Words named after people

Words Named After PeopleWhat is behind the names?

Named after Charles C. Boycott (1832-1897), the term now describes refusing to do something as a form of protest.  Charles C. Boycott was himself boycotted back in 1880, in Ireland, during the “Land War”.

The harvest was poor that year, and land agent Boycott, representing the absentee landlord John Crichton, 3rd Lord Erne, offered the tenants 10% off their rent. They demanded 25%, which the Lord refused.

Boycott than tried to evict some of the tenants from their homes, which led to a pact among the other farmers in the area, who refused to take over farms where previous tenants had been evicted, therefore creating losses for the landowner.

Words Named After People
Caricature of Charles Boycott by Spy (Leslie Ward) / Photo: Wikipedia

Caesar salad

A famous salad consisting of romaine lettuce, croutons, and parmesan cheese with dressing made from olive oil, garlic, raw egg yolks, anchovies and dijon mustard, named after the Italian Chef Caesar Cardini (1896-1956).

Words Named After People
Caesar salad / Photo: Shutterstock 


Named after Louis Braille (1809-1852), who went blind as a child. The raised alphabet of his day was unsatisfactory as far as Braille was concerned and therefore led him to search for other solutions.

That came from a military code called “night writing“ which had been developed by Charles Barbier to enable soldiers to read messages in the dark. Because it was hard to learn, Barbier’s code did not catch on with military organizations. Barbier subsequently met Braille, who simplified Barbier’s system, and braille became an widely accepted writing system.

Words Named After People
Braille text / Photo: Shutterstock 


Invented to remind listeners of the sound of an annoying insect, the name Paparazzo was picked by Frederico Fellini for a character in the movie La Dolce Vita who was a gossip writer and newspaper photographer. Today the term refers to all independent photographers who invade the privacy of celebrities and sell sensational photos to tabloid periodicals.

Words Named After People
Paparazzi / Photo: Shutterstock

Murphy’s Law

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

The notion that one should be prepared for the worst possible scenario might have been linked to the occupation of Captain Edward Murphy (1919-1990), who was an aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems. Nevertheless, as we all know, Murphy’s Law is equally applicable to daily life. Things simply go wrong at the worst possible moment.

Words Named After People
Murphy’s Law / Photo: Shutterstock


Nicotine got its name from the French ambassador, diplomat, and scholar, Jean Nicot (1530-1600).

On a mission to Portugal, where he was sent by King Henry II to negotiate the marriage of the French princess  Margaret of Valois to King Sebastian of Portugal, he became familiar with tobacco, which he very successfully introduced to the French royal court.

Before nicotine was associated with a particular chemical in tobacco, the name Nicotiana referred to the whole plant, which was considered to be good for smokers‘ health. No need to emphasize that tobacco soon turned into a global fashion.

Words Named After People
Jean Nicot / Photo: Wikipedia


Narcissism refers to a person who, with great egoism, is interested in and admires only himself.  The term is linked to Greek mythology

25 Words You Might Not Have Realized Were Named After People


Consistently Conciliating Curiosity

Cities, squares, streets, buildings and universities are among the things that are often named after people. Officially known as eponyms, these terms usually contain names of famous people somehow associated with the particular objects.

While in most eponyms, the person after whom the thing was named is obvious and well known, there is a surprisingly high number of words you might have never known were actually also named after people. From saxophone to sandwich, check out these 25 of them.

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Words Named After People

Officially defined as an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country, boycott is basically a kind of political or social protest.

But only few people know the word has its origin in Charles Boycott, a British land agent living in the 19th century, who was ostracized by his local community after he refused his tenants´ demands for reduction in rates.

Words Named After People

The decibel is a logarithmic unit used to express the ratio between two values of a physical quantity, commonly used to measure the intensity of sound. One decibel is one tenth of one bel, named in honor of Alexander Graham Bell, a famous Scottish scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone.

Words Named After People

Defined as an exaggerated patriotism and a belligerent belief in national superiority and glory, chauvinism has also its roots in a historical figure. Nicolas Chauvin was a legendary French soldier and patriot alleged to have served in the First Army of the French Republic and subsequently in the army of Napoleon.

