FASCINATING FACTS: 25 Interesting Words Derived from Historical People’s Names

English is a language that is rich in eponyms, words that are derived from the names of people who are fictional, mythical or real. These words could represent philosophies, adjectives, discoveries, inventions, places, objects, etc. and the people they were named after often have interesting stories. Here are 25 such great words derived from names of people whose stories are so peculiar and significant that they left a long-lasting impression on the world.

1. Bluetooth

A wireless technology used to connect devices. Named after the King of Denmark and Norway, Harald Bluetooth, who united clashing Danish tribes into one kingdom in the 10th century.

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In 1997, the idea of using the name of the king of Denmark was proposed by Jim Kardach who developed a system that allowed mobile phones to communicate with computers. He was reading a book called The Long Ships, by Frans G. Bengtsson, which is a historical fiction about the Vikings and King Harald Bluetooth, and got the idea that Bluetooth technology does just what the king did, unite the communication protocols into one universal standard. The logo for Bluetooth is a merging of two Nordic runes that are actually Harald’s initials.(source)

2. Bowdlerize

To remove material considered improper or offensive, but often making the source less effective. Named after Thomas Bowdler who published an “appropriate” version of Shakespeare meant for women and children.

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The Bowdler’s The Family Shakspeare was first published in 1807 and contained 24 of the plays with the censorship done by his sister Harriet. The spelling “Shaksspeare”, that was used by Bowdler, was changed in the later editions during the mid 19-century to “Shakespeare”. Though these censored editions were criticized for being a negative example, Bowdler’s editions made it easier for Shakespeare to be taught to wider and younger audience.(source)

3. Sideburns

Part of facial hair grown on either side of the face as a continuation of the hairline but shaved over the chin. Derived from the last name of Ambrose Burnside, an American soldier, inventor, and industrialist, who wore such a style of facial hair.

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Ambrose Burnside was popular both in army and politics, and he maintained his relationships by remembering everyone’s name and smiling a lot. However, he was not that popular when it came to military and was thought not suitable intellectually and emotionally to take up high command. He was also noted for his unusual facial hair which continued from his hairline and joined his mustache, but with the chin clean-shaven.(source)

4. Chauvinism

To show excessive fanaticism or partiality towards a group while being prejudiced or hostile against another one. Named after a French soldier, Nicolas Chauvin, who was a fanatic and blindly devoted Bonapartist.

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According to the legend, Chauvin was badly wounded in the Napoleonic wars and received a meager pension to live on. After Napoleon’s abdication, he stayed blindly devoted to his cause despite the unpopularity of Bonapartism during Bourbon Restoration of France. This extreme devotion by him, in spite of neglect by his faction and harassment by its enemies, started the use of this word. Since then, the term chauvinism evolved to mean fanatical devotion towards a group and hostility against others, and in contemporary English to mean a stance that people of one gender are better than those who belong to the opposite gender.(source)

5. Casanova

Someone with a passion for women and has many lovers. Named after Giacomo Casanova, who was famous for his complicated affairs with women.

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Casanova is perhaps the most famous and easily recognized eponym. Giacomo Casanova, who is an Italian adventurer and writer, often writing under many fictitious names. His memoir, Histoire de ma vie (Story of My Life), is considered as one of the best sources of the 18th-century European social life. One of the topics he discusses in his memoirs is his adventures with as many as 120 women and girls, and there are vague mentions of male lovers as well.(source)

6. Draconian

Laws and rules that are very harsh and severe. Named after Draco, a democratic Athenian legislator from 7th century BC, who made harsh laws that the citizens were not even aware.

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Ironically enough, Draco was the first democratic legislator of Athens, whom the Athenian citizens wanted to be the lawgiver. He replaced the existing oral law and blood feud, and the laws he laid down came to become the first written constitution of Athens. His laws imposed slavery on debtors with a status lower than that of creditors and death penalty on minor offenses such as stealing cabbages. Plutarch says “Draco said that these lesser crimes deserved the death penalty and he had no greater punishment for more important ones.”(source)

7. Guillotine

A beheading machine with a huge blade that slides vertically. Named after Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a French physician, who proposed its use for a quick and painless execution.

