Column: Names behind the eponyms


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

If Mr. Rogers has taught us anything, it’s that men can wear cardigans. I know, I know — Mr. Rogers has given us much more than mere sartorial advice. However, when fall weather rolls around, I can’t help but think of how well Rogers wore his after-work zip-up sweaters.

As autumn dawns, I get excited about college football, scalding-hot soup, pumpkin-flavored everything and warm woolen cardigans. This got me to thinking: From where do we get the word “cardigan”?

The cardigan is named after Lord Cardigan, also known as James Brundell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. Lord Cardigan won fame for his questionable leadership during the Crimean War. In October 1854, he led his British Light Cavalry Brigade against Russian troops at the Battle of Balaclava. Although Cardigan lost 107 out of 654 of his men, his troops reached the Russian battery and took out the enemy’s guns. Lord Cardigan came back without a scratch.

Capitalizing on Lord Cardigan’s military legend, clothiers began calling the knitted military jacket he and other officers wore during the war “cardigan jackets” and “cardigan waistcoats.” This term for naming an item after a person is called an eponym.

Although Lord Cardigan didn’t invent or design the cardigan, many eponyms are named after the person who either discovered a place or invented an item. We see this in the Caesar salad, a salad named after Caesar Cardini, an Italian restauranteur who operated the aptly named Tijuana restaurant, Caesar’s, in the early 1900s.

Other examples of eponyms credited to their creator or discoverer include America, nicotine, silhouette, saxophone, sandwich and boycott. I’d rather be known as the guy who invented the sandwich than the poster child for saying “no” to things.

Believe it or not, the cardigan isn’t the only eponymous clothing term that emerged from the Crimean War. The largest global conflict of the mid-1850s also gave us the “raglan” sleeve. Named after Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron of Raglan, a raglan sleeve is “a sleeve that extends to the neckline with slanted seams from the underarm to the neck.”

Poor Baron Raglan lost his arm during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, resulting in an adapted coat sleeve to adjust for his missing arm. Years later, Baron Raglan was the commander over Lord Cardigan

Many of the soldiers in the Battle of Balaclava wore face masks to keep warm. These were later known as “balaclavas.”

As fall begins, let’s take a moment to recognize that eponyms are all around us — regardless of whether you measure the diminished temperatures in Fahrenheit or Celcius. Both temperature-measuring systems are eponyms.