Some Obscure Eponyms

When something is named after a person or a place or a company, we call that name an eponym. If you know anyone who says "Get me a Kleenex" instead of "Get me a tissue," they are using an eponym every time they have to sneeze. Eponyms are everywhere- in science, medicine, the arts. This list focuses on words that are historically eponyms but are so common that their history of deriving from names has been obscured. In this list, the history of eponyms you didn't realize were eponyms is revealed.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. saxophone
    a single-reed woodwind with a conical bore
    He has never had any formal voice training, but plays the drums and saxophone and a little keyboard by ear.
    —Washington Times May 13, 2014
    It's pretty clear that the Sousaphone was named after John Phillip Sousa, but the Saxophone is named after its inventor, a Belgian musical instrument designer named Adolphe Sax.
  2. bougainvillea
    any of several South American ornamental woody vines of the genus Bougainvillea having brilliant red or purple flower bracts; widely grown in warm regions
    The landscape is a gardener’s dream, dotted with mature oak and magnolia trees, hydrangeas, bougainvillea, and roses, and it has plentiful space for additional greenery.
    —Architectural Digest Dec 23, 2013
    The plant was discovered by Louis Anton de Bougainville, an 18th century French explorer, and is named after him.
  3. braille
    a point system of writing in which patterns of raised dots represent letters and numerals
    A small number of chain restaurants offer menus in braille; sometimes, they're even up to date.
    —The Guardian May 22, 2014
    Frenchman Louis Braille went blind as a child and developed his system of writing for the blind in 1824.
  4. bloomers
    underpants worn by women
    Lady cyclists inspired outrage and ridicule in the late nineteenth century when they sallied forth in bloomers, which were subsequently adopted by the suffrage movement.
    —The New Yorker Jun 6, 2014
    Amelia Bloomer did not invent bloomers, but she was so strongly associated with the Women's Rights movement that the revolutionary undergarment bears her name. Bloomer published a newspaper concerned with women's issues and was even a strong presence at the famed Seneca Falls Convention with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.
  5. chauvinism
    fanatical patriotism
    Nick Clegg is due to warn against letting the "forces of insularity and chauvinism" dictate Britain's future in Europe.
    —BBC May 19, 2014
    It is doubtful that Nicolas Chauvin really existed, but the term that bears "his" name lives on. Chauvin, it is said, was a badly wounded, poorly compensated soldier who was nonetheless still loyal to Napoleon, even after the leader himself abdicated. Chauvinism has come to be used as shorthand for "male chauvinism" but in its original use it meant fanatical patriotism, and by extension, fanatical devotion to any cause even in the face of overwhelming opposition.
  6. Cyrillic
    an alphabet derived from the Greek alphabet and used for writing Slavic languages (Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Ukrainian, and some other Slavic languages)
    Saint Cyril was a 9th-century missionary who helped devise a writing system to translate the Bible into the languages of the Slavic peoples.
  7. diesel
    an internal-combustion engine that burns heavy oil
    Volvo hasn’t committed to bringing the plug-in diesel vehicle to the United States, since diesels make up such a small part of the U.S. market.
    —Forbes Jun 5, 2014
    The development of the Diesel engine, an important engineering feat, was the work of Rudolph Diesel in the late 19th c entury.
  8. dunce cap
    a cone-shaped paper hat formerly placed on the head of slow or lazy pupils
    When it comes to bad decision making, these folks deserve their dunce caps.
    —Newsweek Apr 23, 2010
    John Duns Scotus was actually a well-respected philosopher in his day, that day being the 13th century, and it was not until the 1500s, in a reaction against Scotus' ideas, that a "dunce", a follower of Duns, became a subject of ridicule, leading to the cap that labels one as "incapable of scholarship."
  9. fuschia
    a tropical shrub with showy drooping flowers
    Begin with some of the common herbaceous bedding-plants, such as geranium, coleus, or fuschia.
    —Ontario Ministry of Education
    The flowering plant was named by its discoverer, Charles Plumier, in the late 1600s in honor of a botanist from the previous century, Leonhart Fuchs.
