Words You Didn’t Realize Were Named After People

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA word named after a person (real or fictional) is called an eponym (from the Greek eponumos, meaning “giving one’s name to someone or something”). Some are fairly obvious, such as sandwich (named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich), quixotic (from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes), or machiavellian (named after Niccolo Machiavelli). However, some eponyms have become so common, that the connection to the person has been lost over time. Here are some words you may not have realized are named after actual people.

boycott: named after Charles Boycott, a British land agent.

bowdlerize: named after English physician, philanthropist, and prude Thomas Bowdler.

decibel: named after Scottish scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell who invented the first practical telephone.

diesel: named after German inventor and mechanical engineer Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel.

dunce cap: named after 13th-century philosopher John Duns Scotus. A follower of Duns was known as a “dunce.”

gerrymandering: named after Elbridge Gerry, a governor of Massachusetts.

jumbo: named after a huge elephant who lived in the London Zoo for years, purchased by P.T. Barnum for his traveling circus.

masochism: named after Austrian writer, Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote Venus in Furs.

mausoleum: named after Mausolus, a ruler of Caria, a part of the Greek Empire, from 377 to 353 BC. When he died, his widow erected a monumental shrine in his honor, known as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, that is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

maverick: named after Samuel Maverick, a Texan lawyer, politician, and land baron.

mirandize: named after Ernesto A. Miranda, a laborer convicted (and later overturned, of course) of kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery.

nicotine: named after Jean Nicot de Villemain, the French ambassador to Portugal who sent tobacco and seeds from Portugal to France in the mid 1500s. The intent was for the tobacco plants to be used to ward off the plague.

sadism: named after the Marqui de Sade, a French aristocrat, philosopher, politician, and writer of erotic works.

saxophone: named after Adolphe Sax, a Belgian musical instrument designer.

shrapnel: named after British officer and inventor Major General Henry Shrapnel.

silhouette: named after Etienne de Silhouette, the finance minister of France during the Seven Years’ War.

uzi: named after military weapons designer, Major Uziel Gal of the Israeli Defense Forces following the Arab-Israeli War (1948).

vandal: named after an East Germanic tribe, characterized as barbarians, that sacked and looted Rome in the early 5th century.

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Read related posts: Rare Anatomy Words
Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What Rhymes with Orange

For further reading: Human Words by Robert Hendrickson


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