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Words Named After People

Today, if a man is referred to as Casanova, it generally means he is very interested in women. The meaning can differ with the context from an attentive seducer to a mere lecher. This eponym was named after Giacomo Casanova, an 18th century Italian adventurer and nobleman famous for his numerous elaborate affairs with women.

Words Named After People

This commonly used word relates to Franz Mesmer, a German physician with an interest in astronomy, alternative healing methods and hypnosis. However, it was not until the half of the 19th century, long after Mesmer´s death, when the word became a synonym for hypnosis.

Words Named After People

A popular woodwind instrument, saxophone was named after its inventor Adolphe Sax, a Belgian musical instrument designer of the 19th century. An avid musician who played the flute and clarinet, he invented several other instruments such as the saxotromba, saxhorn and saxtuba but only saxophone made it among the most famous instruments widely used in numerous music genres.

Words Named After People

Plant species are usually named after the scientists who discovered them but this was not the case for fuchsia, a genus of flowering plants.

 Leonhard Fuchs was a German physician, botanist and author of a large book about plants and their uses as medicines.

The book was considered the best publication of its time so, when a French botanist Charles Plumier discovered a new kind of flower in the Caribbean at the end of the 17th century, he named it in honor of Fuchs.

Inventions Named After People

The names for inventions have to come from somewhere. The name Slinky was chosen after its inventors browsed the dictionary.   Other invention names may not be creative, but they definitely explain what the invention does (think “credit card”).

But what to call an invention is almost as important as the invention itself, and this is a detail many inventors spend a lot of time brainstorming. Other inventors, however, simply choose to name their idea after themselves or a friend or even the person who inspired the invention.

Here are a few inventions named after people.

Words Named After People


When Henry Judah Heimlich came up with his life-saving procedure in the 1970s, he was at a loss as to what to call it. Eventually, he went with the most obvious solution: naming it after the creator, aka himself. No matter the name, though, the technique is something we should all know how to do and countless lives have been saved because of it.

Words Named After People


John Landis Mason patented this wide-mouthed jar in 1858 after working as a tinsmith. They were unique for their hermetic seal, created by the separate band and lid used in the screw thread design.

This allowed the jars to be reused, saving the user money. They were quickly dubbed Mason jars, although many other companies would copy the design over the years.

Even today, Mason jars are still popular for canning and other projects.

Words Named After People


Adolphe Sax created quite a few horn instruments during his life, but his most famous is the one that bears his name.

His dream was to create an instrument with the workings of a woodwind- hence the reed- but with that iconic horn sound. The saxophone changed the face of music forever, even though it took a while to gain popularity.

It remained a novelty instrument until the rise of jazz in the 1920s when musicians found it matched the sound of the new genre.

Words Named After People


Words you may not have known were named after people

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary site is an epicurean and sometimes mercurial presentation of language that tantalizes even the most Draconian and martinet-ish of word lovers.

A case in point: The delightful “Eponym Quiz,” which tests your knowledge of many of the words in the previous sentence that are based on the names of people. You’ll have to take the quiz to discover who gave their names to those words, because we don’t want to give you an unfair advantage. We’ll offer others instead.

ICYMI: Merriam-Webster announced its pick for word of the year

In traditional usage an “eponym” is something that has loaned its name to something else. By extension, in everyday usage and many dictionaries, the “eponym” is also the thing that borrowed the name.

Some eponyms have retained the capitalization of their namesakes, such as “Bakelite” (1909), a trademark for the first synthetic plastic, created by Leo Baekeland. Most have lost their capitalization, though some are recognizable as deriving from names.

For example, “béchamel” sauce, named for the Marquis Louis de Béchamel, a steward to Louis XIV of France in the late 17th century. The sauce had probably been brought to France at least a hundred years earlier, but the Marquis got naming rights.

(The Oxford English Dictionary says it first appeared in English in 1789 spelled “bishemel.”)

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If you drive a truck, thank Rudolf Diesel. Raised mostly in France and England, Diesel later moved to Germany, where in 1892 he obtained the first patent for the technology that later became the “diesel” engine.

