Eponym Definition

Eponym is a name of a legend or real person that writers associate with some other person, object, institution or thing. Simply, we can define it as a famous person whose name is given to someone else, such as Homer has derived the name of ancient epic “The Odyssey” from a major character, Odysseus. Many TV shows, books and films have used eponymous characters like Emma, Harry Potter and The Legend of Zelda. Besides, we commonly see the use of this literary device in literature, industry, places and in several other fields.

Everyday Use of Eponym

  • Sandwich was given the name of a British politician John Montagu, who was fourth Earl of Sandwich.
  • The name of a sweater cardigan is derived from British military officer, James Thomas Brudenell, who was Seventh Earl of Cardigan.
  • Saxophone was given the name of Sax, a surname of family from Belgium, which was skilled at making musical instruments.

Eponym Examples from Literature

Example 1

Walter Mitty Dreams from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

James Thurber in his novel, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” introduces the main character Walter Mitty, who is rather timid and unadventurous fellow whose wife has dominating role in their relationship. Beneath his humble and timid exterior, Walter Mitty hides dreams and a great fantasy in his life in which he imagines himself as a successful surgeon, a daredevil pilot and a naval heroic commander. After his dreams “Walter Mitty Dreams” is referred as a sort of wild fantasy that an average person can dream up to satisfy his/her daily grind.

Example 2

Lilliputian and Yahoos from “Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift in his satirical novel “Gulliver’s Travels” uses “Lilliputian”, a name originates from the miniature and fictional name of island nation situated in the area of South Pacific where Gulliver was lashed to the ground. This term generally means anything small or miniature or it may have a derogatory sense, referring to pettiness or narrow-mindedness.

Swift also used the term Yahoos that are uncouth or degraded race of people whom Gulliver encounters on the Houyhnhnm island in book IV. Initially, Gulliver felt some difficulty recognizing them as human beings, because they were so backward and an intelligent race of horses known as the Houyhnhnm would treat yahoos as beasts. Today, Yahoo means an ignorant, uncouth or brutish person. Besides, Americans use it also as an exclamation of happiness or excitement. More recently, a very well-known internet service has named its search engine and service providing company as Yahoo.

Example 3

Tom & Jerry from “Life in London

A Victorian writer Pierce Egan in his book, “Life in London” during 1821 had featured two popular characters Tom and Jerry. This book became very popular and finally their adventurous story got entry into in William T. Moncrieff’s play. More recently, William Hannah and Joseph Barbara have created mouse and cat, which is an adaptation in American cartoon series “Tom & Jerry.” Their popularity in different comic books and on television continues today.

Example 4

Pickwickian from “Pickwick Papers

In Pickwick Papers”, Charles Dickens has created his most endearing and enduring character, Mr. Samuel Pickwick, who is head of Pickwick Club in London. He and his associates make a travelling society to visit different areas in England to study the phenomena and peculiarities of life. The purpose is to do something good for others. Along the way, they encounter some shady and evil characters like Mr. Jingle. However, novel ends happily, as Mr. Pickwick successfully understands the crisis in a family and reunites a married young couple with their relatives. Hence, the term “Pickwickian” is used commonly now that means generosity and simplicity like Mr. Pickwick has demonstrated. There is another popular term “Pickwickian sense” from this book has into dictionaries. Merriam Webster defines it as “Intended or taken in a sense other than the obvious or literal one.” This term derives from an incident occurred between Mr. Blotton and Mr. Pickwick, who apparently abuse each other but, in fact, pay high regards.

Function of Eponym

Eponym is like an allusion that refers to a famous person. Therefore, it develops a link between a reference and the thing being referred to, and through this connection, readers are able to understand the idea easily. The scope of eponym is wide. It is everywhere, as we can easily find its frequent use in literature, politics, advertising, sciences, discoveries, music, films, medicines and legal studies. Besides, eponyms give further meanings to the terms and increase readers’ information by providing them reference of the names of famous persons from history.

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