Posted by: Jack Henry | August 29, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Eponyms

Have we ever discussed eponyms? I feel like we have, but I don’t see anything in our archives about them, so let’s have a look today. An eponym, put simply, is a word that is based on a person’s name. This partial collection is from a Grammar Girl blog, which I have edited a bit for time’s sake. You can click the link if you’d like to read more. I’m jumping right in and starting with the examples.

Adolphe Sax was a Belgian instrument maker who brought a new instrument to a Victorian event in 1851 called The Great Exhibition. His main job was making flutes and clarinets, and his invention, which looks like something of a mash-up of those two instruments, was dubbed the “Saxophone.”

Other things that were named after people that you might know about include:

  • Braille, the language of raised dots that blind people can use to read, invented by Louis Braille
  • Scientific terms like Fahrenheit, Celsius, pasteurize, ampere, ohm, volt, and watt, all named after famous scientists
  • Terms we’ve covered before in the podcast or in my books, like guillotine, teddy bear, and bowdlerize.

The guillotine was named after Joseph Guillotin, who was opposed to the death penalty but lobbied for the device to be used for beheadings during the French Revolution because it was more humane. Teddy bears were named after US president Teddy Roosevelt after he refused to shoot a cute, captive bear on a hunting trip. Bowdlerize came from Thomas Bowdler and his sister Harriet, who liked to edit words they found offensive out of Shakespeare’s writing.


Here’s one you’ll find in the dictionary that you may not have known was named after a person: cardigan. It was named after the Earl of Cardigan, who was very particular about everything related to his military unit, from drills and rules to his uniforms. In the famous battle of the Light Brigade, during the Crimean War in the 1850s, he wore a blue knitted waistcoat trimmed with gold. When he returned from the war, he was hailed as a hero, and his style of waistcoat became popular. Later, it came out that his performance in the war bordered on incompetent, but by then, it seems the sweater and the name cardigan had stuck.

With the industrial revolution, it became easier to make knitted clothes. In the 1920s, Coco Chanel made the cardigan something women could wear, too. Fashion historians say she embraced the design because she didn’t like messing up her hair by pulling on a regular sweater. But although Chanel may have expanded the market for the button-up sweater, we owe to name to Lord Cardigan.


I bet a lot of you didn’t know that nicotine is named after Jean Nicot, a trusted notary of the French royal family in the 1500s and the writer of one of the first French dictionaries. During his travels as the French ambassador to Portugal, he received a plant that had originated in what is now Florida in the United States. He saw that the powder from the plant greatly improved users’ moods, and he believed it had powerful healing properties. Knowing of the foul disposition and migraines of Catherine de Médici, he sent her some powdered leaves and she loved it, dubbing it “ambassador’s powder.” It made its way around Europe, becoming a popular thing to sniff with both royalty and the clergy, who also gave it the nickname “Father Superior’s powder.” Nicot began importing large quantities of tobacco to France, which gave him both fortune and fame. About 150 years after his death, the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus gave the tobacco plant the botanical name “Nicotiana.” And when the active chemical was isolated in 1828, scientists named it “nicotine.”


Mausoleum, a large or stately tomb, comes from one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world: the massive tomb of Mausolos, who was a fourth century B.C.E. king of a region that is now in Turkey.


Leotard, the form-fitting stretchy outfit worn by athletes like gymnasts and ice skaters, comes from Jules Leotard, a 19th century trapeze artist.

leotard Leonard

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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