Owners of fish tanks might have schools of a tiny fish called a “guppy.” R.J. Lechmere Guppy was a British engineer with an interest in flora and fauna who worked on the island of Trinidad.

In 1866, he sent a sample of a small Trinidadian fish to the British Museum, which named it Girardinus guppii in his honor. As in the case of béchamel sauce, however, he was not the original source: that same fish had been described years earlier by a naturalist in Venezuela.

The fish was later formally renamed Lebistes reticulatus, but kept its nickname.

Smokers, chawers, and vapers can thank (or blame) Jean Nicot. In the late 16th century, he was the French ambassador to Portugal, where a botanist friend explained the healing powers of a tobacco plant.

He sent news of this wonder to France, and supposedly sent tobacco snuff to the queen, Catherine de Medici, to treat her headaches. “Nicotiana” was the name of the plant; “nicotine,” the substance derived from it, did not appear in English until 1817, the OED says.

(Of course, this ignores the fact that tobacco had been in use in the Americas long before the Europeans had even heard of it.)

23 words you didn’t know were named after people

Back in 1846, a Belgian by the name of Adolphe Sax decided to invent the sort of musical instrument he wanted to see – something with a little Sax-appeal. The result was a very cool looking single-reed woodwind design, a conical bore, and all that jazz. Along with many actual greats, famous players include Kenny G, Lisa Simpson, and Bill Clinton.

2. Mesmerise

German doctor Franz Mesmer was quite the popular physician in the late 1700s.

But once he started claiming that the “Mesmer effect” (related to the body being controlled by “animal magnetism” – now known as the “Lynx effect”…) was a real phenomenon, people weren’t so sure.

As it turned out, he died a pauper, but by the 1840s, hypnotism and the power to “mesmerise” had become quite a big thing.

3. Nicotine

Back in 1559, Jean Nicot – the French ambassador at the time – was in Portugal to arrange the marriage of a six-year-old princess to a five-year-old prince (and we’re not talking about playing dress ups here).

So to help kick his underage marriage officiating habit, he decided to bring back to France some tobacco plants he’d found. He claimed the plants contained chemicals with medicinal healing properties.

That chemical/poison was named after him, and its name would be forever linked to health and vitality. Oh, wait.

4. Mausoleum

This word, meaning “a big ol’ above-ground burial chamber”, was named after a Persian governor, Mausolus, who was in office about 2300 years ago.

His own burial chamber was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (or as you may know it: “one of the ones I can never remember, let’s see now, pyramids… those gardens… lighthouse… statue thing…ummm”).

It was destroyed by an earthquake around the 15th century, but the word lives on.

5. Lynching

Eponymous Definition

  • Eponymous is an adjective that refers to the person, place, or thing that something else is named after.
  • However, eponymous can also refer to the thing that is named after something else.

For better or worse, we humans like to give our names to things. Sometimes, we name things after the people who were involved in discovering or formulating them. The Bohr radius, for example, was named after Niels Bohr.

Other times, we name things we established or founded after ourselves. The Ford Motor Company was named after its founder Henry Ford.

Throughout history, it was quite common to paste someone’s name over existing names of things—Lake Victoria already had several local names when it was named Lake Victoria. But in this name-giving game, eponyms play a prominent role, and eponymous is an often used adjective.

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What Does Eponymous Mean?

The meaning of the adjective eponymous is closely related to its parent noun—eponym. An eponym is the person, place, or thing that something else is named after. For example, Achilles is the eponym of the Achilles tendon. Queen Victoria is the eponym of Lake Victoria and quite a few other things. Amerigo Vespucci is the eponym of America.

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Eponym has Greek roots—it was derived from the word epōnumos, which is a combination of the prefix epi, meaning “upon,” and onoma, meaning “name.”

Eponymous, being the adjective derived from the word eponym, carries the same meaning—it describes someone after whom something was named. So, if you talk about the movie John Carter, you can say that its eponymous character gets to go to Mars. At least, that’s one of the ways you can use eponymous—and this is where the confusion begins.

How to Use Eponymous

The problem with both eponym and eponymous is that they are also used the other way around.

