Peter Pan collars and other literary eponyms
Any avid reader has their favourite characters, whether they be from classic fiction, much-loved children’s literature, or contemporary novels. Quite a few characters have given their names to words relating to their traits or appearance – Eeyoreish, for instance, appears in our dictionaries as an adjective meaning pessimistic or gloomy, based on Eeyore from A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, and malapropism, a mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, is named after Mrs Malaprop from R.B. Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals. Rarer, though, are concrete objects which have been named after the titles of books or names of characters. Here are some we’ve found; do let us know in the comment section if you can think of any others.
J.M. Barrie is popularly believed to have invented the name Wendy; in actual fact, it predates the play Peter Pan (1904) by at least two decades, appearing in an 1881 census as a boy’s name, and elsewhere it was used as an abbreviation of Gwendoline. A contribution Barrie did inadvertently make to the language, however, is Wendy house – a toy house for children to play in, named after a similar structure built around Wendy Darling in the play.
Peter Pan is used to designate various styles of clothing supposedly like those worn by the adventurous hero. This is most common today in Peter Pan collar (a flat, often light-coloured collar with rounded ends) but an early use in the book Side-stepping with Shorty by Sewell Ford – published in 1908, just four years after the play was produced – refers to a ‘Peter Pan peekaboo’.
Continuing the theme of turn-of-the-century literature, the trilby hat was named after the eponymous heroine of George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby, later a play of the same name. Interestingly, no hat is specified in either novel or play, but the connection is believed to derive either from an illustration in the book or headgear worn by an actress in the play. Although the term trilby is still in use for the hat, other senses first found as early as 1895 (a jocular name for the foot, in reference to Trilby’s much-admired feet, and a particular type of shoe) are now obsolete. You can read more about Trilby’s contribution to the English language in our OED article on the topic.
And while we’re talking hats… the fedora is perhaps best beloved by extras in gangster movies, but its origins are a little classier. The hat is named after another eponymous heroine – this one from Victorien Sardou’s Fédora (1882).The play was written for the one of the century’s most famous actress, Sarah Bernhardt, who often enjoyed wearing masculine clothing in her roles.
Items of clothing and children’s works seem particularly susceptible to this variety of name-adoption, and they combine in the Alice band. This flexible hairband is named after the leading lady of Lewis Carroll’s popular fantasies Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871). As with trilby, this is a case where the famed clothing isn’t actually highlighted in the text itself – in this instance, the Alice band refers to the hairband worn by Alice in John Tenniel’s famous illustrations to the first edition. Reports that wearers of an Alice band are more vulnerable to falling down rabbit holes are unsubstantiated…
Arguably having a less literary source than the other eponyms on the list, these flat, single-strap, round-toed shoes are named after the character Mary Jane in Richard Felton Outcault’s Buster Brown comics (published in the New York Herald from 1902). Buster Brown himself lent his name to a type of suit, collar, hairstyle, as well as a shoe of his own – making them both quite the natty dressers.
Although the memory-testing game known as Kim’s game may predate its appearance in Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel Kim, that is the association which is best remembered. Here’s a quick rundown of the rules: objects on a tray are placed in front of the player; the tray is removed and then shown to the player again with one of the objects missing. Memory is tested by the player’s ability to spot the absent object. In Kim it was known as the Jewel Game and is actually introduced to Kim by a different character, but it was given the title Kim’s game by Robert Baden-Powell when he wrote about it in Scouting for Boys (1908).
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