who introduced the flower to Europe)

bel (unit of loudness, as in decibel) — named after Alexander Graham Bell (American scientist and inventor)

Bermuda (British crown colony) — named after Juan de Bermúdez (Spanish navigator)

boffin (scientist, a rather derogatory term) — named after Mr Boffin, a character in the Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend

Boolean (as in Boolean logic) — named after George Boole (English mathematician)

boycott (refuse to buy in protest) — named after Charles C Boycott (English land agent who was treated in this manner)

Cartesian (as in Cartesian coordinates) — named after René Descartes (French philosopher)

cereal (grain) — named after Ceres (Roman goddess of agriculture)

Christmas disease (a form of haemophilia) — named after Stephen Christmas (the first patient described with this disease)

Cyrillic (as in Cyrillic alphabet) — named after St Cyril (Byzantine Greek missionary and saint)

diesel (type of motor engine, and the fuel they run on) — named after Rudolf Diesel (German engineer who invented this type of engine)

dolomite (translucent mineral) — named after Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu (French geologist)

Down syndrome (disorder from a chromosomal defect) — named after John Langdon Down (English physician who first described it)

draconian (excessively harsh) — named after Draco (first legislator in ancient Athens)

dunce (stupid person) — named after John Duns Scotus (Scottish theologian whose theories were ridiculed)

epicurean (one devoted to pleasures from fine food and drink) — named after Epicurus (Greek philosopher)

erotic (sexually arousing)  — named after Eros (Greek god of love)

Escherichia coli (E.coli) (common bacterium) — named after Theodore Escherich (German-Austrian paediatrician who discovered the bacterium)

Eustachian (as in Eustachian tubes) — named after Bartolomeo Euastachio (Italian anatomist)

Fallopian (as in Fallopian tubes) — named after Gabriele Falloppio (16th century Italian anatomist and physician)

fauna (animals of a region) — named after Faunus (Roman pastoral god)

Friday — named after Frigga (Norse goddess)

fuchsia (flowering shrub) — named after Leonhard Fuchs (German botanist)

gargantuan (enormous) — named after the giant character Gargantua in Rabelais' novel The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel

georgette (gauzy fabric) — named after Madame Georgette de la Plante (French fashion designer)

Hass avocado (pear-shaped fruit) — named after Rudolph Hass (American grower who developed this variety of avocado)

hermaphrodotic (having both male and female sex organs) — named after Hermaphroditus (Greek mythology, child of Aphrodite and Hermes)

hooligan (troublemaker) — named after a fictional rowdy Irish family, who featured in a popular music-hall song of the 1890s

iris (flower) — named after Iris (Greek goddess of the rainbow)

jacuzzi (whirlpool spa) — named after Candido Jacuzzi (Italian-American inventor)

jovial (cheerful and friendly) — named after Jove/Jupiter (Roman mythology, king of the gods)

Loganberry — named after James Harvey Logan (American horticulturist who developed the hybrid berry)

martial (warlike, military) — named after Mars (Roman mythology, god of war)

masochistic (meaning deriving pleasure from pain) — named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (Austrian writer)

maudlin (tearfully sentimental) — named after Mary Magdalene (disciple of Jesus)

Mauritius (island country) — named after Maurice of Nassau (Prince of Orange)

nicotine (active constituent of tobacco) — named after Jean Nicot (French ambassador to Portugal, who introduced tobacco to France)

ohm (unit of electrical resistance) — named after Georg Simon Ohm (German physicist)

pastilles (small candies) — named after Giovanni Pastilla (Italian confectioner)

quixotic (excessively idealistic, impractical) — named after Cervantes's character Don Quixote

ritzy (expensively stylish) — named after César Ritz and his famous hotels

sadistic (taking pleasure in other's pain) — named after the Marquis de Sade (French aristocrat)

salmonella (bacterium that causes food poisoning) — named after Daniel Elmer Salmon (American veterinary surgeon)

sandwich — named after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich 

shrapnel (fragments of a bomb) — named after Henry Shrapnel (British soldier and inventor of the exploding shell)

tantalise (tease with promise of something unobtainable) — named after Tantalus (Greek mythical king)

thespian (relating to the theatre, or an actor) — named after Thespis (Greek dramatic poet)

Tootsie Rolls (American confection) — named after confectioner Leo Hirshfield's daughter Clara "Tootsie"

volcano — named after Vulcan (Roman god of fire)

watt (unit of power) — named after James Watt (Scottish engineer)

zany (amusingly crazy) — named after Zanni (traditional clown in the Italian Commedia dell'arte)

The word eponymous is the adjectival form, so you could say, for example, that Fred was the eponymous owner of the famous Fred's Fitness franchise. Similarly, any work of art that is named after its creator is said to be eponymous. For example, ABBA's album ABBA, Queens of the Stone Age's album Queens of the Stone Age, and Led Zeppelin's album Led Zeppelin are all eponymous albums.

Learning these eponyms is a great way to increase your vocabulary. Add this list to a set of flash cards, or use the features of a software package such as Ultimate Vocabulary.

*Troy and I recommend only products that we have tried and tested. These include Ultimate Vocabulary. We have agreed to receive a commission from some sales of Ultimate Vocabulary software because we are happy to endorse that software.


Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 05:24
English Language Skills (Denise)

English Language Skills (Denise)

I'm a syndicated puzzle writer, with 8 puzzle books to my name, including Word Searches for Dummies and Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies (with Mark Koltko-Rivera). I have a background in science and graphic design, and am a trained indexer. My favourite puzzles are cryptic crosswords. and my favourite books are murder mysteries and cookbooks. I am also a very keen knitter.

I write a blog all about puzzles, called Puzzling.

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