What Is an Eponym? Meaning and Popular Examples

Did you know that q-tip was an eponym? How about sideburns? These are words formed from proper nouns or people that have become synonymous with the item. For example, many people call a carbonated drink a Coke. Get an in-depth definition of what an eponym is along with several eponym examples.

eponym sideburns General Burnside eponym sideburns General Burnside

What Is an Eponym?

You might not realize it, but you use eponyms all the time. An eponym is when the names of activities, products, objects, and discoveries become synonymous with that item or are derived from a proper noun.

While it’s hard to explain, it's actually quite simple. Think of how someone with an inferiority complex is said to have a Napoleon complex. Named after Napoleon Bonaparte, it's typically attributed to short people that make up for their stature by being overly aggressive. While Napoleon was actually of average height, political cartoons didn’t present him that way. Hence the Napoleon complex.

Types of Eponym Examples

Now that you know what an eponym is, you can probably think of lots of them. However, most eponym examples can be found in all different types from product eponyms to literary eponyms.

Product Eponym Examples

These are product names that become common household names. One great example is Kleenex. Kleenex is a brand name for facial tissues; however, it’s become synonymous for all facial tissues despite the brand. Other product names that are eponyms include:

  • Tylenol
  • Motrin
  • Aspirin
  • Zipper
  • Escalator
  • Coke
  • Jell-O
  • Lego
  • Q-Tip
  • Sharpie
  • Post-It
  • Crockpot
  • Xerox

Historical & Scientific Eponym Examples

Much like Napoleon, many historical figures, inventors, and theorists have become eponyms. It could be from their contributions to society, or just for their unique hair such as in the case of Ambrose Burnside. Whatever the case, these common words are now associated with them. For example, the word sandwich comes from Earl of Sandwich. The word boycott is derived from Captain Charles C. Boycott. Explore other famous historical eponyms:

  • Fahrenheit - Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit
  • Cardigan - Earl of Cardigan
  • Sideburns - Ambrose Burnside
  • Diesel - Rudolf Diesel
  • Reaganomics - Ronald Reagan
  • America - Amerigo Vespucci
  • Marxism - Karl Marx
  • Watt - John Watt
  • Alzheimer’s disease - Alois Alzheimer
  • Shrapnel - Henry Shrapnel
  • Mesmerize - Franz Mesmer
  • Bloomers - Amelia Bloomer

Eponym Examples in Literature

Any time a novel is named for the main character, it’s an eponym. Therefore, there are vast examples in literature. For example, the book Jane Eyre is named for the main character Jane Eyre and follows her plights through life. Explore other literary examples of eponyms.

  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
  • Gulliver’s Travels by John Swift
  • Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

You’ll also find characters that become eponyms outside of the name of the story. For example, Chicken Little is a character in a fable but also used as a term for someone who gets panicked easily. Another example is Goody-Two-Shoes. While it’s a character in a fable, it’s also used negatively to describe someone who always does the right thing. Another popular eponym example is a grinch, the miserly character from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Eponym Examples in Pop Culture

When it comes to eponyms in pop culture, all you must do is look at a few album titles. Many song writers use their name for albums or even songs like:

  • The Neighbourhood
  • David Bowie
  • The Beach Boys
  • Blur
  • Elastica
  • Foo Fighters
  • Led Zeppelin

Eponym Examples in Mythology

You might not realize how many times you’ve used a mythological eponym. These bad boys are so ingrained in English, you might not even see them. For example, Achilles’ heel is a weakness or vulnerability that goes back to the story of Achilles. Some other popular mythological eponyms you might not know include:

  • Draconian - Draco
  • Narcissistic - Narcissus
  • Tantalizing - Tantalus
  • Erotic - Eros
  • Panic - Pan
  • Atlas - Atlas
  • Mercurial - Mercury
  • Herculean - Hercules
  • Hypnosis - Hypnos
  • Hygiene - Hygeia

Exploring Eponyms

Eponymisms are all around us. Some are clear, like a self-titled album or book, but others, such as sandwich, have become everyday words. Knowing what an eponym is can help you to find a few new ones. Now that you’ve got the meaning of eponym down, find out what anaphora is and how it is used through anaphora examples.