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Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a French physician, politician, and freemason. Guillotin was always opposed to giving death penalty as a punishment and proposed the use of a simple mechanism to decapitate the criminal. Decapitation was usually reserved for nobility using an ax or sword, while the common people were hanged. Guillotin hoped that establishing a fair system where the only capital punishment was done by mechanical decapitation, thus, it would help the public appreciate their rights, and also hoped that such a penalty would one day be abolished. He tried to make the executions more private as well. The actual inventor of the guillotine, however, was not him, but another man named Antonie Louis.(source)

8. Leotard

A stretchy one-piece garment worn by gymnasts, figure skaters, circus performers, and other such artists. Named after  Jules Léotard, a French acrobat who popularized it.

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A French acrobat and aerialist developed the art of trapeze. He was the son of a gymnastics instructor and was meant to become a legal professional after passing his law exams. But he began to start experimenting with trapeze bars at the age of 18 and later joined the Cirque Napoleon. He invented the one-piece knitted garment, which he actually called maillot, to suit the safety and agility concerns of the artists.(12)

9. Luddite

Someone who is opposed to industrialization and new technologies for fear of losing their jobs. Named after Ned Ludd who allegedly destroyed two stocking knitting machines, thus becoming a symbol for others.

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The Luddite movement started during the harsh economic climate of Napoleonic wars when the working conditions in textile factories became difficult. The Luddites mostly objected the increased automation of textile industry which threatened their jobs. It also threatened the livelihoods of skilled workers as it allowed the owners to hire less skilled people for the work at cheaper wages. The movement began on March 11, 1811, when handloom weavers burned mills and factory machinery, and textile workers destroyed the industrial equipment. The name Luddite has uncertain origins with a popular belief that the movement started with Nedd Ludd, whose name evolved into General Ludd or King Ludd, and was thought to live in Sherwood Forest like Robin Hood.(source)

10. Lynching

Execution of an alleged offender by a mob or a group without a legal trial. Named after Charles Lynch, an American Revolutionary and Virginia planter, who incarcerated loyalist supporters of the British even when he didn’t have proper jurisdiction.

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During the American Revolution, a Virginia Quaker named Charles Lynch headed a county court that imprisoned British loyalists for up to one year. He claimed that this was war necessity even though he had no proper jurisdiction. He was even able to persuade the Congress of the Confederation to exonerate him and his associates. This, however, gave rise to a controversy and the term “Lynch law”, which came to mean punishment without a trial, even though no execution was ever performed.(source)

11. McCarthyism

The practice of making unfair accusations or allegations of treason without proper evidence. Named after Republican US Senator Joseph McCarthy, the term was used as a criticism of his anti-communist actions.

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The term “McCarthyism” had originated during a period known as the Second Red Scare which lasted between 1950 and 1956. It was a time when there was an increased political repression of supposed communists and a campaign spreading fear among Americans. There were also allegations of them being spies and Soviet agents. McCarthyism was also encouraged by many conservative politicians who opposed child labor laws and women’s suffrage, claiming them to be communist plots.(source)

12. Machiavellian

Machiavellian refers to someone who uses cunning and deceit, and who is cynical about morality and expedient. Named after Niccolò Machiavelli who described such a behavior to be normal in politics in his famous work The Prince.

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After the publication of The Prince, Machiavellianism was seen as something corrupting northern Europe politics during the 16th century. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572 in France was also thought to be a product of Machiavellianism. Though Machiavelli’s writings weren’t published in France before the massacre, the concept was seized by contemporaries and the term eventually came to have its current meaning.(source)

13. Masochism

Deriving pleasure from undergoing something painful, humiliating, sexual or otherwise. Named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch who wrote a novel called Venus in Furs expressing his fantasies about dominant women wearing fur.

