“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
— from “Romeo and Juliet”

Today, we’re going to consider words that end in “nym” or “onym,” which are suffixes from the Greek and mean “name” or “word.” You might be surprised by how many there are. In light of that, I should point out there will be no quiz at the end of this column, so no one will feel like a nymrod. Read on and enjoy this small sample of unusual “word” words.

Probably the first “nym” words that come to most people’s minds are synonym and antonym, which mean, respectively, a word that has the same meaning as another word and a word that has the opposite meaning of another word.

Oh, but that’s just the tip of the nymberg, my literary friends. Then, we have:

Metonym: A metonym is a word that’s used as a substitute for something with which it is closely identified, such as saying “Hollywood” to refer to the movie industry.

Contronym and autoantonym: Are both used to describe a word that has two opposite meanings. For instance: “Bolt” (lock in place or run away), “citation” (an award or a ticket), and “left” (went away or stayed behind) are some examples.

Homonym: Is a word that’s spelled or pronounced the same as another word but has a different meaning. Did the “mean” teacher “mean” what she said? I “saw” you “saw” that woman in half. I can’t “bear” it when the “bear” gets into my bird feeder. If food is in a “can,” it “can” stay good for years.

Pseudonym: Is a false name that’s sometimes used by an author. But there are specific types of pseudonyms. There’s the allonym — using another actual person’s name instead of your own, often a historical figure and sometimes for parody. And there’s the anonym, which is a false name intended to help a person remain anonymous. An anonym can also refer to a word that’s created by spelling an original name backward, as when it turns Oprah — who’s far from anonymous — into Harpo.

In the unlikely event that Oprah ever did want to remain anonymous, she might use a cryptonym or a secret name that’s known only to a chosen few.

But wait, Oprah’s name is also an example of a mononym (a one-word name, usually a first one), such as Pele, Cher or Madonna. Not to be confused with a polynym, (a name consisting of multiple words) such as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. A polynym can also be a single word or name with multiple distinct (although possibly related) meanings.

Meanwhile, an oronym is a sequence of words (for example, “ice cream”) that sounds the same as a different sequence of words (“I scream”).

Sometimes someone is an eponym, or a real or imaginary person for whom a place, discovery or invention is named. Around here all you have to do is think of the eponymous L.L. Bean store for something that’s named after a real person.

Interestingly, back when Mr. Bean was building his business in Freeport, the lumber dealer in town was Mr. Woodman, making his name an aptronym, or a name that’s appropriate for the type of work one does.

I saved autonym for the end because it’s a name by which a people or a social group refers to itself, or a word that describes itself. For example, “word” is a word and “noun” is a noun. Sometimes it’s good to know that a word simply is what it is.”

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”


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