Inheritance of a proper name or secret relations between common nouns and human appellations.

Even though many of us claim that the tradition of giving to a newborn child the name of its father or another family member is a practice from the Stone Age and nowadays it is mainly a domain of royal families or snobby nouveau riches, it is still alive in some cultures. Many Irish families keep it and give to the first and second son the name of his grandpas, to the third- name of his father, to the next names of his dad’s brothers. There is the same story with daughters: the name of her grandma…

On the other hand, we can treat this phenomenon as an attempt to preserve in memory those family members who passed away and to give them a kind of new life, even if sometimes it can be troublesome (for example, when we are looking for Steve, but we do not know which one of the three owners of this name is the right one). To sum up, we know that it is possible to name a child after somebody else and the motives are usually clear.

When a student in linguistics starts his exploration of the subject, suddenly he realizes that it is possible to find the traces of proper names almost at every step. Firstly, they are often a part of another type of proper name, mainly in the case of locations which commemorate a monarch, a powerful patron or an inventor:

name of monarch/ head of state

buildings/ constuctions
Alexanderplatz Alexander I, the emperor of Russia
Windsor Castle House of Windsor
Sigismund’s Column Sigismund Vasa, the king of Poland
Lenin’s Mausoleum Lenin, the USRR’s leader
cities/ islands/ rivers/ lakes etc.
Stalingrad Stalin, the USRR’s leader
Kraków (Cracov) Krak (the legendary Polish king)
Lake Victoria Victoria, the queen of England
Caroline Islands Charles II, the king of Spain

name of the inventor / constructor/ explorer

buildings/ constructions
Eiffel Tower Gustave Eiffel, a French architect
Smeaton’s Tower John Smeaton, an English engineer
cities/ islands/ rivers/ lakes etc.
America Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer
the Strzelecki Ranges Paul Edmund Strzelecki, a Polish explorer
the Bering Strait Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer


Smeaton's Tower
Smeaton’s Tower, Plymouth, UK


More examples are beginning to come to your mind? If not, opening a cookbook (or a fridge) will be enough to find them:


food/ drink source name
Béchamel sauce Louis de Béchamel, the maître d’Hotel of Louis XIV
Bellini (cocktail) Giovanni Bellini, an Italian Renaissance painter
Bismarck herring/ Bismarcks Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of the German Empire
Graham crackers, Graham flour Sylvester Graham, the American minister, proponent of vegetarianism
Pizza Margherita Queen Margherita of Savoy
Sachertorte Franz Sacher, an Austrian confectioner
Rogale marcińskie (St Martin Croissants) St Martin
Rosquillas de Santa Clara (St Claire doughnuts) St Clare


Of course, if you invent by chance a new recipe which will let you make a fortune, it is highly probable that the grateful society will name it after you. If you are less successful, you can of course call it like this for your personal use. But, first of all, you have to make a decision if you want just to join your name or surname to a common noun or you want your personal data to replace a generic term. Have you ever eaten clementines? So, this is the point.


common name source name
clementine (a fruit) Père Clément Rodier, a French monk
McIntosh (an apple) John McIntosh (1777–1846), an American-Canadian farmer
napoleon (a cake) Napoleon, the emperor of France
nachos Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a worker of a restaurant
pastilles (sweet or medical pill) Giovanni Pastilla, an Italian confectioner
pavlova (a dessert) Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballerina





In the above-mentioned case, it is quite difficult to find a link with the noun and its origin. Therefore, we are passing to the higher level of study (: It is not a secret that a surname sometimes becomes the brand name… We all know that every time we talk about our cars we give honour to Henry Ford or the daughter of an Austrian automobile entrepreneur (Mercedes) but how to deal with the reverse mechanism?

Fre. ‘un bic’ (= Eng. ‘a pen’) ← BIC, French writing materials producer
Fre. ‘un opinel’ (= Eng. ‘a pocket knife’) ← Opinel, French knifes’ manufacture
Fre. ‘du sopalin’ (= Eng. ‘paper towel’) ← Sopalin, French brand of paper towels

It is just a tip of the iceberg, as in the rich world of words you can find also the names simply used as common nouns…

Charles Boycott → a boycott
Vidkun Quisling → a quisling
John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich → a sandwich
James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan → a cardigan

…as so as their derivatives:

Luis Pasteur → pasteurisation
Nicolas Chauvin → chauvinism
Karl Marx → marxism

While completely unaware young students learn by heart the periodic table and plenty of abbreviation used in physics, without knowing who were Rutherford, Amper, Tesla or Pascal…

To sum up, if you do not want your name to disappear after your death and your contribution in the development of the civilization is uncertain, you should name your child after you or ask somebody else to do it 🙂


by Karolina Dabek


If you like this article, please, read also Elena Ferrante’s case


3 thoughts on “Inheritance of a proper name or secret relations between common nouns and human appellations.

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