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Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was an Austrian writer and journalist known for his romantic stories of Galician life and utopian ideals involving socialism and humanism both in his fiction and non-fiction stories. He studied law, history, and mathematics at Graz University. He also worked against antisemitism and edited a progressive monthly magazine aimed at tolerance and integration of Jews in Saxony. Venus in Furs was published as a part of the series Legacy of Cain. The term “masochism” was coined by an Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing who wrote that Sacher-Masoch was afflicted with sexual anomaly and that it was showed in his writings – an assertion that did not please Sacher-Masoch.(source)

14. Mirandize

To read the Miranda rights to a suspect when being arrested. Named after Ernesto Miranda whose conviction for kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery was invalidated because he wasn’t informed of his right to remain silent.

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In 1966, during the trial of Miranda v. Arizona, Supreme Court found that the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of Ernesto Miranda were violated. However, Miranda was later retried and convicted. The Supreme Court didn’t specify the exact words to be used when informing suspects of their rights but created a set of guidelines that must be followed. The ruling states that the suspect must be informed of their right to remain silent, that anything the person says will be used against them in court, that they have the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during investigation, and that if they cannot afford one then they will be provided one at no cost.(source)

15. Platonic

Refers to an asexual love between two people of different gender. Named after the Greek philosopher Plato who described the asexual love within same-gender relationships, which evolved during Renaissance to get its contemporary meaning.

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In a philosophical text called Symposium, Plato explains the possibilities of how love evolved, both sexually and non-sexually. Two types of love were described in the text, earthly love, which is material desire and attraction towards someone, and divine love, which starts from physical attraction and transcends to love for Supreme Beauty. In other words, with genuine platonic love, the mind and soul are directed to spiritual things. The relation between two men was meant to have such love, as was expressed in pederastic relations in ancient Greece where young boys were sent to older men to be educated, protected, and loved.(source)

16. Pompadour

 A hairstyle worn with the hair swept upwards or high above the forehead. Named after Madame de Pompadour, a member of the French court and the mistress of French King Louis XV, who wore such a hairstyle.

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Madame de Pompadour was the chief mistress, a close friend, and a confidant to King Louis XV, and also a member of the French court. Apart from being a valued aide and advisor to the king, she was also a patron of art and architecture, and philosophers including Voltaire. Though some during her time criticized her for the influence and power she had, she is praised by many historians for it and for being a successful patron. The pompadour hairstyle, named after Madame de Pompadour, was popular in 18th century among fashionable women and was revived again in the 19th century, and continued to in style until WWI.(source)

17. Quisling

A traitor or a person who collaborates with the occupying enemy force. Named after Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian military officer, who headed the government under Nazi occupation during WWII.

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Vidkun Quisling aided Nazi Germany when it conquered his own country in order to rule the collaborationist Norwegian government himself. The term “quisling” was first used by Norwegian Labour Party politician Oscar Torp in a newspaper interview referring to the followers of Quisling. The word was even used by J.R.R. Tolkien in his presentation “On Fairy-Stories”. It was picked up by many newspapers and The Times‘ editorial said: “To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor… they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters.”(source)

18. Raglan

A type of sleeve that extends from the collar over the shoulder to the arm. Named after the 1st Baron Raglan for whom the coat sleeve was invented to allow him room for greater movement while using a sword.

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FitzRoy Somerset, the 1st Baron Raglan, was a British Army officer who lost his right arm during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Raglan sleeve was invented by coat producer, Aquascutum, for Lord Raglan for better movement, instead of the usual sleeve head which was prefixed. He is said to have worn a coat with this kind of sleeves after he lost his arm.(source)

19. Ritzy

Refers to something expensive or stylish, or someone haughty. Named after César Ritz, a Swiss hotelier, who founded several hotels including the Hôtel Ritz in Paris.

