Do both work?

I could only assume that both are grammatically correct...

As an example:

Let's say that there is a word that derives from a name, such as "sandwich" which was coined from a name of somebody.

But let's say that we want to ask the name of the person that it came from.

We would ask:
"Where does it come from?"

but I feel like that the phrase:
"What does it come from?"

is applicable and even more plausible when asking for the origins of words, as some might not have come from names or places.

  • Where is the interrogative for place; what is the interrogative for nature. Where makes you think you can swap the two in this scenario?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 17:48
  • Yes, but let's say the scenario is that a word is coined from a name. (For this example let's say "Sandwich")
    – Jason Lee
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 17:50
  • Then we could ask "Where does it come from?" and maybe also "What does it come from?" because it's not from a place, but a name.
    – Jason Lee
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 17:51
  • What I'm saying is both questions are grammatical and sensible, but are asking very different things. Do you want to know about place (which applies in the abstract as much as it does in the concrete) or about nature? Please edit your question to include several complete examples of the kinds of questions you want to ask?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 17:52
  • If you see a kid with four hands and two heads walking in the streets, you can say "what does it come from" in which case you are questioning what his parents are rather than ask "where does it come from" which enquires about his home, whether it is on this planet or not is an entirely different question.
    – vickyace
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 17:55

2 Answers 2


In this case, if you know that it is named after a person you should use 'who is it named after?'. If you don't know 'where' is better than 'what', as 'where' is a place, and the use of 'coming from' fits with a 'place' (set of circumstances) from where the idea has come. If you want to use 'what', try 'what caused it to be called a sandwich?'.


SANDWICH: as an example of words named for people.

Where does it come from? Originally from England.

Who was it named after? It was named after the Earl of Sandwich.

Where does the name Brazil come from? It comes from the name of a type of wood. It was named after Brazil wood.

Where does the name America come from? It comes from Amerigo Vespucci.

It was named after him.

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