Monday, April 11, 2011


It is easy to find lists of homynyms, words that sound alike but are spelled differently.

It would be helpful to bring this idea into the world of proper nouns: I'd like a list of people or terms that sound alike and can cause confusion.  E.g., Irving Berlin (American composer and lyricist, 1888-1989), and Isaiah Berlin (political theorist and philosopher of ideas, 1909-1997).

Or Isaac Singer (the sewing machine entrepreneur, 1811-1875) and Isaac Bashevis Singer (Nobel prize winner in literature, 1902-1991).

Another one: Thomas More (Renaissance humanist, 1478-1535), Thomas Moore (1779-1852), and Thomas Moore (best-selling author of Care of the Soul and 15 other books on spirituality.  Outselling the other two on Amazon by a wide margin but without his own Wikipedia entry.)

How many schoolchildren (or adults) confuse Martin Luther King, Jr. with Martin Luther, and think that the civil rights hero also nailed the 95 Theses to the door of a church and started the Protestant Reformation?

Until we can think of a better name for these pairs or triplets, we could call them celebrinyms. The term includes any proper nouns that could be confused, not just people.  Paris, France and Paris, Texas count as a pair of celebrynyms, for example.

An example is: Armand Hammer vs. Arm & Hammer.  Whenever I've heard Armand's name on the radio, I wondered, "Does he have anything to do with the baking soda?"  A lot of other people have wondered the same thing - see the passage below from The Straight Dope.

Armand Hammer (May 21, 1898[2] – December 10, 1990) was an American business tycoon most closely associated with Occidental Petroleum, a company he ran for decades, though he was known as well as for his art collection, his philanthropy, and for his close ties to the Soviet Union. [Wikipedia]

From Innovation Bootcamp

Arm & Hammer is a registered trademark of Church and Dwight, an American manufacturer of household products. The logo of this brand is a muscular arm holding a hammer. Originally associated only with baking soda and washing soda, beginning in the 1970s the company began to expand the brand to other products using baking soda as a deodorizing ingredient, including toothpaste, laundry detergent, underarm deodorant, and cat litter. The Arm & Hammer brand is one of the longest-running and most recognized U.S. trademarks. [Wikipedia]

From Innovation Bootcamp

From The Straight Dope:

 The late Armand Hammer, of course, was the well-known head of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, one of the nation's ten largest oil companies. Among other things, it owns (or owned--frankly I've lost track) Hooker Chemical Company, onetime proprietor of the notorious Love Canal toxic waste dump. I mention this purely as a matter of idle gossip. There are several versions of how Hammer came by his name. The most widely circulated is that his father, a radical who apparently also had a weakness for weird puns, named him after the arm-and-hammer insignia of the Socialist Labor Party in 1898. Explanation number two, which is perhaps even dumber, is that Armand was indeed named after Arm & Hammer baking soda. Hammer's mother, Mama Rose, described by her son as "a remarkably intuitive individual, a person with an enormous judgment about things," is said to have "had a simple solution for every problem--bicarbonate of soda and a good enema." Given the alternative, I guess Armand should be grateful he was named after the soda. Hammer himself maintained that he was named after Armand Duval, the hero of Alexandre Dumas's La Dame au Camelias, one of his father's favorite plays. But he conceded that his father's socialist leanings may also have been a factor. Whatever the truth of the matter, Hammer once painted an arm-and-hammer emblem on his yacht, giving rise to persistent speculation that he either was (a) the owner of Church & Dwight, makes of A&H baking soda, or (b) a Commie. Tired of explaining otherwise, Hammer tried to buy the company, but they didn't want to sell. So in 1986 he settled for the next best thing, a partnership with Church & Dwight that netted Oxy Pete a sizable chunk of C&D stock and Hammer a seat on C&D's board. For a time, then, Armand Hammer was a director and owner (if not THE owner) of Arm & Hammer. Occidental sold the stock shortly after Hammer's death in 1990, apparently figuring a pun was not the best basis for a lasting business relationship. Freaking bean counters, they just have no sense of humor.— Cecil Adams

Here is one list of 10 celebrities with the same names to get started with.

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