Names you’ve known all along: 9 famous eponyms

Names you’ve known all along: 9 famous eponyms

1. Pompadour

Having a hairstyle named after you is one thing, but when people are still wearing it 200 years later, you must’ve made a splash. The pompadour is a hairstyle in which the front hair is wrapped over a pad or puffed up to heighten it. It was first worn by Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the Marquise de Pompadour, and mistress to King Louis XV of France. After Poisson popularized the style in the middle 1700s, it was adopted in the 1890s by the Gibson Girl craze, only to resurface in the 1950s with Elvis Presley’s famous poof.

2. Sandwich

This star of lunches worldwide, this delicious fare is the work of John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, England. Montagu was apparently an avid gambler, and his favorite meal while at the card table was cold meat between two pieces of bread. This allowed him to play as long as he liked without having to leave for a full meal, and the bread prevented him from getting grease on the cards. Rumor has it that the other card players saw this and said, “I’ll have the same as Sandwich!”

3. Mesmerize

An eponym is a word derived from a person’s name, but you have to do something pretty special for your name to become a verb. To mesmerize is “to hypnotize,” named for Franz Anton Mesmer, a German physician of the late 1700s. Mesmer was famous for his theory of animal magnetism or the flow of spiritual energy between physical beings. Animal magnetism was initially the centerpiece of Mesmerism, Mesmer’s field of hypnosis, but in today’s vernacular a person can be “mesmerized” by a painting or a dog as easily as a hypnotic session.

4. Arnold Palmer

Named for the professional golfer and activist Arnold Palmer, this iced drink combines sweet iced tea and lemonade. Though Palmer attests to making the drink at home for much of his life, it didn’t catch on until he ordered it at a restaurant in Palm Springs, California, in the late 1960s. Unlike the rest of our namesakes, Arnold Palmer is alive. So there’s still a chance that you may run into this golf legend in a fateful restaurant and ask yourself the question of lucky diners worldwide: “Is he going to order it?”

5. Gerrymander

To gerrymander is to divide a state or county into electoral districts so as to skew the concentration of votes and give one political party an advantage. This is an example of the other side of eponym coinage: doing something so infamous that your name becomes a verb. The term is named for Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. In 1812 Gerry reshaped one of his voting districts in the shape of a salamander as a political scheme, so this eponym is also a portmanteau: Gerry + salamander = Gerrymander.

6. Silhouette

A traditional silhouette is an outline drawing, or a profile portrait cut from black paper. The word arose in the late 1700s when Etienne de Silhouette, a French minister of finance, imposed high taxes on the French upper classes during the Seven Years War. Because painted portraits were too pricey and photography hadn’t been invented yet, these profile cut outs were an inexpensive way to immortalize a face. At the time, Silhouette’s name was synonymous with anything made cheaply, but for these paper portraits the name stuck to this day.

7. Leotard

“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying trapeze.” If you’ve ever found yourself singing this catchy nineteenth century song, then you already know something about Jules Leotard. Leotard was a revolutionary French acrobat who developed the art of trapeze in the late 1800s. He often performed in a skin-tight one-piece body suit that now bears his name, the leotard.

8. Diesel

If you’ve ever driven a truck or a European car then you owe a thank you to Rudolf Diesel. Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel was a German mechanical engineer, active at the turn of the nineteenth century. Diesel was the father of the diesel engine and one of the earliest advocates for fuel efficiency. While typical gasoline engines have a fuel efficiency rate of 30 percent, diesel engines are over 45 percent efficient. In today’s vernacular “diesel” can refer to a type of engine or the gasoline that engine takes, and recently the word has been adopted into slang to mean “good” or “cool.”

9. Victorian

One of the many luxuries of being a queen is that everything that happens during your rule is named after you. Queen Victoria reigned over the United Kingdom from the time she was 18 in 1837 until her death in 1901. In that time the British Isles saw developments in architecture, literature, philosophy, technology and fashion: all of which were named for the queen in power. To this day you can read a Victorian novel (anything by Charles Dickens, George Eliot or the Bronte sisters) in your Victorian house, wearing a Victorian top hat, in Victoria, Australia.

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