As a Brit, I'm used to the phrase named after being used to say how something got its name. For example, in Wikipedia's List of eponymous roads in London, we read that Addison Road is named after the English essayist, poet, playwright and politician Joseph Addision(1672–1719). But sometimes I hear or read named for, where it's clear from the context that the intent is the same. It seems to me that this latter usage is exclusively American. Is this so? And in what sense is for being used here?
I've seen both 'named for' and 'named after' being used in many different cases:
- Chicago was named for Chickagou/Cheekwaag, a Native American.
- Chicago was named after Chickagou/Cheekwaag, a Native American.
Both are correct and interchangeable.
But let's look at some more examples:
- She was named after her mother.
- She was named for her mother
The first rightly means 'in honor of' while the second one, I suppose, is close to 'derives from' or 'on behalf of' and sounds odd.
- The Red River Park was named for its rivers that are red.
- The Red River Park was named after its rivers that are red.
The first sentence here means 'because of'. The second still has the meaning 'in honor of'.
My guess would be that 'named for' has more to do with things and combination of things while "named after' has more to do with living creatures and people. Yet, I have to admit that in most cases both are correct and possible.
There's a slightly different meaning when we use prepositions in these examples:
- Would you name the restaurant for me?
- Would you name the restaurant after me?
Consider the first to be a request - I ask another person to find the right name for the restaurant because I don't know what name to use. The second clearly states that I want the restaurant to have my name on it.
From Oxford Dictionary of English
■ (name someone/thing after or (N. Amer.) also for) call someone or something by the same name as: Nathaniel was named after his maternal grandfather.
Oxford certainly seems to think that named for is American in usage.
Which I guess is in the following sense:
- representing (the thing mentioned):
Clearly "named after" means something along the lines of "These drawings are by Smith after those of Jones" where the "after" meaning "following as a consequence", so understood to mean "in honour of". The American "named for" is clearly in the sense that I do something "for" you, ie as a gift, so if I named something after someone, it would be as a gift "for" them, so it was named "for" them, ie the act of naming was "for" them. They are apparently now eqivalent, but symantically, they would presumably have been different.
I would venture the following explanation. (Whether it is true or not I have no idea.)
Named for refers to something other than a person. A French person named Fete Nat is named for the Fete Nationale (14th of July - what English speakers call Bastille Day). A person called Mississippi John Hurt was named for the State of Mississippi (no, Mississippi was not really part of his official name, as far as I know).
In all such cases, I think it is also appropriate to say named after (or named after the...).
Named after can refer to a non-person or to a person. Martin Luther King was named after Martin Luther. George Washington Carver was named after George Washington. They were not named for those people.
Those examples speak to how people are named. As for how things are named, I'm not sure but I think the same descriptions apply. The Brooklyn Bridge is named for Brooklyn and named after Brooklyn. The State of Washington is named after George Washington (not named for him).
(Again, this is my personal impression, as one American. It is not a reference.)