An Introduction to Antonomasia

Antonomasia (derives from Greek ‘anti’ “instead” and ‘onomazein’ “to name”), is the substitution of any epithetOpens in new window or phraseOpens in new window with a proper name and vice versaOpens in new window, which then becomes a way of recognition for the person in question. Antonomasia is regarded as a rhetorical figure in some respects similar to metonymyOpens in new window.

Based on its Greek root, Antonomasia involves the substitution of regular names by proper names and vice versa. This is based on two different semanticOpens in new window structures; one being the use of a regular noun instead of a proper name, for instance,

This structure, basically relates with metonymy. However, the second structure takes place when a proper name is used in place of a regular noun, for instance,

This takes a different turn from metonymical relations.

In the first kind of antonomasia, which is similar also to periphrasisOpens in new window, a proper name is substituted by an epithet. This kind of antonomasia was often used in ancient times, when talking about mythical and epical characters. For instance, Zeus and AchillesOpens in new window were often described by using the epithets “the Thunderer” and “the swift-footed” respectively.

The device could also be used in order to comfortably remember the subject of a story and the main character in that story. A metonymic relationship is involved here: the property of an individual that should define an individual instead describes the main role in a story. — (Kenneth Holmqvist, Jaroslaw Pluciennik, Infinity in Language: Conceptualization of the Experience of the Sublime)

Notable Examples of Antonomasia
Further Readings:
Anneli Luhtala | Grammar and Philosophy in Late Antiquity: A Study of Priscian's Sources | AntonomasiaOpens in new window
Kenneth Holmqvist, Jarosław Płuciennik | Infinity in Language: Conceptualization of the Experience of the Sublime: Metonymy And Antonomasia In Tristram ShandyOpens in new window
Armin Burkhardt, Brigitte Nerlich | Tropical Truth(s): The Epistemology of Metaphor and Other Tropes | AntonomasiaOpens in new window