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I was in London and visited the Tower Bridge. Afterwards, I went to a pub called The Tower Bridge. Just to be clear, the pub is named after the bridge.

Which of the following are correct?

  1. The bridge is the eponym of the pub.

  2. The pub is the eponym of the bridge.

  3. From the pub, I could see the eponymous bridge.

  4. After I saw the bridge, I went to the eponymous pub.

  5. The bridge is the namesake of the pub.

  6. The pub is the namesake of the bridge.

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I avoid all of these and say (or write) things like Oh, is the pub named after the Tower Bridge? or Yes, she's named after her grandmother. I can't ever remember how eponyms are supposed to work! –  aedia λ Nov 23 '11 at 1:51

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I found a couple of entries in the New York Times "After Deadline" column useful.

The first:

In precise, traditional usage, an “eponym” is someone or something that gives its name to something else. So “eponymous” describes the giver of the name, NOT the receiver. A restaurateur named Joe Smith could be described as the eponymous owner of Joe Smith’s Restaurant, but the establishment is not “Mr. Smith’s eponymous restaurant.”

(The opposite problem often occurs with “namesake.” That word properly describes the receiver of the name — a grandchild may be the namesake of her grandmother, but not the other way around.)

So the only ones of your examples that have the correct use of “eponymous” are those that describe the giver (the bridge) and not the receiver. And conversely, only in #6 is “namesake” used correctly.

The second entry is more pertinent to the use of “eponymous:”

Sometimes I quibble over words we overuse. Sometimes I complain about words that are misused. And sometimes I take issue with words that seem pretentious or contrived.

Then there’s “eponymous,” which could fit any of those categories.

In precise use, an eponym is someone who gives a name to something else, and “eponymous” describes the source of the name, not the receiver.

More often than not, we and others muddle this distinction. And often, there’s a way to say what we mean without using “eponymous” at all. So let’s use it sparingly, and wisely.

Hear, hear.

Edit: For reference, the entry for eponym from Wordsmith.org, one of my favorite resources:

eponym (EP-uh-nim) noun

  1. A person, real or imaginary, from whom something, as a tribe, nation, or place, takes or is said to take its name.

  2. A word based on or derived from a person's name.

  3. Any ancient official whose name was used to designate his year of office.

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+1 for namesake only being suitable for the receiver of the name (I parse it as "named for the sake of"), but I can't accept your columnist's opinions on "correct" use of eponym/eponymous. –  FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 16:54
    
"Can't accept?" Why not? M-W defines eponym as name giver... –  Gnawme Nov 23 '11 at 18:45
    
Bad choice of words - I'm not an authority on the matter, so it's not really up to me to argue with dictionaries. What I meant was that some of the usages that are acceptable to that columnist will probably always grate on my ear, and I'm unlikely to start using them myself. –  FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 19:33
    
Thinking about it some more, I think I am prepared to take issue with that columnist. According to his antiquated pedantic rules, I have no grammatical term to describe words like sandwich, hoover, jeep, biro, etc., which is frankly ridiculous. I think nearly everyone acquainted with the word eponym would say that's what these are called. –  FumbleFingers Nov 25 '11 at 14:37
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See sense #2 in my edit. #1 is the sense used by "After Deadline" and so the most common usage (although apparently not in your experience). –  Gnawme Nov 25 '11 at 18:18

Personally, I'm only comfortable with (3) and (4). In this context I don't think it's important which was named first, but I would think it odd if, say, someone reviewing the album Peter Gabriel were to mention the eponymous singer. So far as I'm concerned, such "untitled" albums are always called the eponymous album [by so-and-so].

I see some people claim that eponymous should only be applied to the original, source named person or thing, not something subsequently named after him/it. In the spirit of Samuel Johnson's "I refute it thus", my metaphorical kick at such pedantry is 89 written instances of "eponymous taxa" (where "taxa" is the plural of taxon - a taxonomic category, as a species or genus). Almost all those instances will be from educated academics, and obviously they're talking about categories named after the person who first identified them, not the people themselves.

For good measure, here's an eponymous pub, The Crooked Billet, which gives its name to a group of nearby houses called Crooked Billet. I see no reason why either the giver or receiver of a name must be an actual person in order for eponymous to be validly used.

But for me at least, only words can be "eponyms", and only people can be "namesakes".

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I didn't bother checking - just wrote what came to mind. Which is why I was careful to say personally, and for me at least. But I'll probably continue to make those distinctions even if someone finds a dictionary that disagrees with them. –  FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 1:56

Correct examples:

Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California that is the namesake of eighteenth-century bishop and philosopher George Berkeley.

Eighteenth-century bishop and philosopher George Berkeley is the eponym of the city of Berkeley, California.

They cannot be used interchangeably. Namesake indicates a place, thing or person named after someone, something or someplace. Epoynm specifies a place, thing or person that something, someone or someplace is named after.

I am a professional copy writer and hold a degree in Journalism.

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None of these seem to be proper, given that eponym and eponymous are used for people or things that are named after a person. Since the Tower Bridge is not a person, these terms should not be used. (The Tower Bridge is, of course, itself named after the Tower of London, but its name is not an eponym either, since the Tower is not a person.)

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Well, towers aren't often eponymous, so I didn't expect to find any references. Apparently hotels can be, and they're sometimes eponymous to a place rather than a person. –  FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 4:54

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