Definition of Antonomasia

The term, antonomasia, is a derivative of the Greek term antonomazein as well as the Latin term, antonomasia. Both have almost the same meanings that is using a name instead. It comprises two Grecian term, anti-, that means against or instead of and, onoma, that means a name. Therefore, it means to replace a title or an epithet for a proper noun or using a proper name through an idea such as a Scrooge used for a person who is a miser.

Generally, it is a figure of speech that replaces the name of a person with some substitute word or a phrase. This phrase or word is based on some quality of that person. It has been in use since the 16th century and has become quite popular until the Victorian age.

Common Antonomasia

The use of antonomasia is very common in the political and social life of Europe. Various popular persons of their era have been named otherwise. Some of the most popular terms used for different figures are as follows.

  1. El Caudillo used for Francisco Franco of Spain
  2. Qaid-e-Azam used for the leader of Pakistan
  3. El Jefer used for the ruler of Dominican Republic Rafel Trujillo
  4. La Divina used for opera singer Maria Callas
  5. Il Duce used for the Italian ruler Benito Mussolini

Examples of Antonomasia in Literature

Example #1

Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema

This book has the title as antonomasia of Shakespeare, Bard of Avon, been penned by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema. It sheds light on the poet’s life, his childhood at his home, and his writing skills. It also introduces the phrases that Shakespeare has introduced in the world of English. The title has been chosen deliberately to remind the readers that the bard or the poet was born at Stratford-upon-Avon. Therefore, it has become an antonomasia for Shakespeare.

Example # 2

Shakespeare and Scotland by edited by Willy Maley and Andrew Murph

In Ulysses Joyce tells us that Shakespeare wrote ‘Hamlet and Macbeth with the coming to the throne of a Scotch philosophaster with a turn for witchroasting. In doing so, Joyce reminds us that there is more than one ‘Scottish play’, as Andrew Hadfield demonstrates in his subtle investigation of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy in ‘Hamlet’s country matters; the “Scottish play” within the play.’

Although Willy Maley and Andrew Murph have not mentioned Shakespeare as Bard of Avon, they have referred to his plays. Using the popular antonomasia, they have referred to his two plays, Macbeth and Hamlet. They claim to refer to Andrew Hadfield that both plays are Scottish, while only Macbeth was termed as a Scottish play earlier. This term was specifically used for it as an antonomasia.

Example #3

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.
“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak
to me?”

Charles Dickens has popularized the name of Scrooge as a parsimonious person. He has mentioned Scrooge once here. He is saying that he is afraid of a ghost and calls it the Ghost of the Future. Yet, this is not antonomasia. Instead, Scrooge is antonomasia that has become popular for a miser person.

Example #4

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Frau Diller administered this feeling, dishing it out as the only free item from her premises. She lived for her shop and her shop lived for the Third Reich. Even when rationing started later in the year, she was known to sell certain hardto-get items under the counter and donate the money to the Nazi Party. On the wall behind her usual sitting position was a framed photo of the Führer. If you walked into her shop and didn’t say “heil Hitler,” you wouldn’t be served. As they walked by, Rudy drew Liesel’s attention to the bulletproof eyes leering from the shop window.

Although Markus Zusak may not have been aware that he is consciously using the name of Nazi as well as Hitler as antonomasias, his constant use in the entire novel and this passage shows the effective use of antonomasia. He has used Fuhrer for Hitler and Nazi for the Nazi party.

Functions of Antonomasia

Although the writers do not use antonomasia consciously, some words turn into antonomasia later when other writers refer to them on some other occasions and popularize them. In this connection, these writers do this unconsciously. However, when the second-tier writers popularize them, they are aware that they are using antonomasia, transforming the specific into general terms or titles.

Antonomasia functions as a reminder, a warning as well as an alert. It is a reminder when it happens to point out some popular or phenomenal persons such as Shakespeare or Socrates or Churchill. However, it is a warning when it points to bad or vicious abstract ideas of persons such as Hitler and alerts the readers about the common things such as the Nazi party.


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