Eponyms: Words Named After People

An eponym is a word that’s based on a person’s name.

For example, 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.

Today, I have more interesting eponym stories, including stories from our listeners.


[From a listener] “Hi. My name is Biddy, and I’m in North Carolina. I have two family words that we’ve used all our lives. One is “Estelle” as a verb. We had a maid whose name was Estelle. She always like to stack things up to make the room look neat … and my father started asking where something was, and then when he couldn’t find it, he would say, “It’s been Estelled,” which means the maid hid it in a pile of papers. and my brother actually grew up and became an adult, and he was in college, and he use that verb, and he realized it was just in our family that we used it.”


Here’s one you’…

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  • August 15, 2019