Words for Names of People

By Mark Nichol

Words that include the element nym, and some that include nom, pertain to names and naming. Such terms as anonymous (literally, “without a name”) and pseudonym (“false name”) are ubiquitous, but most others in this class are more or less obscure. This post lists and defines such terms that pertain to individuals and groups of people.

An allonym (“other name”) is the name of one person employed as a pseudonym by one or more other people, as in the case of the name Publius, the non de plume of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, which called back to Publius Valerius Publicola, a founder of the Roman Republic. (“Non de plume” itself, and “nom de guerre,” which mean, respectively, “pen name” and “war name,” are terms adopted from French that are synonyms of pseudonym.)

An anthroponym (“man name”) is a proper name or a surname. (A gamonym is a name acquired as a result of marriage.) Aptronym is a recent coinage playing on apt, denoting a surname coincidentally appropriate to a person’s profession, such as when someone who makes beer is named Brewer.

Autonym (“self name”)—or the synonym endonym, or “inner name”—refers to a term used by inhabitants of a place for that place (or themselves or their language), as in Deutsch, the German term for the German language; German is an exonym (“outer name”). (An ethnonym—”people name”—is a name for an ethnic group.)

A charactonym is a fictitious character’s name that alludes to a quality of that person; literature is replete with such names, including those characterizing combative spouses in the early radio sitcom The Bickersons and the comic strip The Lockhorns.

An eponym (“above name”) is a person, place, or thing after which someone or something is named.

A mononym (“one name”) is a single name, such as Leonardo or Madonna. A patronym (“father name”), or patronymic, is a name based on a male ancestor’s given name, especially those with prefixes and suffixes integrated into surnames, such as Mac- or Mc- or Fitz- in Gaelic, -ez and -es in Spanish and Portuguese, and -son and variants such as -sen in Germanic languages. The female equivalents are matronym/matronymic; such forms are rare (at least in Indo-European languages), though -dottir is used in Icelandic surnames.


10 Responses to “Words for Names of People”

  • D.A.W.

    Antonym! Antonymous!
    What about a person whose name was the very antonym of who he or she really was?
    The German named “Klein” and “Kurtz” refer to someone in medieval times who was short but started a family anyway. Nowadays, look into the Klein and Kurtz families, and I am sure that you will find some tall men and women.

  • D.A.W.

    Apt parts of names in the form of initials:
    U.S. Grant, who fought long and hard to preserve the United States.
    James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart, who fought long and hard to oppose Grant.
    Paul Adrian Maurice P.A.M. Dirac, the winner of the Nobel Prize in physics by predicting the existence of antimatter in a mathematical way.

  • Andy Knoedler

    D.A.W.’s fanciful etymology for “scram” is just that — fanciful but without any basis in fact. Here is what the Online Etymology Dictionary says about the subject:
    scram (v.)
    1928, U.S. slang, either a shortened form of scramble (v.) or from German schramm, imperative singular of schrammen “depart.” Related: Scrammed; scramming.

    Now you can correct me on the subject of POTUS. I had never heard this acronym until the advent of the current administration. Does it go back further than 2017?

  • venqax

    Also, I presume that when an Icelandic woman marries, she takes her husband’s surname, something like “Sorensen” or “Sorensohn”.
    Actually no, not usually. A bit of interesting (IMO) trivia: Most Icelanders have no family surname and have retained the old Scandinavian system of using patronymics alone. So Olafur’s son Odd is Odd Olafurson, while Odd’s son Bjorn is Bjorn Oddson and his son is Pal is Pal Bjornson, and his daughter (Pal Bjornson’s sister) Agusta is Agusta Bjornsdottir etc. Icelandic name directories tend to just go by first names, so Jónas Hallgrímsson is found under J for Jonas, not H. The husband usually has no surname to give. She remains someone’s dottr.

  • D.A.W.

    “Deutsch” is not just for the language. Anything German:
    Deutschland, Deutsch Bundespost (the mail system), Deutschvolk,
    Bundesrepublik Deutschland = Federal Republic of Germany, sometimes referred to by its English acronym: FRG.
    Deutschwelle or Deutsch Welle (DW), a German TV network that is telecast around the world via satellite, especially to places like Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Paraguay, Uruguay, and the United States, where there are lots of German immigrants, their children, and their grandchildren, who either speak German or they want to learn more about it.
    You might be surprised, but in the United States, there are regular radio and TV stations that broadcast in Cajun, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Navajo, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Yiddish, etc.

  • D.A.W.

    The very best such word for names of people, organizations, and things: acronym!
    For example: SCRAM = Safety Control Reactor Ax Man, which has become a common verb: “scram”.
    COP – sometimes said to mean Constable On Patrol, whether this is correct or not.
    CINCPAC = Commander IN Chief, PACific fleet.
    INTELSAT = International Telecommunications Satellite Organization.
    POTUS = President Of The United States
    SACEUR = Supreme Allied Commander, EURope
    SHAEF = Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force
    SHAPE = Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe, near Brussels, Belgium
    SHADO = Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defense Organization, set in London, of course, because this is the nexus of the British TV series “UFO”.
    radar = RAdio Detection And Ranging, which has become a common noun.
    sonar = SOund Navigation and Ranging, which has become a common noun.

    An acronym that never made it: CINCUS = Commander IN Chief, United States fleet. This has the most unfortunate pronunciation of “sink us”, and so the real Admiral Ernest J. King changed it to COMINCH = “com-inch”, even though the real Commander in Chief was President Roosevelt.

  • D.A.W.

    Venqax, you are completely right:
    Names like Eriksdottir are definitely patronyms.
    Also, I presume that when an Icelandic woman marries, she takes her husband’s surname, something like “Sorensen” or “Sorensohn”.

  • D.A.W.

    When I saw this title: “Words for Names of People”, I thought that you had come up with a word apt for people whose “name fits them like a glove”, one way or another. Odysseus went on a long odyssey. Homer stayed at home and recited epic poems of the Trojan War. Longfellow wrote some works of epic poetry. As for Julius Caesar, his surname became a very word for “emperor”, even though he never wanted to be one. (Augustus Caesar, his adopted son, did want to become the emperor.)
    There are many of these in fiction, for example “Khan” in “Star Trek”, and “David Bowman” in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and “Captain Archer” of the last TV series of “Star Trek”. “Bowman” was the commander of a spaceship that looked like a gigantic arrow, fired by him to his targets of Jupiter and/or Saturn. To be sure, “David Bowman” also slew “Goliath” in the form of the supercomputer HAL 9000, but not with any arrows or stones, but rather with his ingenuity, just like Odysseus used his ingenuity to defeat the Trojans in the Trojan Way, and his ingenuity to defeat the Cyclops.

  • D.A.W.

    Another one that goes back to the time of the Ancient Romans: “praenomen”, a first name that is only used by the family of a person.
    The only commonly known one is Gaius Julius Caesar, where “Gaius” was hos praenomen.

  • venqax

    But, to be clear, names ending in dottir are still patronyms.The patro refers to the person after whom one is named, not the person himself.

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