Examples of antonomasia can be found in everyday conversations, in informal, and in formal writing. It’s something that’s used on an everyday basis and which most people are unaware has an official designation.
Antonomasia is the practice of substituting a word or phrase in for a proper name. It’s a type of metonymy.
Often, the word or phrase directly and obviously relates to the person’s profession or whatever it is they’re known for. One of the best-known examples is the phrase “the Philosopher” which was used throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance to describe Aristotle. As noted above, antonomasia is often used as a way of preventing repetition. For example, while writing, an author might vary up their use of words. Rather than saying “Shakespeare” three times in one paragraph, they might substitute one “Shakespeare” for “the Bard.”
Below, readers can explore a few of the better-known, and lesser-known, examples of antonomasia.
- The Great Bambino — Babe Ruth
- The Bard — William Shakespeare
- The Boss — Bruce Springsteen
- The Fab Four — The Beatles
- The Führer — Adolf Hitler
- The King — Elvis Presley
- The Master of Suspense — Alfred Hitchcock
- The Queen of Soul — Aretha Franklin
- The Mahatma — Mohandas Gandhi
- The Little Corporal — Napoleon
- The King of Pop — Michael Jackson
“The Bard” — William Shakespeare
Consider these lines from History.com. In this example, readers can explore Shakespeare’s biography. In one passage, it reads:
Shakespeare’s first plays, believed to have been written before or around 1592, encompass all three of the main dramatic genres in the bard’s oeuvre: tragedy (“Titus Andronicus”); comedy (“The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “The Comedy of Errors” and “The Taming of the Shrew”); and history (the “Henry VI” trilogy and “Richard III”). Shakespeare was likely affiliated with several different theater companies when these early works debuted on the London stage.
This is an example of how a writer might use antonomasia in order to keep their writing from being too repetitive. It should improve the reader’s experience with the next. Rather than reading “Shakespeare” over and over again, they get to read “bard” on occasion.
“The Queen of Soul” — Aretha Franklin
Consider these lines in which NBC News uses the phrase “Queen of Soul” to describe Aretha Franklin.
In 1967, Aretha Franklin’s reign as the “Queen of Soul” began.
Franklin was in her mid-20s and had recently left Columbia Records to sign with Atlantic Records. She had released her 11th studio album, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” widely considered to be her best work and includes the souled-up juggernaut “Respect.”
In this example, the article explains the title and how she claimed it. The writer also uses it as a way of varying up the text.
“The King” — Elvis Presley
Here are a few lines from rockhall.com in which the author describes Elvis Presley, famed as “The King,” a nickname he gained after his music became so popular.
Elvis Presley is, quite simply, the King of Rock & Roll. In 1954, the performer kicked off a musical revolution by modernizing traditional genres such as blues, country and bluegrass for contemporary (and more youthful) audiences. Throw in a charismatic stage presence with then-scandalous hip-swings and body contortions, and it’s easy to see why Presley set the charts (and hearts) ablaze.
As the previous examples show, it’s common for musicians, like Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson, to be given nicknames that include “King” or “Queen.” This signifies their dominance over their genre.
What is an Archetypal Name?
An archetypal name is the opposite of antonomasia. It’s the use of a proper name to describe something that’s an archetype or includes a certain set of stereotypical characteristics.
They are used in literature and can allude to different personality traits. For example, the term “tex” is used to describe a cowboy. When one hears the name, they’re going to automatically think of certain characteristics, such as riding a horse, working in a rodeo, and speaking with a certain accent.
Other examples include “Einstein” and “Casanova.” The latter is used to describe someone who easily charms women and is more than willing to change partners on a regular basis. “Einstein,” which clearly refers to the beloved scientist Albert Einstein is used to denote someone who is particularly intelligent.
- Romeo — a lover
- Adonis — a handsome man
- Judas — betrayer
- Svengali — manipulator
It is used to show respect for someone’s role in their field, signify it in a memorable way, or make writing more interesting to read (due to a variation in word use). In the case of “The Philosopher” and “The Bard”, these terms denote respect and mastery of the field.
Examples include “the pen is mightier than the sword” or “lend me your ear.” In the former, the word “pen” is substituted for the written word in general, and “sword” for military might.
Antonomasia is the use of a phrase or word to replace a proper name. For example, “The King” to describe Elvis Presley or “The Little Corporal” to describe Napoleon.
Related Literary Terms
- Metonymy: a kind of figurative language that refers to a situation in which one term is substituted for another.
- Eponym: an allusion to a famous or legendary person whose name is given to some other thing. That might be an institution, object, person, or event.
- Attitude: refers to the tone a writer takes on whatever they are writing. It can come through in a character’s intentions, histories, emotions, and actions.
- Biography: an account or description of a person’s life, literary, fictional, historical, or popular in nature, written by a biographer.
- Abridgment: a condensed or shortened version of a book. It contains the most important details and removes any digressions.
- Listen: William Shakespeare – The Bard
- Watch: Michael Jackson – The King of Pop
- Listen: The Queen of Soul (Tribute to Aretha Franklin)