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César Ritz was a waiter who, after spending five years in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, gained enough refinement and confidence to transform himself into a maître d’hôtel, manager, and eventually hotelier. Ritz went on to buy and open several hotels with the code “Customer is always right”. In 1896, he formed the Ritz Hotel syndicate along with a South African millionaire, and they opened what would become Hôtel Ritz of Paris. His success led him to be known as “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings”.(source)

20. Rubenesque

Voluptuous or full figured features of a woman. Named after Sir Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish Baroque painter, whose paintings of women were known for subjects with such features.

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Rubens is well-known for his Catholic Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythical or allegorical subjects. Also, his nudes of biblical and mythological women which he painted in baroque tradition as soft-bodied, passive, and highly sexualized beings to emphasize concepts such as fertility, desire, beauty, and virtue are well-known . His fondness for painting full-figured women was what gave rise to the term “Rubenesque” or “Rubensian”.(source)

21. Sadism

Deriving pleasure from inflicting pain, humiliation or suffering on others, sexual or otherwise. Named after Marquis de Sade who is notorious for his unrestrained sexual expression and erotic literary works.

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Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat, revolutionary, politician, philosopher, and a writer. He wrote many novels, short stories, plays, and political tracts which were published either under his own name or a pseudonym. He believed in extreme freedom and being unrestrained by morality, religion or law. He was also infamous for his libertine sexuality and erotic works that depicted sexual fantasies containing violence and criminality, which led to establishing the words “sadism” and “sadist”. This was also perceived as blasphemy against the Catholic Church that caused him to be imprisoned or sent to insane asylums for 32 years of his life.(source)

22. Shrapnel

Fragment of a bomb, shell or an object thrown by an explosion. Named after Lieutenant General Henry Shrapnel who invented shrapnel shell, but the word later came to mean fragments of the shells after the explosion.

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Henry Shrapnel’s invention, shrapnel shell, consisted of a hollow cannonball which was filled with lead shots that would explode in mid-air. However, he actually called them “spherical case” ammunition. The British Army later adopted the concept to create an elongated explosive shell and named after him. Soon the word “shrapnel” also came to mean fragmentation of artillery shells and any general fragmentation. The shells were manufactured using the original idea until the end of WWI.(source)

23. Boycott

To protest by withdrawing the usage, purchase or relations with someone or something. Named after Charles Boycott, an Irish land agent, who was excluded from the Irish Land League for evicting poor tenants.

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During the Irish Land War, Captain Charles Boycott served as the land agent for an absent landlord, Lord Erne. In a year when harvests were poor, Lord Erne gave 10 percent reduction in rents. But later, in September that year, he refused to accept 25 percent as demanded by the protesting tenants. Charles Stewart Parnell gave a speech before any of these events occurred and said that the new tenants who take the farms of evicted tenants should be shunned instead of using violence. Though Boycott isn’t actually a new tenant but a land agent, the villagers started isolating him by stopping working in his field and house, and trading with him or even delivering his mail.(source)

24. Silhouette

The image of a person, animal or object in a single color or their shape viewed against a source of light. After Étienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister, who imposed severe economic restrictions during a crisis with the result that his name came to mean anything cheaply made, and eventually the contemporary meaning.

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During the 18th century, France was in a financial crisis because of the Seven Years’ War, which caused the financial minister Étienne de Silhouette to use very severe economic demands, especially on the wealthy. Prior to the invention of photography, these cut out black profiles of people became the cheapest way to record a person’s appearance. These profiles were soon come to be referred as silhouettes in the 19th century, though such art was prevalent in the 18th century as well.(source)

25. Tattersall

A plaid pattern of regularly spaced horizontal and vertical stripes. Named after Richard Tattersall, the founder of racehorse auctioneer called Tattersalls, where the horse markets sold blankets with such pattern.

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Richard Tattersall founded Tattersalls in 1766 and it is the main auctioneer of race horses in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The blankets with tattersall pattern were sold in Tattersall’s horse market during the 18th century and have become a very common pattern often woven in cotton or flannel as material for shirts and waistcoats. Traditionally shirts made from this cloth were worn by riders as formal riding clothes along with a stock tie.(12)

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