eponym /’ɛpənɪm/

4th Earl of Sandwich

John Montague

When did you last have a sandwich? Or maybe some fettucini alfredo? Or even pizza margherita? I don’t suppose that as you were munching away at your meal that you thought, “Mmh, what a delicious eponymous dish!”

An eponym is the name of a person, place, or thing after which an item is named.

Way back in the 1760’s, John Montague would play cards with his friends regulary. Like most gamblers, he didn’t like to leave the table if he could avoid it, so he often asked for folks to put small food items between two slices of bread, simply so he could play cards and eat at the same time.

Montague also happened to be the 4th Earl of  Sandwich, an estate in England. So, the meal became know as the sandwich, after the ravenous earl. Sandwich is an example of an eponym.

In the early 20th century, Italian Alfedo di Lelio invented a new dish for his wife. It was made from  fettuccine pasta that had been tossed with Parmesan cheese, butter, and artery clogging heavy cream. It became known as the fetuccini Alfredo, another eponym.

Pizza Margherita was named after Queen Margherita of Savoy and used tomato, cheese, and basil to simulate the colors of the Italian flag – red, white, and green.

Queen Margherita of Savoy

Queen Margherita of Savoy

So the word eponym really applies to the name of the person or place, hence sandwich, fettucini, and Alfredo.  it comes from the Greek ὲπὡνυμ, a word made up of ὲπί (meaning “upon”) and ὸμομα for “name.”

Burking, the practice of strangling a victim so as to sell the body to the medical professions is another eponymous word.



Filed under Etymology

4 responses to “eponym /’ɛpənɪm/

  1. Margaret Poore

    Hi Russell,
    Guess I have the honor of being your first commentator. I am a sometime contributor to ACOLUG, which is how I found myself here. I met you once, briefly, in an elevator at a conference. Which one I don’t recall. I am about to hit 60 and agree with you that one doesn’t feel as old as one is at the half-century mark. The main difference is short term memory, as in “I know I got up to do something but what is it??” Also for some reason nouns seem much harder to pull out of the memory bank.
    I wanted to ask you about words and phrases that appear in print but rarely are spoken aloud. I was hoping one or two would float up out of the memory banks but no such luck. Perhaps they are all nouns!

  2. Margaret Poore

    oops, disregard that last email address and use this one.

  3. russellcross

    I subscribe to the Bucket Theory of memory: my brain is like a bucket and once it is full, the only way to get new stuff in is to tip stuff out. I think that my bucket in now full and so each time I learn a new word, I suspect I forget another. All I can hope is that I’m hemorrhaging low-frequency nouns that I no longer need rather than high-frequency useful words like… er… oh, what’s the word…?

  4. Pingback: moribund /’mɒrɪbʌnd/ « The Word Guy

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