  10. Uzi
    a type of submachine gun that is designed and manufactured in Israel
    He delivered us to our hotel, where the man on the door was carrying a semi-automatic full-size Uzi pistol.
    —BBC Jun 23, 2013
    This gun was designed by Major Uziel Gal in the 1940s.
  11. gardenia
    any of various shrubs and small trees of the genus Gardenia having large fragrant white or yellow flowers
    Gardenia, one of the South's iconic shrubs, begins perfuming the air.
    —Southern Living May 13, 2013
    Another flower discovered by someone and named in tribute to someone else, this plant was discovered by Carl Linnaeus ( whose classification of the natural world was an influence on Darwin) and named for Dr. Alexander Garden.
  12. lynching
    putting a person to death by mob action without due process
    In addition to the killings by organized groups, individual vigilante mobs carried out retaliatory lynchings, Amnesty said in its report.
    —New York Times Feb 12, 2014
    The status of this eponym is a little unclear. The most probable candidate is William Lynch, who lead a group dispensing vigilante justice in 1780s. The other candidate is Charles Lynch, who fined and imprisoned British Loyalists at about the same time. Either way, lynching at this time referred to a wide variety of punishments, not exclusively the act of hanging it became identified with.
  13. mausoleum
    a large burial chamber, usually above ground
    Visiting foreign leaders normally make a trip to the mausoleum of Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
    —BBC Jun 9, 2014
    Named after Mausolus, a ruler of part of the Greek Empire in the 4th Century B.C.E. His burial chamber, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
  14. macadam
    a paved surface having compressed layers of broken rocks held together with tar
    The first eight mile of that road is pretty good macadam and hard dirt.
    — Joseph C. Lincoln
    John Loudon McAdam invented this method of paving roads in the 1820s. Originally involving small stones and a binding agent, the technology has changed over the years but the basic principle has remained the same.
  15. nicotine
    an alkaloid poison that occurs in tobacco
    Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, brought tobacco plants to France from a trip to Portugal in 1559. Originally touted for its supposed medicinal properties, the plant and later the molecule were named for Nicot.
  16. pyrrhic
    relating to a victory that is offset by staggering losses
    But the victims might only, at best, achieve a pyrrhic victory: Should they win, they would still have to collect a judgment.
    —Slate Feb 13, 2014
    Pyrrhus of Epirus (319-272 B.C.E.) was a Greek and a staunch opponent of Roman rule, willing to sustain heavy losses for a victory.
  17. serendipity
    good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries
    Intriguingly, in a demonstration of the importance of serendipity in science, this was not a hypothesis they had set out to prove.
    —Economist May 29, 2014
    From the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip first referenced in English by Horace Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford and son of England's first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Serendip is an old name for what is now Sri Lanka.
  18. sideburn
    facial hair that has grown down the side of a man's face in front of the ears (especially when the rest of the beard is shaved off)
    Lengthy sideburns and scruffy hipster beards — not the norm in eastern Tennessee — are de rigueur for the under-30 set.
    —New York Times Feb 3, 2014
    Ambrose Burnside was Union General in the Civil War. He wore his facial hair extending from the side of his face and connecting to his mustache, but kept his chin clean shaven. Sideburns is a corruption of Burnside, likely reinforced by the fact that the hair grows on the "side" of the face.
  19. volt
    a unit for measuring the force of an electric current
    The Roswell research found, generally, that when battery voltage increased to 4.8 volts from 3.2 volts, toxin levels increased markedly.
    —New York Times May 3, 2014
    Alessandro Volta was an Italian physicist, best known for inventing the battery (electrochemical cell) in the 1800s. There is also a prize named for him for achievements in electricity, and a Volta Crater on the moon named in his honor.
  20. wisteria
    any flowering vine of the genus Wisteria
    Few sights are as beautiful as wisteria trained along the roofline and railings of an antebellum house.
    —Southern Living Feb 21, 2013
    Botanist Thomas Nuttall named the flower after Caspar Wistar (the "e" is apparently a mistake that has been preserved) who was a physician who was an early proponent of vaccination and who held a Chair in Anatomy at The University of Pennsylvania.
Created on June 10, 2014 (updated November 1, 2019)

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