Speaking Of Eponyms

background image 238

My first introduction to the concept of eponyms was in high school. My English teacher talked about the ‘eponymous heroine’, meaning the protagonist after whom the book was named. Examples include Jane Eyre and  Silas Marner.

An eponym is a word that is formed from the name of a person. A famous example is the word sandwich, named after the Earl of Sandwich, but there are hundreds more. We seem to like this type of word association and eponyms crop up in all fields. Here are some examples:


  • Asimov’s Three Laws Of Robotics
  • The Dilbert Principle: the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.
  • Faraday’s law of electrolysis
  • Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle
  • Newton’s laws of motion


Many generic words were once trademarks, including:

  • Aspirin
  • Brassiere
  • Cellophane
  • Escalator
  • Granola
  • Gunk
  • Heroin
  • Jungle Gym
  • Kerosene
  • Linoleum
  • Saran Wrap
  • Shredded Wheat
  • Tabloid
  • Yo-yo
  • Zipper 

There are also several trademarks still in use that are also used generically, including:

  • Alka Seltzer
  • Band Aid
  • Breathalyzer
  • Coke
  • Dumpster
  • Frisbee
  • Jello
  • Kleenex
  • Play-Doh
  • Q-Tip
  • Styrofoam
  • Superglue
  • Valium
  • Vaseline


  • algorithm,  from Al-Khwarizm, a mathematician
  • Celsius, named after Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius
  • derringer, from gunsmith Henry Derringer
  • Granny Smith apples, from an Australian apple breeder
  • leotard, from trapeze artist Jules Leotard
  • Henry Laurence Gantt gave us the Gantt chart
  • Gerard Kuiper gives his name to the Kuiper Belt

If you still want more eponyms, then check out medical eponyms, such as Alzheimer’s,  as well as lists from others who have collected eponyms.

Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

Each newsletter contains a writing tip, word of the day, and exercise!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

9 thoughts on “Speaking Of Eponyms”

  1. Another one for the list
    Quisling: one who collaborates with the enemy. After a Norwegian politician who collaborated with Nazis.

  2. I have only recently come to be aware of, and hence signed up to your highly useful daily tips.

    These I very much look forward to, and indeed value highly.

    As a suggestion, would it be possible to add a short qualifying description to the email subject line title?

    I know it is all online, but in this way the emails can serve as a growing, easy-reference alphabetical list for those, like myself, who might need the odd memory jog!

  3. Reading down the list and getting to Algorithm, the first name that sprung to mind was Al-gore.

    If celcius was named after anders, who was Kelvin named after?

  4. > If celcius was named after anders, who was Kelvin named after?

    Lord Kelvin (William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin), a physicist and engineer from Northern Ireland.


  5. @ Bala: Yes; I’ve always liked that word. 🙂

    @ Peter: I’m sure Daniel will look into it.

    @ M: The other big drinks manufacturer must be really upset, though it works both ways 😉

    @ John: Thanks for the explanation.

  6. Thanks, John!

    Sharon: They can get upset, but what’s the point? There’s always going to be only one such brand in each product category.

    hoover the floor
    drink coke
    google it (though they have gotten quite defensive about that)

  7. Does it sort of depend on what part of the country you live in? In my area we say, “Let’s go get a coke” meaning “Let’s go get something to drink.” In other parts, people call it “pop” or “soda”.

    I’m sure name association is why we find very few parents naming their sons “Benedict” or “Judas”.

Leave a Comment