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An eponym can be either an item which provides a name-source for a particular place, tribe, era, discovery, or other item to be named, or it can also be an item which acts as a name-recipient. For example, Léon Theremin is the eponym (name-source) of the theremin, an electronic musical instrument; or, the medical term Parkinson's disease is a medical eponym (name-recipient), named after the English physician, James Parkinson.
Similarly, the term eponymous has parallel meanings when employed as an adjective.
An etiological myth can be a "reverse eponym" in the sense that a legendary character is invented in order to explain a term, such as the nymph Pirene, who according to myth was turned into Pirene's Fountain.
In different cultures, time periods have often been named after the person who ruled during that period:
- The ancient Greek epic The Odyssey is named after the main character, Odysseus.
- One of the first recorded cases of eponymy occurred in the second millennium BC, when the Assyrians named each year after a high official (limmu).
- In ancient Greece, the eponymous archon was the highest magistrate in Athens. Archons of Athens served a term of one year which took the name of that particular archon (e.g., 594 BC was named for Solon). Later historians provided yet another case of eponymy by referring to the period of Fifth-century Athens as The Age of Pericles after its most influential statesman Pericles.
- In Ancient Rome, one of the two formal ways of indicating a year was to cite the two annual consuls who served in that year. For example, the year we know as 59 BC would have been described as "the consulship of Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus and Gaius Julius Caesar" (although that specific year was known jocularly as "the consulship of Julius and Caesar" because of the insignificance of Caesar's counterpart). Under the empire, the consuls would change as often as every two months, but only the two consuls at the beginning of the year would lend their names to that year.
- During the Christian era, many royal households used eponymous dating by regnal years. The Roman Catholic Church, however, eventually used the Anno Domini dating scheme based on the birth of Christ on both the general public and royalty. The regnal year standard is still used with respect to statutes and law reports published in some parts of the United Kingdom and in some Commonwealth countries (England abandoned this practice in 1963): a statute signed into law in Canada between February 6, 1994 and February 5, 1995 would be dated 43 Elizabeth II, for instance.
- Government administrations or political trends often become eponymous with a government leader. North American examples include Jeffersonian economics, Jacksonian democracy, McCarthyism, Kennedy's Camelot, the Nixon Era, Trudeaumania, Reaganomics, or Obamacare, Obamanomics and Obamania. A similar example from British political life would be Thatcherism.
- British monarchs have become eponymous throughout the English-speaking world for time periods, fashions, etc. Elizabethan, Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian are examples of these.
- In intellectual property law an eponym can refer to a genericized trademark or brand name, a form of metonymy.
- Both in ancient Greece and independently among the Hebrews, tribes often took the name of a legendary leader (as Achaeus for Achaeans, or Dorus for Dorians). The eponym gave apparent meaning to the mysterious names of tribes, and sometimes, as in the Sons of Noah, provided a primitive attempt at ethnology as well, in the genealogical relationships of eponymous originators.
- Places and towns can also be given an eponymous name through a relationship (real or imagined) to an important figure. Peloponnesus, for instance, was said to derive its name from the Greek hero Pelops. In historical times, new towns have often been named (and older communities renamed) after their founders, discoverers, or after notable individuals. Examples include Vancouver, British Columbia, named after the explorer George Vancouver; and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, originally called Isbister's Settlement but renamed after Queen Victoria's husband and consort in 1866.
- In science and technology, discoveries and innovations are often named after the discoverer (or supposed discoverer) or to honour some other influential workers. Examples are Avogadro's number, the Diesel engine, meitnerium, Alzheimer's disease, and the Apgar score. For a discussion of the process see Stigler's law of eponymy.
- In (modern) art:
- Some books, films, video games, and TV shows have one or more eponymous principal characters: Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Emma, the Harry Potter series, The Legend of Zelda series, I Love Lucy, for example.
