Библиографическое описание:

Федоринова З. В., Бизякина П. А. Etymology of English Eponyms // Молодой ученый. — 2011. — №11. Т.1. — С. 204-205.

The more words you know,

the more clearly and powerfully you will think

and the more ideas you will invite into your mind.”

Wilfred Funk

There are thousands of eponyms in everyday use in English today. Studying of them yields a fascinating insight into the rich heritage of the world's most popular language and its development.

Created about two century ago, the term eponym refers to a name being the source of terms for other things; such as, nations, tribes, places, animals, social nomenclature, etc. The word eponymouswas borrowed from Greek eponymos, "given as a name, giving one's name to something or someone".

Practically any language is rich in various functional elements and interesting phenomena. In everyday conversation people use lots of linguistic and stylistic devices which are not even suspected about. The unexpected eponyms are especially of great interest. The greater part of these eponyms comes from world history and literature.

The word boycott means « to have no dealing with somebody». This word came from the name of Captain Boycott. In 1881 he was a tax collector. He took too much money from poor people. The people did not want to pay him money and asked him to take less, but it did not help.

So people did not come to gather his harvest from the land – they «boycott» him.

In 1890 there lived in London a man whose name was Hooligan. He behaved so badly that soon everybody in London knew him and talked about him. When somebody began to behave badly people said, « Oh, he behaves like Hooligan! » So a new word was born. The word means « a person who makes disturbances in the streets and other public places»

McIbtosh is a raincoat called after Charles McIbtosh who invented the waterproofing of material. The Scotsman was the first to produce cloth that was really waterproof and practical to manufacture.

A sheer cotton or silk material used for handkerchiefs, lingerie, children’s wear, ladies’ summer dresses is named after Jean Baptiste, a French linen weaver, who invented this clothing fabric.

The English use the word raglan to name an overcoat which has no shoulder seems, the sleeves extending up to the neck. This type of overcoat was first worn by Lord Reglan, the British commander in the Crimean War, who gave it his name.

Georgette is a thin silk dress material bears the name of the French dress-maker Madame Georgette, who was also a popular stylist in Paris.

Messaline is a lightweight silk satin fabric honours Messalina, a wife of Emperor Claudis of Rome.

Sandwich is two or more slices of bread with a filling in between. The most popular perspective regarding the origin of the word sandwich, which we use today, is that it was born in London during the very late hours one night in 1762 when an English nobleman, John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, was too busy gambling to stop for a meal even though he was hungry for some food.

The legend goes that he ordered a waiter to bring him roast-beef between two slices of bread. The Earl was able to continue his gambling while eating his snack; and from that incident, we have inherited that quick-food product that we now know as the sandwich.

Besides eponyms the so called pseudo-eponyms are widely spread in everyday language. They include the following:

  • possessive nouns used in phrases like Occam’s Razor or Newton’s Low. These are not eponyms but simple possessives no different from the dog’s dinner. Eponym is a word, not a phrase.

  • proper nouns used in phrase without possessives, such as Fosbury Flop, Fakland islands, unless they no longer refer specifically to the person whose name is used, especially if the capitalization may be dropped, as in the case of the compound eponym Moe West.

  • normal derivations created by adding productive suffixes like –ism, -ist, -esque, -ian since these suffixes may be added to any name and simply mean “like X’s philosophy” or “in X’s style” in words like Marxism, Rubinesque. However, such words may be eponyms if they no longer refer specifically to the person whose name is used and especially if the capitalization may be dropped, as in kafkaesque, quixotic.

  • botanical and zoological names like Hoffmania, Eintenium and Sanchezia that are not used outside the scientific world, especially if the new term is a proper noun itself. Scientists love to name their inventions and discoveries after themselves and their friends but there is no need to encourage this practice. Those derivations that have been assimilated into the general language and are spelled without capitalization like fuchia and gardenia are acceptable eponymous.

  • simplecommonizations: converting a proper noun into a common one as occurred in the cases of escalator and aspirin, originally brand names.

Eponyms have played a very significant linguistic role in technical and scientific terminology. They are an important feature of language that has contributed for a long time to engraving in history the names of those researchers who have devoted their lives to scientific discovery.

Ordinarily we pay little attention to the words we speak. We concentrate instead on the meaning we intend to express and are seldom conscious of how we express that meaning. Only if we make a mistake and have to correct it or have difficulty remembering a word we become conscious of our words. This means that most of us don't know where the words we use come from and how they come to have the meanings they do. Since words play such an important role in our lives, making our life easy or difficult depending on which words we choose on a given occasion.

Studying the origin of words is always interesting and useful. Finding out why we call an object in this way and not otherwise, we can learn many new facts not only about language but also about history.

To know the origin of words is to know how men think, how they have fashioned their civilizations. Word history traces the paths of human relationships, the bridges from mind to mind, and from nation to nation.


  1. Barfield O. History in English Words. – Lnd, 1967.

  2. Baugh A.C. Cable T.A. History of the English Language. – Lnd, 1978

  3. Wehmeier S. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English: Oxford University Press; 2005.

  4. The New International Webster's Encyclopaedic Dictionary of the English Language. Florida: TyphoonInternational; 2003.


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