Can you use namesake when refering to just someone's surname?

Eg If the persons name is David Chaplin, can you say: "unlike his namesake, Chaplin's efforts are nothing to laugh at." ?

  • 2
    That’s not a very logical way of contrasting someone with their namesake. How are you supposed to know which Chaplin you’re talking about? It’s like saying, “Unlike her son, her son was not very well-behaved”. Why not just say, “Unlike his namesake Charlie, David Chaplin’s efforts are nothing to laugh at” (or just “David’s” if you’ve already introduced him in the text and referring to him by first name only is not out of register). Commented May 15, 2014 at 9:45
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I understood the context of Chaplin straight away but your rewording is certainly clearer. Maybe I don't know enough other Chaplins.
    – Frank
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 9:54
  • @JanusBahsJacquet thank you for you advise. Just kidding thanks for the advice. Like Frank said the context of Chaplin in which i intend to use it, will easily be caught. So what im asking is if its grammatically correct in this case. In future, should I use a more obscure name, I will heed your advice.
    – David
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 11:05
  • This is nothing to do with grammar—it’s pure logic and semantics. Commented May 15, 2014 at 11:08
  • Ok I get that, just wanted to make sure. So if i'm reading your sub-text correctly, it's fine to go ahead with? Logical semantics, I think, actually allows for the Chaplin reference to work in this case.
    – David
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 11:23

2 Answers 2


You can if the preceding context makes it entirely clear. For instance:

"David Chaplin must have thought he was funnier than the familiar short man with the big shoes when he performed last night at the Miles o'Smiles comedy club. But unlike those of his namesake, Chaplin's efforts were nothing to laugh at".

However, to avoid completely confusing people who had never heard of Charlie Chaplin, I would probably qualify the reference to the namesake with an adjective or adjectival expression, such as famous, wittier or far better known. This device doesn't explicitly identify Charlie Chaplin, but it does give the reader some inkling of why the comparison is being made.


The term "namesake" generally means that the person was given that name on purpose, in reference to another person. In the case of a surname, unless it is part of a professional, trade, or stage name, I wouldn't assume that the correspondence is intentional and the word "namesake" is somewhat inappropriate.

  • 2
    I checked a few dictionaries, and they define namesake as someone or something that has the same name as another person or thing. Some add esp: one who is named after another or for whom another is named, but it doesn't seem to be a necessary requirement.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 17, 2014 at 10:22
  • Then what would be appropriate? What's the word for a person with the same name for no reason other than a coincidence? Commented Mar 18 at 18:07

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