What is in a name?

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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. Today we’ll take a look at five words which derive from the names of people or characters – perhaps one or two of them will surprise you!

  1. Adam’s Apple
    There are two theories as to why this feature of the human neck (the laryngeal prominence) became known as the ‘Adam’s apple’. One ancient belief suggests that some of the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam (who, in Abrahamic religions, was the first man) became lodged in his throat, thus creating the ‘lump’ now known as the ‘Adam’s apple’. The Online Etymology Dictionary, on the other hand, suggests that the ‘Adam’s apple’ is ‘perhaps an inexact translation of the Hebrew tappuah haadam, literally “man’s swelling” from ha-adamthe man” and tappuahanything swollen”.’ This imprecise translation is probably due to the fact that, in Hebrew, the name ‘Adam’ literally translates to ‘man’, and ‘tappuah’, the word for ‘swelling’, is very similar to the Hebrew word for apple.
  2. Braille
    Braille, the writing system for blind or visually impaired people, was named so after its creator Louis Braille. Louis Braille went blind after a childhood accident, and was fifteen when he created his code for the French alphabet.
  3. Guillotine
    This head-chopping device best known for being used to carry out executions during the French Revolution did not get its name from its inventor, but instead from the man who suggested using it as a more humane way to carry out death penalties in eighteenth-century France. Despite the mechanism he became an eponym for, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was in fact opposed to the death penalty.
  4. Hoover
    In British English, the word ‘hoover’ is commonly used to refer to all vacuum cleaners and also the process of vacuuming. It is one of many cases where a brand dominates an industry to the extent that its name becomes synonymous with the product or service it provides – in American English, for example, ‘Kleenex’ is used to refer to a ‘tissue’, or ‘Band Aid’ is used to refer to a ‘plaster’ and, worldwide, ‘Googling’ often means ‘internet searching’ even when a search engine other than Google is being used. While these examples are not namesakes, the Hoover Company was in fact named after its founder William Henry Hoover – spare him a thought the next time you’re hoovering your carpets!
  5. Jacuzzi
    Similarly, the word ‘jacuzzi’ is often used to refer to all whirlpool baths rather than just those made by the Jacuzzi cooperation. Candido Jacuzzi invented the Jacuzzi whirlpool bath for his son who was born with rheumatoid arthritis.

Other eponyms include Jean Nicot (nicotine), Louis Pasteur (pasteurisation), and Anna Pavlova (pavlova).

If you could choose anything to be named after you, what would it be? Send us a Tweet! We love hearing from you.

Avani Shah

25 Nov 2013
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