originally published December 10, 2012
The great thing about eponyms is that some of them are a complete surprise. An eponym can work its way into our collective vocabulary so smoothly, we forget that the thing in question was named after somebody. And while it’s not a long drive from common knowledge to the fact that Calvinism was named after 16th century theologian John Calvin, or that the Franklin Stove was named after Ben Franklin, some of these other nuggets of eponymity may surprise you.
According to Greek mythology, Europa was a hottie from Phoenicia. She caught the eye of Zeus, who – not being one for smooth talk and flattery – turned into a bull and abducted her to Crete, where she became queen. Zeus appreciated her willingness to buy in and stick around, so as a gift he recreated the bull image among the stars. This is the Taurus constellation we have today.
Maybe it was because Europa was a such a good sport, or simply that the Greeks were the first ones to start naming things on a grand scale. But her name stuck around and eventually came to designate the an entire continent.
Say what you will about Dr. Sylvester Graham – he may have been preachy, a bit long-winded and a massive buzz-kill at parties, but the guy could cook up one hell of a s’more.
Born in Suffield, Connecticut in 1794, Dr. Graham became an ordained minister and a fervent vegetarian. He believed his diet could cure alcoholism, but more importantly it could cure lust. Dr. Graham was big on lust – it was his number one nemesis. He believed that lust rotted the body and caused disease, and that masturbation was the exact opposite of a cure. To his credit though, he created a new bread, free of additives and made from unsifted flour. This bread – graham bread – reached its highest form when transformed into the graham cracker crust on my cheesecake.
Without the guy on the left, a number of Playboy centerfold shoots would have had to be re-thought, and a hot tub would be nothing more than a warm vat of fluid. That’s Candido Jacuzzi, whose 15-month-old son was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. In order to ease his kid’s pain, Candido invented a specialized water pump that would create a whirlpool inside the bath.
There appears to be some confusion as to whether or not Candido should get full credit for the first self-contained Jacuzzi tub, or whether his grandson Roy gets that honor. But Candido developed the concept, and he patented the first water pump that created the effect in anyone’s tub, so for the purposes of this article, he wins.
This guy did pretty well for a government employee. In 1823 he took over the Great Trigonometric Survey of India, scoping out the landmarks and topography of the area, all the way north into Nepal. He retired to England in 1843, and his successor, Andrew Waugh, subsequently came across the most impressive dollop of rock on the planet. Because Waugh was a prince of a guy, he named the mountain after the guy who had passed him the torch.
Rumor has it, Colonel Sir George Everest didn’t want the mountain named after him. I don’t know why someone would turn down such an offer, but no matter – the name stuck. Sort of. We pronounce it wrong, apparently; Sir George pronounced his last name ‘Ee-verest’, not ‘Eh-verest’.
Lest his ‘Come-At-Me-Bro’ look of badassedness fool you, Gotthard Glas was a German-born gun designer. When the Nazis took power, he made his way to British-run Palestine where he was arrested for carrying a weapon illegally. He changed his name to Uziel Gal, and after a pardon in 1946 he set to work on his greatest creation.
The gun he invented, which was named ‘Uzi’ despite Gal’s protests, was adopted by the newly-formed Israel Defense Forces and a seemingly endless cavalcade of cinematic terrorists.
The real trick if you want to get something named after you is to become an explorer and find yourself a slab of land that white people hadn’t discovered yet. That worked for 16th century Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez.
As you may have guessed, Juan discovered Bermuda. As a courtesy, when he returned to the island four years later, he dropped off a dozen pigs and sows, as well as some floral-print knee-length shorts for any unfortunate sailors who might find themselves stranded there in years to come. Hell of a guy, that Juan.
Rudolf Diesel was a German engineer who worked first with refrigeration, then with steam engines. He developed the technology of an ammonia vapor engine, but the thing smelled like pee. Also, it exploded and nearly killed him. Once Karl Benz (another eponymous guy, Mercedes owners will notice) got his patent for the motor car in 1886, Rudolf set to work developing a heat-engine to replace the steam engine.
As you might have guessed (and if you hadn’t then you haven’t been following how this article works), he created the diesel engine. Then, in 1913, he boarded a ship from Antwerp to London, and disappeared overnight. His body was found floating in the ocean… was it suicide? Was he killed by corporate interests who feared his next invention would cut into their profits? Was it… an alien conspiracy?
Actually, it was probably just suicide.
This is Leonhart Fuchs, a German physician and one of the three founding fathers of botany (which, apparently, has three founding fathers). When French scientist Dom Charles Plumier came across a new kind of flower in 1696, some 130 years after Fuchs had passed away, he named it Fuchsia Triphylla, Flore Coccineo in Fuchs’s honor.
The purple-red color of the flower came to take a similar name, which is why fuchsia remains one of the most difficult colors to spell correctly on the first try.
Next time some joker tells you the Caesar salad was name in honor of Julius Caesar, you have my permission to slap them cleanly across the face and call them a filthy liar and an ill-intentioned reprobate. Italian-born Caesar Cardini was in the restaurant business in San Diego and – because he wasn’t a fan of prohibition – Tijuana. When a 1924 July 4th rush drained him of his kitchen’s stock, Cardini improvised and came up with the salad that bears his name.
Supposedly the original recipe called for whole lettuce leaves to be lifted and eaten with the fingers, no anchovies, coddled eggs and Italian olive oil. I’d try that out, so long as I could toss in some croutons.
United States Senator, Union Army General, and boaster of some of the most stylish facial hair I’ve ever seen, General Ambrose Everett Burnside was best known for… well, he was best known for that stuff on his face. He’s the reason we call those things ‘sideburns’.
There are so many more eponyms – this article just covered a smattering from the A-K list. I think this topic deserves a Part II. If that’s a lazy cop-out to avoid coming up with another topic, then fine. Call it ‘Martying’ my research.