Eponymous

Eponymous is an adjective used to describe a person or thing that has given its name to something else. It may also be the thing or place that has received the name. It is most commonly used in literature to describe the title character of a work. In the introduction to a copy of Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray, the editor (Walter Jerrold) writes, "To come from the story as a whole to the personality of the eponymous hero, three widely-differing historical individuals are suggested as having contributed to the composite portrait."

Harry Potter would be an eponymous hero of a series of books. Hermione Granger would not. Napoleon would be eponymous in a period of history known as the Age of Napoleon. Wellington, the British general who defeated him at Waterloo would not. Although Wellington and the city in New Zealand named for him would be eponymous with respect to each other. Typically, the word is only used when the connection between a person and thing is obvious. We would not normally say the "eponymous John Phillips Sousa" even though there is an instrument named for him. It would be far more appropriate to refer to the "eponymous sousaphone".

The adjective eponymous (uh-pon-uh-muss) comes from the noun "eponym". According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it is the person "whose name becomes that of a place, a people, an era, an institution, etc." It comes from ancient Greek language. Other dictionaries add that an eponym can be the actual word that is shared by the person and the object.

Before dates were numbered from the time of Christ, they were in some places remembered by who happened to be in power at the time. In ancient Rome the consul was the highest executive office. Two men held the consulship simultaneously. The year was named for them. Thus they would be eponymous with respect to the year. Years named in this manner are often called eponymous years. For example in 63 B.C. Cicero and Gaius Antonius Hybrida were the eponymous consuls of Rome.

Place names are frequently derived from the name of a discoverer, hero, or historical figure. The word "Washington" covers the man, the state, and the U.S. capital.

Economists are known to attempt to quantify or codify almost every social behavior. Eponymism is no exception. Steven Stigler derived "Stigler's Law of Eponymy" (note that Mr. Stigler is eponymous with respect to his law). It proposes that scientific discoveries are generally not named for the original discoverer, but rather after the person who first popularizes it. The truth of the law can be debated. Yet some debate whether Stigler did in fact discover this law.

Eponymous is not a common word, but is found with some degree of frequency in the study of both history and literature.

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