Invigilant et al.
Property Terms I
Property Terms II
Property Terms III
Shining Words I
Shining Words II
Rhetorical Devices I
Rhetorical Devices II
Rhetorical Devices III
Rhetorical Devices IV
Maxims of Equity I
Maxims of Equity II
Maxims of Equity III
Rhetorical Devices IV
Bill Long 11/24/04
Sometimes these two words are referred to as synonyms, sometimes they are distinguished, and sometimes prosonomasia is equated with another word paronomasia, which no one says is synonymous with antonomasia. I will follow George Puttenham (Art of English Poesie-1569) in distinguishing the two listed above, using Puttenham's categories to define antonomasia as "The Surnamer" and prosonomasia as "The Nicknamer." By the end of the essay, however, I will collapse the distinction.
The easiest way to remember the meaning of antonomasia, which literally means to "call by a new name," is as an epithet or appellative of some office, dignity or profession. That is, if you refer to Queen Elizabeth as "Her Majesty," you are using "antonomasia." Puttenham describes antonomasia in 3.17 of his book, in the section entitled "Of the figures which we call sensable, because they alter and affect the minde by alteration of sense, and first in single wordes." He first introduces metaphor and metonomy, which he calls the misnamer, but then turns to the word at hand. If the manner of naming of persons or things is not in the way of misnaming "but by a convenient diffference, and such as is true or esteemed and likely to be true, it is then called not metonimia, but antonomasia, or Surnamer (p. 151)."
If one calls King Philip of Spain the "Westerne king" and the French King the "great Vallois," one is using antonomasia. Examples can easily be multiplied. A Solon is a legislator, by antonomasia, a wise man is a Solomon, a person of severe gravity is a Cato. A very popular reference in the Middle Ages was to Aristotle as The Philosopher. Examples of a humorous use of antonomasia can be imagined.
Now the fun begins. This word also can be translated to "call by another name" and has, since the late 17th century, been associated with paronomasia, which is a pun. For example, Professor Burton's popular online rhetoric makes the two synonymous. The OED doesn't even have an entry for the word, but Puttenham has a discussion of the term in a different section of his work from antonomasia. In 3.19 of Poesie, he treats "Of Figures sententious, otherwise called Rhetoricall." In the previous two sections he treated auricular figures (3.17), which are "tunable to the eare," and sensable figures (3.18), which are "stirring to the minde," but in 3.19 he looks at "Rhetoricall" figures, "which may execute both offices, and all at once to beautifie and geve sence and sententiousnes to the whole language at large (p.163)."
After giving examples of several of these figures, such as antistrophe, anadiplosis or epizeuxis, he says, "Ye have a figure by which ye play with a couple of words or names much resembling, and because the one seemes to answere th'other by manner of illusion, and doth, as it were, nick him, I call him the Nicknamer (pp.168-69)." He goes on to say that he won't be angry if anyone comes up with a better English name, "but I am sure mine is very neere the originall sence of Prosonomasia, and is rather a by-name geven in sport, than a surname geven of any earnest purpose." Thus he contrasts prosonomasia with antonomasia by the lack of seriousness with which the nickname is given.
Then he provides some examples, which are both cute and funny. Because the Emperor Tiberius was a "great drinker of wine," they called him "Caldidus Biberius Mero" rather than his name "Claudius Tiberius Nero." Erasmus was called, by a "jesting frier," Errans mus. Then, using the Greek root "copro," which we have seen in another article (on Dung) means "dung" or "shit," he gives the example of the Greek Emperor "Constantine Copronimus, because he beshit (I bet you didn't know that was a word!) the foont at the time he was christened (p. 169)."
I must pause for a second to think about the fate of the poor Emperor Constantine (not the Great, thank goodness, but a lesser Constantine). Here he is, naked and ready for baptism as an infant. At the holiest moment of his new life he is held by the priest before having water poured over him for the remission of sins. What happens? The little kid, who is not wearing a diaper, obviously, shits, and it befouls the baptismal font. What to do? Of course, give the kid a nickname that will stick to him forever because as an infant he "beshit the foont."
A Further Note on Prosonomasia
Puttenham goes on to give examples of how prosonomasia can be used "for sport" with similar-sounding words that are not proper nouns. It is here that prosonomasia approaches and perhaps becomes paronomasia, so for my purposes it is probably better to confine prosonomasia to what has already been illustrated. Nevertheless, Puttenham gives a few examples of the non "proper noun" use of prosonomasia--"They be lubbers not lovers that so use to say," or "Prove me madame ere ye fall to reprove, Meeke mindes should rather excuse than accuse," where lubbers and lovers, prove and reprove and excuse and accuse "do pleasantly encounter, and (as it were) mock one another by their much resemblance: and this is by the figure Prosonomatia (pp. 169-70)."
I think we are on better grounds to differentiate prosonomasia and paronomasia by confining the former to "mocking nicknames" while the latter can include the entire world of puns, which we have not yet considered. In addition, since antonomasia is concerned with serious-sounding epithets or appellatives, it can be distinguished from prosonomasia. Though, if you think about it too long, you begin to collapse antonomasia and prosonomasia as "alternative names" or "calling things by different names." The power in an epithet or nickname is clear. By appearing to depersonalize the agent, by giving an epithet, one personalizes things yet more. By giving a nickname, one ridicules. In each case, we communicate more knowledge to a hearer, knowledge which makes one think or makes one smile.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long