I. What is Antonomasia?
Antonomasia (pronounced an-tuh-nuh–mey-zhuh) is a literary term in which a descriptive phrase replaces a person’s name. Antonomasia can range from lighthearted nicknames to epic names.
The phrase antonomasia is derived from the Greek phrase antonomazein meaning “to name differently.”
II. Examples of Antonomasia
Oftentimes, antonomasia is used to call attention to a certain characteristic.
Imagine that you have a friend who is a fantastic chef, and you want to say hello.
“Oh, look! Sam’s arrived!”
Sentence with Antonomasia:
“Oh, look! The great chef has arrived!”
Here, the use of antonomasia allows you to greet your friend with a nickname which also reveals something about his character: he’s a great chef.
For another example, consider that you have a grumpy teacher:
“He’s grumpy, boring, doesn’t want to listen to anyone, and definitely doesn’t want to help anyone.”
Sentence with Antonomasia:
“Mr. Grumps doesn’t want to listen to anyone, and definitely doesn’t want to help anyone.”
Replacing the teacher’s actual name with his defining characteristic, grumpiness, serves to highlight just how much the mood is associated with the man.
For a commonly use example of antonomasia, consider two women discussing men:
“He’s such a good guy. I enjoy his company so much! I just hope he’s the right guy for me.”
With the addition of antonomasia, we can emphasize the quality she hopes to find in this man:
Sentence with Antonomasia:
“He’s such a good guy. I enjoy his company so much! I just hope he’s Mr. Right.“
Giving a man the title “Mr. Right” is an everyday example of antonomasia in conversation.
III. The importance of using Antonomasia
Antonomasia can provide someone with a strong epithet which further celebrates and memorializes their great deeds. In advertising and pop culture, such wording can also further celebrate the famous, such as The Beatles as “The Fab Four.”
Uses for antonomasia vary slightly depending on the time period. In the past, antonomasia would be used to designate class members, as oftentimes people’s names were linked to their professions. Antonomasia was also used in the past to give positive names to strong warriors and negative names to weak or nasty people.
Here are a few examples of antonomasia in the past:
- Aristotle as “The Philosopher”
- Winston Churchill as “The Great Commoner”
- William Shakespeare as “The Bard”
In this way, the past is similar to the present, as we tend to use antonomasia purely for enjoyment and fun with nicknames.
IV. Examples of Antonomasia in Literature
Antonomasia is important in literature, as it can tell more about characters just by their titles. Consider a few examples:
One instance of antonomasia is the treatment of Voldemort in J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. Rather than calling the dangerous man by name, all must call him “You-Know-Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” This usage of antonomasia emphasizes just how dangerous the man is, as most wizards and witches are too afraid to say his actual name aloud.
Another example of antonomasia is in Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein’s inability to give the monster a true name is apparent in his constant use of antonomasia:
- “I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created”
- “the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life”
- “Devil, do you dare approach me?”
- “Begone, vile insect!”
Frankenstein’s creation is never given a name, and instead is given countless instances of antonomasia which show Frankenstein’s inability to accept his creation.
V. Examples of Antonomasia in Pop Culture
Antonomasia is rampant in pop culture, for who doesn’t like a good nickname?
Consider the following pop stars and their antonomasia:
- Michael Jackson as “The King of Pop”
- Madonna as “The Queen of Pop”
- Ella Fitzgerald as “The First Lady of Song”
- Bruce Springsteen as “The Boss”
- Aretha Franklin as “The Queen of Soul”
- Muhammad Ali as “The Greatest”
Celebrities are constantly being given new nicknames, as is clear in the tabloids. Antonomasia can be found in movies and advertisements as well, though. Consider this collection from the television show Lost. Sawyer constantly uses antonomasia, which gives him a playful, laid-back personality and also serves to characterize other characters based on how he chooses to name them:
Here are a few:
- Jack as Saint Jack; Jack is a very caring leader in the show
- Kate as Freckles: Freckles is a sweet, loving name for a woman he cares about
- Hurley as Porkpie: Hurley is overweight and Sawyer is teasing him
Antonomasia allows characters more creative names and for famous celebrities to have second titles, not unlike kings and queens.
VI. Related Terms
Antonomasia vs. Archetypal Names
Antonomasia and Archetypal names both provide characters with nicknames, but they do so in different ways. Whereas antonomasia is not a proper name, archetypal names are proper names. They are like antonomasia in that they use characteristics of a person, but they are used directly within the name.
Here is an example:
You have a friend who is from Texas.
Archetypal Name: Tex
Tex references Texas, and for this reason, this person’s name is a reflection of where they once lived.
Antonomasia: Cowboy Dave
By calling your friend Cowboy Dave, you are referencing Texan culture, but not directly naming him after it. For this reason, the nickname is considered antonomasia rather than an archetypal name.
VII. In Closing
Antonomasia provides characters with more exciting names and nicknames which reflect certain characteristics, feats, or professions. Although we witness serious and royal antonomasia less often these days, we still use antonomasia in the form of nicknames on a daily basis.