a word derived from the name of a real, fictional or mythical character or person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named.

Eponyms are one of the most fascinating examples of how the English language gains new words. In this article we take a colourful look at the phenomenon that is the eponym gathering together the stories of the people behind the words that have passed into our everyday vocabulary.


caesarian ~ adjective : an operation by which a fetus is taken from the uterus by cutting through the walls of the abdomen and uterus

Legend suggests, Julius Caesar (100-44BC) was supposedly cur alive from his dead mother’s womb. Except that he wasn’t – his mother Aurelia Cotta lived into her sixties and was his adviser for many decades. The confusion comes from the writer Pliny the Elder, not always the most accurate of historians, who suggested that the family surname came from an ancestor who was caeso – a Latin nickname for someone cut from the womb.

Pliny’s version took hold and, when doctors finally managed to get the operation right about 1,500 years later, it was called after the Caesar. Yet another case of an undeserved eponym.


bikini ~ noun : a very brief, close-fitting, two-piece bathing suit for women or girls

The two-piece swimsuit takes its name from the Pacific atoll in the Marshal! Islands which was rendered uninhabitable for decades due to the 23 nuclear weapons tests that took place there between 1946 and 1958. The islanders were removed and paid compensation but many were contaminated by radioactivity. The bikini was launched a few days after the first test, and the name caught on because the suit had been ‘split like the atom’.


bayonet ~ noun : a daggerlike steel weapon that is attached to or at the muzzle of a gun

The stabbing implement at the end of a rifle takes its name from Bayonne in France which was known for its production of long knives.


armageddon ~ noun : the place where the final battle will be fought between the forces of good and evil

Not a nightmare fantasy, but a real place. This synonym for the end of the world comes from the final battle between the forces of good and evil as predicted by many religions such as Christianity. It comes from Tel Megiddo, a small hill called Megiddo in present-day Israel where many battles were fought in ancient times and the predicted site of Armageddon. Given the violent and apocalyptic nature of the forthcoming Armageddon, one can only feel sorry for the inhabitants of nearby Megiddo, a small kibbutz.