Antonomasia: Definition and Examples

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,

‘the Thunderer’ instead of “ZeusOpens in new window

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,

AristotleOpens in new window’ instead of “the Philosopher”.

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

  1. “The Great Emancipator” for Abraham LincolnOpens in new window
  2. “The Greatest” for Muhammad AliOpens in new window
  1. “The Red Devil” for Manchester UnitedOpens in new window
  2. “The Steel Butterfly” for Imelda MarcosOpens in new window
  3. “The little corporal” for NapoleonOpens in new window
  4. “The Great Emancipator” for Abraham LincolnOpens in new window
  5. “The High Priestess of Soul” for Nina SimoneOpens in new window
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