I believe it's a common practice in some communities to name children after their grandparents or parents or relatives and sometimes even friends and popular people. Places, roads, streets etc., get named after famous people, too. Many inventions and discoveries have been named after people who invented or discovered them.

But I am not yet aware of a term that refers to the person whose name is given to people, places or objects this way. Is there a suitable word to fill in the blank below?

They named their son after the famous football player, David Beckham.

David Beckham is .......... of their son.

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  • Why the down vote?
    – Kris
    Jan 12, 2013 at 12:26
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    @Kris I wondered that. Perhaps it wouldn't have happened if "David Beckham" had been "King David I of Scotland".
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 12, 2013 at 12:30
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    The perfectly good (for AmE) answer namesake is being downvoted as well. Maybe people are feeling mean today. Jan 12, 2013 at 12:45
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    @PeterShor Every eponym is a namesake; every namesake is not an eponym.
    – Kris
    Jan 12, 2013 at 12:54

5 Answers 5


OED has this for eponym:

1.a. One who gives, or is supposed to give, his name to a people, place, or institution; e.g. among the Greeks, the heroes who were looked upon as ancestors or founders of tribes or cities.

and this for protonym:

The first person or thing of a certain name; something from which another person or thing takes its name.

The distinction appears to be that with eponym, the later thing takes its name from a direct relationship with the earlier thing; whereas with protonym the second thing has simply been given the same name as the first.

Wikipedia gives an example:

A synonym of eponym is namegiver (not to be confused with namesake.) Someone who (or something that) is referred to with the adjective eponymous is the eponym of something. An example is: "Léon Theremin, the eponymous inventor of the theremin."

OED has this:

1880 Scribner's Monthly Mar. 667/2: "The wrecked canal-boat, the Evening Star,..quenched in the twilight, with its heavenly protonym palpitating in the vapor above it."

The instrument called the theremin takes its name from its eponymous ("name-giving") inventor; whereas the boat Evening Star was simply given the existing name of an unrelated thing.

In the question, David Beckham is the protonym of the child.

In British English, the word namesake is a "bi-directional" relation: David Beckham and the child are namesakes. It appears from the Wikipedia entry that in American English namesake can mean protonym as well, and imply a uni-directional relationship.


"David Beckham is the namesake of their son."

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    But namesake refers to anyone with the same name. Right?
    – user32480
    Jan 12, 2013 at 12:32
  • Apparently namesake is sometimes used in this way in American English. In BrE it does mean "anyone with the same name". See Kris's comment on the question, which should really be an answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 12, 2013 at 12:35
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    At least namesake should be bidirectional - we need a one way relation, right?
    – Kris
    Jan 12, 2013 at 12:35
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    +1: Why the downvotes? Why should there be a unidirectional word? In American English, namesake is often used for this (much more often than eponym is), and it's very rare that there's any confusion about which direction is meant. See Merriam-Webster. And anyway, there is a unidirectional word: eponym, which @Kris should post as an answer. Jan 12, 2013 at 12:40
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    Well, in the David Beckham example, it's pretty clear. With context, I don't see how it wouldn't be clear. Frankly, I'm surprised it's receiving so much criticism. As an American, it comes quite naturally to me. I'm learning, though, that it's not. That said, I like eponym real well, but I think the sentence "David Beckham is the eponym of their son" sounds a little clunky.
    – tylerharms
    Jan 12, 2013 at 12:59

After 5 decades of speaking American English I'd have to say that "namesake" is the only natural and perfectly correct choice when the referents are all people. But given how widespread its casual use to indicate nothing more than same-namedness is, the connotation "the person someone is named after" is only understood through context. And easily so. Yet it remains fair to say the language simply lacks a word with the specificity I believe the questioner was after.


Namesake is ancestry, not accident. Some random person with same two names as me is just that, but Facebook and Gmail have collapsed the world of names. I propose the two neologisms for a stackexchange vote:

nompelganger or homynamer

  • Welcome to ELL. I don't think you have really answered the question that was being asked. Have a look around and see how questions are answered and how we like to include evidence in our answers which show that it is not just a personal opinion.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 4, 2017 at 16:06

I believe the correct answer is a French language term I came across years ago, the meaning of which is "the one whom I am named after." I don't remember the word, unfortunately, but it was along the lines of "auber....auberjonior"? Something like that. Similar to the name of actor Rene Auberjonios.