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For other uses, see Namesake (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with eponym.

A namesake is a person named after another.[1][2][3][4] Namesake may also refer to a thing, such as a company, place, ship, building, or concept, named after a person.[3][5]

In general, the second recipient of a name, named for the first, is said to be the namesake of the first. The attribution can, however, go in the opposite direction, with namesake referring to the original holder of the name (the eponym).[3]

The word is first recorded in the mid-seventeenth century, and probably comes from the phrase "for [the, my, his, her] name's sake".[2][3][4][6]


Naming a child after a relative, friend, or well-known person is a common practice in the English-speaking world. When a son is named for his father, it is customary to add "Jr.", "III'", or another name suffix to the name of the son (and sometimes "Sr." or a prior number to the father's name), in order to distinguish between individuals; especially if both father and son become famous, as in the case of poet, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Nothing prohibits girls named for their mothers from using similar suffixes, but no such tradition has become established. A more archaic method of distinguishing father from son was to follow the name with the Elder or the Younger, respectively.

Among Ashkenazi Jews, it is customary to name a child after a dead parent (i.e., the child's grandparent), but never after a living person.[7] Sephardic Jews traditionally are encouraged to name their children after relatives, living or dead.[7] Greek families traditionally name a child after its paternal grandparents and the second child of the same sex is named after its maternal grandparents.[8]

Strictly speaking, a namesake is only a person[1][2] named for another person—i.e., for the sake of the other's name, to keep it alive.[4] Many dictionaries, however, following colloquial usage, acknowledge that things as well as persons may be or have namesakes,[2][5] and (usually in a secondary definition) that the other for whom the person (or thing) is named, strictly the latter's eponym, may be called its "namesake".[1][3][5]

Buildings, such as the Trump Tower, and companies, like the Ford Motor Company, are often named for their founders or owners. Biologic species and celestial bodies are frequently named for their discoverers.[9] Alternatively, their discoverers may name them in honor of others.[10] Occasionally, material goods, such as toys or garments, may be named for persons closely associated with them in the public mind. The teddy bear, for example, was named for President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, because of a popular story in which the then-President objected to cruel treatment of a bear by hunters.[11] The fedora hat may be considered the "namesake" of a fictional character, Princess Fédora Romanoff, from an 1887 play, "Fédora", by Victorien Sardou. In her famous portrayal of that character, Sarah Bernhardt wore a soft felt hat with a center crease, which became known popularly as a "fedora".[12]

Namesake cataloguing[edit]

The term "namesake" is sometimes applied to persons who happen to share the same name, even by pure coincidence. Performers have occasionally compiled lists of such chance "namesakes", whom they have then tracked down and used in productions.

  • Starting with a drunken wager, British comedian Dave Gorman used a wide variety of methods to find namesakes, an exercise which then evolved into a 2001 stage show Are You Dave Gorman? and was subsequently adapted as a book and television series.[13]
  • US actor and filmmaker Jim Killeen used the Google search engine to find personal namesakes for his documentary Google Me (2007).[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Namesake". Unabridged. Random House. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Namesake". Oxford Dictionaries (in American English). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Namesake". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. Retrieved August 12, 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c "Namesake". American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved 10 November 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c "Namesake". Collins English Dictionary (in British English). HarperCollins. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 
  6. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Namesake". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "The Laws of Jewish Names". Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. Retrieved 14 March 2016. , citing Sefer Chassidim 460; Shaarei Halachah Uminhag, vol. 3, p. 298.
  8. ^ Poulos, Rev. George (February 24, 2006). "Naming Children after Grandparents: A Greek Tradition". The National Herald – via OCL Searchable Archives. 
  9. ^ See, e.g., Nowicke, Joan W. (September–October 1974). "Three New Species of Tournefortia (Boraginaceae) from the Andes and Comments on the Manuscripts of E. P. Killip". Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 101 (5): 229–234. doi:10.2307/2484867. Retrieved 14 March 2016.  (species); and Committee on Small Body Nomenclature of Division III of the International Astronomical Union. "IAU Comet-naming Guidelines". IAU: Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. IAU: Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. Retrieved 14 March 2016.  (comets).
  10. ^ See, e.g., Platnick, Norman I. (10 June 1993). "A New Genus of the Spider Family Caponiidae (Araneae, Haplogynae) from California" (PDF). American Museum Novitates (3063): 1. Retrieved 14 March 2016.  (species of spider named for actor Harrison Ford).
  11. ^ "Teddy Bears". America's Story from America's Library. Library of Congress. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 
  12. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Fedora". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 
  13. ^ "Are You Dave Gorman a.k.a. The Dave Gorman Collection". Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  14. ^ Jim Killeen. "Google Me, the Movie". Google Me, the Movie. Archived from the original on 25 September 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2016.