English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I believe it's a common practice in some communities to name children after their grandparents or parents or relatives and sometimes even friends and popular people. Places, roads, streets etc., get named after famous people, too. Many inventions and discoveries have been named after people who invented or discovered them.

But I am not yet aware of a term that refers to the person whose name is given to people, places or objects this way. Is there a suitable word to fill in the blank below?

They named their son after the famous football player, David Beckham.

David Beckham is .......... of their son.

share|improve this question
Why the down vote? – Kris Jan 12 '13 at 12:26
@Kris I wondered that. Perhaps it wouldn't have happened if "David Beckham" had been "King David I of Scotland". – Andrew Leach Jan 12 '13 at 12:30
The perfectly good (for AmE) answer namesake is being downvoted as well. Maybe people are feeling mean today. – Peter Shor Jan 12 '13 at 12:45
@PeterShor Every eponym is a namesake; every namesake is not an eponym. – Kris Jan 12 '13 at 12:54
up vote 2 down vote accepted

OED has this for eponym:

1.a. One who gives, or is supposed to give, his name to a people, place, or institution; e.g. among the Greeks, the heroes who were looked upon as ancestors or founders of tribes or cities.

and this for protonym:

The first person or thing of a certain name; something from which another person or thing takes its name.

The distinction appears to be that with eponym, the later thing takes its name from a direct relationship with the earlier thing; whereas with protonym the second thing has simply been given the same name as the first.

Wikipedia gives an example:

A synonym of eponym is namegiver (not to be confused with namesake.) Someone who (or something that) is referred to with the adjective eponymous is the eponym of something. An example is: "Léon Theremin, the eponymous inventor of the theremin."

OED has this:

1880 Scribner's Monthly Mar. 667/2: "The wrecked canal-boat, the Evening Star,..quenched in the twilight, with its heavenly protonym palpitating in the vapor above it."

The instrument called the theremin takes its name from its eponymous ("name-giving") inventor; whereas the boat Evening Star was simply given the existing name of an unrelated thing.

In the question, David Beckham is the protonym of the child.

In British English, the word namesake is a "bi-directional" relation: David Beckham and the child are namesakes. It appears from the Wikipedia entry that in American English namesake can mean protonym as well, and imply a uni-directional relationship.

share|improve this answer

"David Beckham is the namesake of their son."

share|improve this answer
But namesake refers to anyone with the same name. Right? – user32480 Jan 12 '13 at 12:32
Apparently namesake is sometimes used in this way in American English. In BrE it does mean "anyone with the same name". See Kris's comment on the question, which should really be an answer. – Andrew Leach Jan 12 '13 at 12:35
At least namesake should be bidirectional - we need a one way relation, right? – Kris Jan 12 '13 at 12:35
+1: Why the downvotes? Why should there be a unidirectional word? In American English, namesake is often used for this (much more often than eponym is), and it's very rare that there's any confusion about which direction is meant. See Merriam-Webster. And anyway, there is a unidirectional word: eponym, which @Kris should post as an answer. – Peter Shor Jan 12 '13 at 12:40
Well, in the David Beckham example, it's pretty clear. With context, I don't see how it wouldn't be clear. Frankly, I'm surprised it's receiving so much criticism. As an American, it comes quite naturally to me. I'm learning, though, that it's not. That said, I like eponym real well, but I think the sentence "David Beckham is the eponym of their son" sounds a little clunky. – tylerharms Jan 12 '13 at 12:59

After 5 decades of speaking American English I'd have to say that "namesake" is the only natural and perfectly correct choice when the referents are all people. But given how widespread its casual use to indicate nothing more than same-namedness is, the connotation "the person someone is named after" is only understood through context. And easily so. Yet it remains fair to say the language simply lacks a word with the specificity I believe the questioner was after.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.