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What is in a name?: Part 2


From sandwiches to wellington boots to the Nobel Prize, many words take their names from people or fictional characters, and these people and characters are known as eponyms. You might remember some examples of these eponymous figures from our past posts, such as Don Quixote and Mrs Malaprop from our ‘Words from Literature’ series, or Julius and Augustus Caesar from our post on where the months of the year originate from. 
A few years ago we looked at five words and their eponyms, here are five more:

  • Achilles heel
    This figurative expression is used to describe someone or something’s weakness or vulnerable point. The phrase was first used in the early 19th century by German surgeon Lorenz Heister. It refers to Greek hero Achilles whose mother held him by the heel and plunged him into the River Styx to make him invincible. During the Trojan war Achilles was wounded and then killed by an arrow shot at his heel (the only part of him that wasn’t dipped in the river). Learn more about words that come from Greek mythology here and here
     
  • Cardigan
    The word for this type of knitted jacket dates back to 1868. It is named for James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who supposedly wore such a jacket when he led the Charge of the Light brigade in 1854.
     
  • Fuchsia
    This purple-red ornamental plant was named in honour of German botanist Leonard Fuchs. 
     
  • Mesmerise
    This word, a back-formation from the word ‘mesmerism’, dates back to 1819 when it meant ‘hypnotise’. The word took on the meaning ‘enthral’ in 1862. ‘Mesmerism’ comes from the French ‘mesmérisme’ and refers to the work of Franz Anton Mesmer an Austrian physician who developed the theory of animal magnetism.
     
  • Silhouette
    This word is named for the eighteenth-century French author and politician Étienne de Silhouette, though the reason why is unclear. One theory is that it’s a derivative reference to Silhouette’s ‘petty economies to finance the Seven Years war’ which was unpopular among the nobility – silhouettes were an inexpensive way of making a likeness of someone. Other theories include the word being a reference to the briefness of his tenure, the fact that he decorated with such portraits, and the fact that such portraits were fashionable in the year he was minister. 

Other eponyms include Jean Nicot (nicotine), Louis Pasteur (pasteurisation), and Anna Pavlova (pavlova). You can find a Wikipedia list of eponyms here.
If you could choose anything to be named after you, what would it be? Leave a comment or send us a Tweet! We love hearing from you!

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Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary 


20 Apr 2019
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