Eponymous Revisited

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader asks,

What is it with eponymous? I never understand its use.

Eponymous is the adjective form of the noun eponym. It derives from the Greek combination epi (upon) + onyma (name).

eponym noun: one who gives, or is supposed to give, his name to a people, place, or institution.

The earliest application of eponymous was in the context of the names of countries, tribes, and nations. For example:

Brutus, or Brute of Troy, is a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, known in medieval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain. 

Consider the case of Pelops, the eponymous hero of the Peloponnese.

First, at this stage Jacob is not yet the eponymous hero of a united Israel, but only of the Northern Kingdom. [Jacob was given the name Israel when he wrestled the angel.]

In current usage, the phrase “eponymous hero” usually applies to the character for which a literary work is named. For example:

Hot-Blooded Paolo is the eponymous hero of the novel Paolo il Caldo (1964) by Vitaliano Brancati.

On the universality of the westerner, exemplified by the eponymous hero of George Stevens’s Shane (1953), see Warshow, 150-151.

The eponymous hero of Goncharov’s Oblomov (1858), who is unable to motivate himself to leave his bed, is the epitome of the passive hero. 

American actress Betty Bronson starred as the eponymous hero of the film Peter Pan (1924).

Eponymous can apply to anything that takes its name from a person. For example:

Tesla invented his eponymous coil in 1891. 

Website of New York City designer Nancy Rose and her eponymous designer sportswear.

As for John Birch, we’ll never know what he would have thought of his eponymous society.

Note: I found several examples of the misspelling epynonymous.

Related posts:
The Eponymy Family
30 Words Inspired by 29 People and An Elephant

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3 Responses to “Eponymous Revisited”

  • Mister Furkles

    Must it be a person? Or could it be a spider as in Charlotte’s Web? And if so, is it limited to real and fictional individual creatures.

  • venqax

    I don’t think Charlotte’s Web would work because the web is not called Charlotte. In that case Charlotte is acting as an adjective (I’m sure Maeve can explain this in what a student of mine called “grammericly correct” terms.) If the web itself were called Charlotte, then it would be Charlotte’s eponymous web. That’s my take on it, anyway.

  • Mister Furkles

    So, then would the novel Moby Dick count? But not Treasure Island, as the novel Treasure Island is not named for a person or creature?

    So, I seek epiphany on eponymous.

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