Stories of 16 men whose names are now in the Oxford English Dictionary

Written by: Avinash Subramaniam



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Very often we come across names that captivate us due to their historical significance, cultural impact and remarkable achievements. These names become more than just mere identifiers; they embody the essence of their time and often leave an incredible mark in history. A big part of what makes our jobs interesting is coming across unique names, learning about their historical significance and the fun stories they tell. We love to extensively research for our products and that has helped us become India’s most accomplished maker of name plates

In this article of our Naming Matters series, we are exploring an interesting area. We are discussing eponyms. These are words that often enter the dictionary when a person's name is associated with a particular concept, product or invention. Eponyms reflect how an individual's contribution can extend beyond their lifetime influencing language for generations that follow.

Let us take a look at stories of such folks whose names have now found their way to the English dictionary.

1. Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi

Did you know that the word Algorithm comes from the name Al-Khwarizmi, pronounced in classical Arabic as Al-Khwarithmi. Al-Khwarizmi (c. 780-850) was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, geographer and a scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

2. Earl of Sandwich

Did you know that the sandwich is called after the Earl of Sandwich (1718-92) who was such a compulsive gambler that he would not leave the gaming tables to eat, but had some cold beef between two slices of bread brought to him.

3. Jagannath

Did you know that the word Juggernaut comes from the name Jagannath.

Jagannath is a form of Vishnu particularly worshipped at the Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha where during Rath Yatra festival thousands of devotees pull temple carts some 14m (45 feet) tall, weighing hundreds of tons through the streets.

Early European visitors witnessed these festivals and returned with- possibly apocryphal-reports of religious fanatics committing suicide by throwing themselves under the wheels of the carts. So the word became a metaphor for something immense and unstoppable because of institutional or physical inertia; or impending catastrophe that is foreseeable yet virtually unavoidable because of such inertia

4. Guy Fawkes

Guy: A word with notorious beginnings, 'guy' meant "grotesquely or poorly dressed person," referencing the effigies of Guy Fawkes, leader of the Gunpowder Plot (1605) to blow up British king and Parliament, but has today come to mean simply a 'Man.'

On second thoughts, no. Nowadays, even girls are referred to as 'guys.' Right, guys?

5. Giuseppe Garibaldi

Did you know that garibaldi, a type of biscuit with a layer of currants in it, is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), an Italian soldier patriot who is said to have enjoyed such biscuits. Sweet.

6. Hassan-i-Sabah

Hassan-i Sabbah (1050s-1124) was a Nizārī Ismā'īlī missionary who converted a community in the late 11th century in the heart of the Alborz Mountains of northern Persia. He founded a group of fedayeen whose members are referred to as the Hashshashin.

It is believed that the word assassin was derived from the Hashshashin.

7. Earl of Cardigan

The good old cardigan, a knitted jacket fastened with buttons, is named after the good old Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868) who was fond of wearing such a garment and was the British cavalry officer who led the unsuccessful Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War (1854). Cool!

8. Jules Leotard

The leotard, a one-piece, close-fitting garment worn by acrobats and dancers, is named after the French acrobat, Jules Leotard (1842-70), who introduced the costume as a circus garment.

9. John Mercer

In the England of 1844 we have an instance of a man's name that turned into a useful trade term.

An English dyer and calico printer, John Mercer, discovered a way to treat cotton fabric so that it became stronger, took the dyes better and received a high luster to boot. And so it was that John Mercer gave his name to the word mercerize that all women will recognize.

10. Samuel A. Maverick

Maverick, noun, someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action like a rebel, recusant, non-conformist.

The word maverick has originated from the name of a 19th century American cattleman, Samuel Augustus Maverick.

He took up cattle ranching in Texas, where cattle grazed on the open range and there were no fences to separate herds. Tp prevent disputes, owners branded their cattle. Maverick, however, left his cattle unbranded - giving the impression of the cattle being master-less.

With the passage of time the word Maverick came to be used for politicians who were not affiliated to any political party. A Massachussetts politician declared in 1905, "I am running as a maverick. I have no man's brand upon me."

Thus slowly and gradually the word Maverick got synonymous with a person who exhibits great independence in thought and action.

11. Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814) was a French physician who proposed on 10 Oct 1789 the use of a device to carry out death penalties in France, as a less painful method of execution. While he did not invent the guillotine, and in fact opposed the death penalty, his name became an eponym for it. The actual inventor of the prototype was Antoine Louis.

12. Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott

Perhaps the first victim of this practice, at least in an organized way, was a Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott.

The captain was land agent for the estates of the Earl of Erne in County Mayo, Ireland. When the captain raised the rents around the autumn of 1880 the tenants turned on him, under the sponsorship of the Irish Land League. Local shops would sell him nothing, organized marauders destroyed his property and blocked his mail and food supplies, and in the end the captain was glad to flee to England with his life.

The occasion was front page news, and the word boycott immediately became a part of English language.

13. Jean Nicot

Jean Nicot was apparently a man of many parts. He wrote articles on the subject of philology and published a lexicon of the French language. But even so he would have been amazed if he had known that late his name was to become an important entry in the dictionaries of the future.

Monsieur Nicot, in addition to his other qualities, was a skilled diplomat, and while he was serving as ambassador to Lisbon he bought some seeds of a strange plant that had come over from the new country, America.

In this fashion he introduced tobacco to France. Therefore, his own name, Nicot, was finally used as the basis of nicotine, the poisonous drug in tobacco.

14. Edward “Grog” Vernon

When a prize fighter is groggy he is literally punch-drunk. "Grog" was a not too affectionate nickname that the sailors gave to the British admiral Edward Vernon because he wore an impressive cloak of grogram (a type of fabric that's a mix of silk and wool).

Around 1740 the admiral issued unpopular orders that the sailors' rum should be diluted with water. So, from then on, the rum was called grog, and should we ever be groggy we are etymologically drunk.

15. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Masochism  is a strange type of sexual perversion where a person gets pleasure out of being dominated or even cruelly treated by someone of the opposite sex.

The words masochism and masochist were taken from the name of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian novelist who described this abnormality, and the terms were probably first used professionally by the contemporary and and famous pre-Freudian psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing.

Now, masochism can be used to mean any kind of pleasure in being abused.

16. Marquis de Sade

The term sadism is named for Count Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, better known as Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), who was a sexual degenerate of the type that gains the most complete satisfaction by inflicting pain on the loved one.

His notorious crimes in this direction and his pornographic writings on the subject gave a name of this sort of perversion which doubtless existed without a name for thousands of years.

The word sadist is now often used without sex implications to identify anyone who takes pleasure in inflicting mental of physical pain on others.