In the software world, we often write software that interfaces with other software. Let's assume I wrote program A, and it interfaces with program B that John wrote. When communicating with John about the interface, I might say something like: "When program A sends message X, you respond with Y". Or even: "When I send message X, you respond with Y".

Obviously, I am not sending these messages, and John is not responding - program A is sending to program B. It's just often easier/less verbose to basically substitute the author in place of their work.

What is this called? I looked at the definition of metonymy, and synecdoche, but neither seems quite right.

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    Metonymy does seem closest to the meaning you're looking for. Perhaps deferred reference?
    – JAB
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:41
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    Another example is the word "Frankenstein" used to describe the monster. grammarist.com/usage/frankensteins-monster In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Doctor Victor Frankenstein creates a monster that turns against him. The monster itself is never named. It’s described variously as “it,” “monster,” “fiend,” and so on. So, strictly speaking, Frankenstein denotes the creator of the monster, and the monster itself should be called Frankenstein’s monster, Frankenstein monster, or some equivalent.
    – Al Maki
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:51
  • @JAB: YES! I think the examples for deferred reference exactly represent what I'm after. Esp. "Yeats is still widely read". I thought this would have a much fancier name, but the definition is perfect. Please add that as an answer. Sorry I missed your comment till now.
    – Gerrat
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 21:58
  • @Gerrat Practically all discussions that describe a computer or program as having actions or intentions are a form of anthropomorphism, but that's independent of the naming scheme that your question is about.
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 22:00
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    @syntonicC hypallage seems to be different. That'd be more like "Program B anxiously awaits a message from Program A."
    – JAB
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 17:05

4 Answers 4


It appears the closest term with the meaning you desire is deferred reference. To quote from Wikipedia:

In natural language, a deferred reference is the metonymic use of an expression to refer to an entity related to the conventional meaning of that expression, but not denoted by it.

As you noted, the "Yeats is still widely read" example is very similar to what you are asking for (as the referent is the poems written by W. B. Yeats but Yeats himself is the direct reference).


They are called Placeholder Names

Placeholder names are words that can refer to objects or people whose names are temporarily forgotten, irrelevant, or unknown in the context in which they are being discussed.

Consider Alice and Bob

Alice and Bob are two commonly used placeholder names. They are used for archetypal characters in fields such as cryptography, game theory and physics.1 The names are used for convenience; for example, "Alice sends a message to Bob encrypted with his public key" is easier to follow than "Party A sends a message to Party B encrypted by Party B's public key." Following the alphabet, the specific names have evolved into common parlance within these fields—helping technical topics to be explained in a more understandable fashion.


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    Interesting. I've used/seen examples like this, but didn't know the term. I'm not quite convinced there isn't a better term though. Placeholder Names are kind of generic, and meaningless; whereas using the specific author in place of their program seems like there should be a more specific literary term that describes it. Maybe if my name was actually Bob, and I was talking to someone actually named Alice.
    – Gerrat
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 17:01
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    @Gerrat A more formal term for TsSkTo's answer is metasyntactic variable, but that's limited in scope and isn't really what you're looking for (but is a cool term to remember!).
    – JAB
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:38
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    This does not fit, because in the OP's case, John actually wrote the piece of software. It's as if someone were talking about the behavior of Windows by saying "Bill Gates opens a menu when you press this key sequence." Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:54


When a thing is named for its creator/discoverer (or anyone else with which it's associated) it's known as eponymy. This is often done via explicit branding, such as Ford automobiles or McDonald's hamburgers. Over time, a brand name becomes so well established that "automobile" or "hamburger" becomes assumed, and "drive a Ford" is sufficient to convey the meaning.

In this case, it's not a conscious branding exercise, so we might need to qualify it as a particular type of eponymy. For that, however, I can't really come up with anything solid, so if anyone else has ideas, please edit this paragraph to specify that it's "_____ eponymy".

  • This too seems close, but I'm not sure if it fits exactly (I'm not sure anything fits exactly though). This term would be appropriate if, for example, Program B that John wrote were so terrible that everyone just referred to writing code like that as: "Writing a John". What If I wanted to interface with another program, Program C, that John wrote. If it wasn't terrible I could no longer talk about "interfacing with John" without people assuming that meant it was some terrible program (and not even necessarily one written by John).
    – Gerrat
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 21:51
  • @Gerrat Henry Ford didn't just create an automobile; arguably his greatest invention was the assembly process itself. But we don't call a factory "a Ford" because only one thing can become eponymous with its creator (at a time -- it's conceivable that some day Ford's interstellar spacecraft will displace the quaint "ground car" for this mindshare). Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 22:00

Eponymous was the first word that came to my mind as well, but I don't think any of the answers so far hit the spot. The question isn't about a machine or task named for its creator (eponymy: example = the Dyson vacuum cleaner), or about a name used as a generic placeholder (placeholder names: example Alice and Bob.).

Its about using the name of the person with agency as the "doer", and treating them as the doer, even though the actual doer is in reality a machine or other entity they have directed to do the action.

Agency, principal, or locus of control come closer to the concept but I can't think of a specific word. Hope this helps though.

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