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What is an Eponym?
An eponym as we will use the term here is an ordinary common noun derived from a proper noun, the name of a person or place. Words like quisling, sandwich, and silhouette are solid eponyms. Some eponymous words are still capitalized like a proper noun, so those not capitalized are most clearly eponyms. The important, defining property is that the word does not refer exclusively to the person or place named by the proper noun, as does Marxism or Christian, but is used to refer to a general category, as do quisling, boycott and fuchsias. The ability to undergo inflection such as the plural (Pullmans) is also an indication of the strict eponymous status of a word.
What isn't an Eponym?
Many lists on the Web contain phrases and words that are common phrases or ordinary derivations. While the term eponym is often extended to such constructions, their interpretation is usually more a matter of history than etymology, which is our focus. This list is not competing to be the longest list of eponyms but the most accurate in the strictest sense of the word. Beware those lists that include words created by means that apply to any noun, that refer exclusively to the eponymous person, or words that simply name one unique object. Pseudo-eponyms include the following:
  • possessive nouns used in phrases like Occam's Razor or Newton's Law. These are not eponyms but simple possessives no different from the dog's dinner. Also keep in mind that an eponym is a word, not a phrase.
  • proper nouns used in phrases without possessives, such as Fosbury Flop, Heimlich Maneuver, Falkland Islands, unless they no longer refer specifically to the person whose name is used (and especially if the capitalization may be dropped), as in the case of the compound eponym Mae West.
  • normal derivations created by adding productive suffixes like -ism, -ist, -esque, -ian since these suffixes may be added to any name and simply mean "like X's philosophy" or "in X's style" in words like Marxism, Rubinesque. However, such words may be eponyms if they no longer refer specifically to the person whose name is used and especially if the capitalization may be dropped, as in kafkaesque, quixotic.
  • botanical and zoological names like Hoffmania, Einsteinium and Sanchezia that are not used outside the scientific world, especially if the new term is a proper noun itself. Scientists love to name their inventions and discoveries after themselves and their friends but there is no need to encourage this practice. Those derivations that have been assimilated into the general language and are spelled without capitalization like fuchsia and gardenia are acceptable eponyms.
  • simple commonizations: converting a proper noun into a common one as occurred in the cases of escalator and aspirin, originally brand names.

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Word Meaning Eponym
afghan A covering, a quilt or shawl, made of knitted or crocheted squares. The people of Afghanistan (Afghans).
algorithm A set of rules or formulae that produces a desired result. al-Khowarizmi (circa 780-850), an Arabic mathematician, born in Baghdad, who showed that any mathematical problem, no matter how difficult, could be solved if broken down into a series of smaller steps (an algorithm).
America A large North American nation with its capital in Washington, DC. Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512), an Italian merchant and cartographer who drew some of the first maps of the Americas. In 1507 Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the new continent "America" after Vespucci.
Amish A large pacifist sect in the US. Jakob Ammann, 17th century Swiss Mennonite bishop.
ammonia A pungent nitrogen-based gas or liquid used widely as a household cleaning agent. Ammon or Amen, an Egyptian god of oracles because ammonia was first obtained from a region near the temple of Amen, in Libya.
ampere A a fundamental electrical unit in the MKS (meter-kilogram-second) system of measuring electrical current. André Marié Ampére (1775-1836), the French physicist who first defined a way to measure electrical current.
angstrom A unit of measurement equal to one hundred-millionth (108 of a centimeter). Anders Jonas Ångström (1814-1874), Swedish physicist and astronomer who was one of the founders of the science of spectroscopy.
aphrodisiac A potion that arouses love or lust in someone. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
argus A guard or guardian, a very watchful person. In Greek mythology, Argos was a giant with 100 eyes. After his death, Hera transferred his eyes to the peacock's tail.
argyle A pattern of knitting based on a series of interlocking diamond shapes. A former county in western Scotland where the Campbell family with the argyle tartan lived.
atlas A set of maps. Atlas, a Titan in Greek mythology forced by Zeus to support the heavens upon his shoulders.
August The eighth month of the year between July and September. Augustus Caesar (63 BCE-14 CE), the first Roman emperor.
axel A jump with one and a half turns in figure skating. Axel Paulsen (1856-1938), Norwegian figure skater who developed the maneuver.
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