Printable Version
Pronunciation: e-pê-nim Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A personal name from which a regular word is derived

Notes: The eponyms of many words have been lost in the din of history. Bedlam originated as a Cockney pronunciation of Bethlehem for London's Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem for the insane. Tsar is an ancient Slavic rendition of Caesar. The proclivity of Captain William Lynch of Virginia (1742-1820) to quickly hang those brought before his court gave us the verb, lynch. Eponyms are not always fair. The very intelligent medieval philosopher Duns Scotus's criticism of Aquinas led to his detractors using his name to refer to stupid people, so today we have dunce. The adjective is eponymous [i-pah-nÍ-mÍs], though eponymic is not unheard-of.

In Play: Many eponyms are obvious. Plato gave us platonic for one kind of love, Romeo gave us his name for another (Phil is quite a Romeo). Franz Mesmer lent his name to real hypnotism (mesmerism) and algorithm is the English version of al-Khowarizmi, the name of an Arabic mathematician (780-850), born in Baghdad, who showed that any mathematical problem can be solved by breaking it down into steps. (Browse hundreds more eponyms here.)

Word History: Today's word came a long way to us. We snipped it from French éponyme. French inherited it from Latin, which had copied it from Greek eponymos "named after". The Greek word is made up of epi "from" + onyma "name". The PIE root apo "off of, away from" turned into of and its variant off in English. In German it emerged as auf "on" and in Latin as ab "away from". In Russian and other Slavic languages it can be found in po "around, about", used in adverbial phrases like po-russky "in Russian, in the Russian way".

Dr. Goodword,

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