- The term is also applied to music, usually with regard to record titles. For example, Blur's 1997 album was also titled Blur. Bad Company's first album Bad Company released in 1974 is another example that also contained a track that was a Rock Radio favourite of the same name, "Bad Company". Many other artists and bands have also served as eponyms of albums or singles, usually as their debut or second release. Some bands, such as the Tindersticks, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Crowded House, Van Halen, Duran Duran, Bang Camaro, Santana, Living in a Box, and the Ramones, have released more than one and are thus referred to in other ways, including number and album art (e.g., The Blue Album). Every album, except 1969's The Chicago Transit Authority, 1978's Hot Streets and 1995's Night and Day: Big-Band, released by Chicago Transit Authority/Chicago has been the band name followed by a Roman numeral or numbered in some other manner. Peter Gabriel's first four long-play releases were all such (though the fourth was given a title for its US release). Another more common term is the self-titled album. The band R.E.M. titled their 1988 compilation CD Eponymous as a joke. The Swedish metal band Ghost titled their debut album Opus Eponymous. Brazilian artists usually self-title their albums; almost all the annual Roberto Carlos albums are eponymous. Self-titled albums are often indicated with the abbreviation "s/t," e.g., "They Might Be Giants (s/t)"
Lists of eponyms
By person's name
Capitalized versus lowercase
- Because proper nouns are capitalized in English, the usual default for eponyms is to capitalize the eponymous part of a term. The common-noun part is not capitalized (unless it is part of a title or it is the first word in a sentence). For example, in Parkinson disease (named after James Parkinson), Parkinson is capitalized, but disease is not. In addition, the adjectival form, where one exists, is usually lowercased (thus parkinsonian although Parkinson disease and gram-positive although Gram staining).
- However, some eponymous adjectives and noun adjuncts are nowadays entered in many dictionaries as lowercase when they have evolved a common status, no longer deriving their meaning from the proper-noun origin. For example, Herculean when referring to Hercules himself, but often herculean when referring to the figurative, generalized extension sense; and quixotic and diesel engine [lowercase only]. For any given term, one dictionary may enter only lowercase or only cap, whereas other dictionaries may recognize the capitalized version as a variant, either equally common as, or less common than, the first-listed styling (marked with labels such as "or", "also", "often", or "sometimes"). The Chicago Manual of Style, in its section "Words derived from proper names", gives some examples of both lowercase and capitalized stylings, including a few terms styled both ways, and says, "Authors and editors must decide for themselves, but whatever choice is made should be followed consistently throughout a work."
For examples, see the comparison table below.
Genitive versus attributive
- English can use either genitive case or attributive position to indicate the adjectival nature of the eponymous part of the term. (In other words, that part may be either possessive or nonpossessive.) Thus Parkinson's disease and Parkinson disease are both acceptable. Medical dictionaries have been shifting toward nonpossessive styling in recent decades. Thus Parkinson disease is more likely to be used in the latest medical literature (especially in postprints) than is Parkinson's disease.
National varieties of English
- American and British English spelling differences can occasionally apply to eponyms. For example, American style would typically be cesarean section, whereas British style would typically be caesarean section (or cæsarean section [with digraph]).
Comparison table of eponym orthographic styling
|Prevalent dictionary styling today||Stylings that defy prevalent dictionary styling||Comments|
|Addison disease||*Addison Disease
|Allemann syndrome||*Allemann Syndrome
cesarean also cesarian [but no cap variant]
cesarean, "often capitalized" or caesarean also cesarian or caesarian
|The full information on this word's orthographic variants is at cesarean section > orthography.|
|diesel (n/adj/vi) [no cap variant]
draconian often Draconian
eustachian often Eustachian
eustachian tube [only]
eustachian tube often Eustachian tube
eustachian tube or Eustachian tube
fallopian often Fallopian
fallopian tube [only]
fallopian tube often Fallopian tube
fallopian tube also Fallopian tube
|mendelian [only] or Mendelian [only]
mendelian inheritance [only] or Mendelian inheritance [only]
Parkinson disease [only]
Parkinson's disease [only]
|AMA Manual of Style lowercases the terms roman numerals and arabic numerals. MWCD enters the numeral sense under the headword Roman but with the note "not cap" on the numeral sense.|
- Archetypal name
- Eponymous hairstyles
- False etymology
- Genericized trademark
- Medical eponyms
- Name reaction
- Stigler's law of eponymy
- Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. "eponym". Retrieved June 4, 2012.
- Medical Dictionary definition of eponym
- Merriam-Webster (1993), Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed ed.), Springfield, Massachusetts, USA: Merriam-Webster, ISBN 978-0-87779-707-4
- Houghton Mifflin (2000), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed ed.), Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 978-0-395-82517-4
- University of Chicago (1993), The Chicago Manual of Style (14th ed.), Chicago, Illinois, USA: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-10389-7, section 7.49, pp. 253–254.
- Iverson, Cheryl (editor) (2007), AMA Manual of Style (10 ed.), Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-517633-9, chapter 16: Eponyms.
- Elsevier (2007), Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary (31st ed ed.), Philadelphia: Elsevier, ISBN 978-1-4160-2364-7
- Merriam-Webster (2003), Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed ed.), Springfield, Massachusetts, USA: Merriam-Webster, ISBN 978-0-87779-809-5
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