Eponym can mean something that is named after someone, so Lake Victoria can become Queen Victoria’s eponym.

The same goes for eponymous, so you can say that John Carter, in the eponymous movie, visits Mars. There’s a very similar issue with “namesake,” a word whose meaning overlaps with eponym.

Luckily, in plenty of cases, it’s quite easy to understand who was named after what—the Beatles weren’t named after their self-titled album, and Niels Bohr wasn’t named after the Bohr radius. In situations where it’s not clear who was named after what, choosing a word other than eponymous might be the best way to avoid confusion.

Examples: Eponymous in a Sentence

While Pulitzer successfully grew her eponymous line from a side business into a national brand throughout the ’60s and ’70s, by the early 1980s the company was overextended.
The film follows Thomas Middleditch as the eponymous character, still reeling from the sudden end of his engagement to the bubbly Rachel (Alison Brie).

Designed by Rebecca Taylor, LA VIE is a lower-end offshoot of the designer’s eponymous range, and as its name suggests, each piece was designed to be seamlessly adapted into your everyday life.

Sandler plays the eponymous lead character, a talent manager working in Los Angeles in the ’90s who falls in love with a client, Courtney Clarke (played by Jennifer Hudson), a singer he discovers at an amusement park.
—The Los Angeles Times

Chartreuse Leotard in a Magenta Limousine

Grade 3-6?Etymology is not usually thought of as an exciting topic for children, but Graham-Barber has worked magic and presents it in an amusing, informative, and accessible format.

The introduction clearly explains the differences between toponyms and eponyms and why it is fun to learn about where words in everyday use come from and how they have been changed.

Entries, such as suede, fudge, jeep, and ocean, to name just a few, are presented in separate paragraphs with icons (a person or a globe) to indicate a toponym or an eponym. The explanations are fascinating and are given in logical progression.

The smooth layout; simple illustrations in black, red, and white; and humorous tone add to the appeal of this book, which is much easier to read than Janet Klausner's Talk About English (HarperCollins, 1990). Especially useful in creative writing, history, and geography classes, this is also a great selection for booktalking.?Joan Soulliere, Wenham Public Library, MACopyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Lynda Graham-Barber


The Animals’ Winter Sleep.?? Illus. Nancy Carol Willis. Birdsong Books, 2008. ??

Spy Hops and Belly Flops.?? Illus. Brian Lies. Houghton Mifflin, 2004. ??

Say Boo!?? Illus. Barbara Lehman. Candlewick Press, 1997.

A Chartreuse Leotard in a Magenta Limousine. Illus. Barbara Lehman. Hyperion, 1995.

Toad or Frog? Swamp or Bog??? Illus. Alec Gilman. Simon & Schuster, 1994.??

Ho! Ho! Ho! ?? Illus. Betsy Lewin. Bradbury Press, 1994.

Doodle Dandy!?? Illus. Betsy Lewin. Bradbury Press, 1992.??

Gobble!?? Illus. Betsy Lewin. Bradbury Press, 1991.

Mushy!?? Illus. Betsy Lewin. Bradbury Press, 1991.

Personality Decorating.?? Fawcett Columbine, 1986.

The Kit Furniture Book.?? Pantheon Books, 1983.

Flat Fish, Round Fish and Other Animal Changes.?? Illus. Pamela Carroll. Crown, 1982.

Who Lives Inside??? Illus. Ray Barber. Grosset & Dunlap, 1976.??

  • Book Awards and Distinctions:
  • ~”Main Selection” Literary Guild
  • ~Avon paperbacks
  • ~Runner-up “New Jersey Kids’ Pick”

~American Book Sellers “Pick”??

~People Magazine??”Pick”

  1. ~”Book of the Month” National Wildlife Federation;
  2. ~”50 Best Books” American Institute of Graphic Artists
  3. ~Scholastic Book Clubs
  4. ~Delaware Diamonds Booklist 2009-2010.

Curriculum Vitae: ??

NYC editorial: Morrow Jr. Books; Crown; Harcourt; Holt, Rinehart; Western.

Faculty, Institute of Children’s Literature, W. Redding, CT.??

MFA Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults, Vermont College, Montpelier, VT.

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