Names of exceptional people are sometimes used colloquially to describe other people. The most prominent example is referring to someone ironically as "Einstein" or "an Einstein," to insult that person's intelligence by comparison. One may call someone "Picasso," to insinuate something about the listener's artistic ability, or "Casanova," to describe their charisma. Is there a term for this type of colloquialism?

In my own research, I have read accounts about the use of "Einstein," but hardly anything outside that example. Others have referred to this kind of phrase simply as a "colloquialism" or "idiom," but I'm wondering if there is a more specific term for it, especially given its functional resemblance to more particular concepts like metonymy.


2 Answers 2


It is called antonomasia.

(SOED) antonomasia The use of a proper name to express a general idea (e.g. A Solomon for 'a wise man')

  • Spot on perfect. I withdraw my own attempt at an answer.
    – Anton
    Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 22:03



  • a person, real or imaginary, from whom a place or thing takes or is said to take its name:
    Brut, the supposed grandson of Aeneas, is the eponym of the Britons.
  • a word based on or derived from a person's name.

Eponyms in the Making?

Every now and then, a prominent person achieves so much notoriety that his or her name enters the language as an eponym. Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry gave us gerrymander, after carving a salamander-shaped electoral district that favored his party in 1812. Major Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian officer who collaborated with the Germans during World War II, so quisling came to mean "a traitor to one's country." And when Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court was quashed in 1987, it was said that he got Borked by his opponents.

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