There are a lot of -onym words out there—over 100, by some counts. From ethnonym to linguonym, there’s really a word for just about any name type you can think of.
Some of them you learned in grade school, such as homonyms, synonyms, and antonyms. Others you may have learned later in life.
But, since Dauntless Jaunter is a culture and educational website, we’re going to focus on those onyms that relate to people and places.
Before we begin, let’s understand a bit about the suffix “-onym.”
About the “-onym” Suffix
“-onym,” or sometimes just “-nym,” is a suffix coming from Aeolic Greek ὄνυμα (ónyma), meaning simply “name” or “word.” Along with the rest of the word, it basically is a specific name or word for something (that something being defined in the first part of the word).
Now, let’s look at some onyms related to places and people here:
An ethnonym is a name given to a particular ethnic group of people.
For example, the main ethnic group in Poland are the Poles, or the Polish, and these are their ethnonyms. This is not to be confused with nationality, which is a citizen or national of a particular country. For instance, a Turkish woman who received citizenship in Zimbabwe now has Zimbabwean nationality, but we would still refer her ethnonym as being Turkish.
Ethnonyms can further be broken down into two types, autonyms and exonyms:
An autonym, also known as an endonym, is a name for a place, group of people, or language which is given to it internally, by the people it refers to or using it the most. For example, English is the autonym for the largest language in the world in the language itself, whereas the exonym (more right after) would be inglés in Spanish or isiNgisi in Zulu.
An exonym, also known as a xenonym, is a name for a place, group of people, or language which is given to it externally. An exonym can be more official, such as calling people from Germany as Germans; Exonyms can also be offensive, such as when English speakers during and after WWII called Germans krauts.
A demonym is an adjective which describes the people of a particular place. For example, the Finnish people come from Finland and the Indonesian from Indonesia. However, they can also be less obvious, such as a Paceño or Paceña for someone from La Paz, Bolivia. For more on demonyms, we have a complete list of demonyms here.
An eponym is a person, place, or thing after which/whom something or someone else is named. For example, Vancouver, Canada was named for George Vancouver, and the Victorian era was the period under which the UK was ruled by Queen Victoria.
A caconym is an incorrect word or name for something, someone, or someplace. An example might be people of the United States calling themselves American, a term offensive to other peoples in the Americas.
A hyponym is a linguistics term which refers to a word that is more specific than an umbrella or parent word. For us an example would be the English people, a hyponym as it’s more specific than the British people (England is just a part of Britain). The parent or umbrella word is known as a hyperonym or hypernym.
A toponym is a name for a particular place. Examples include New York City, the Appalachian Mountains, and Australia.
A metanym is a word or name for a place, thing, or group of people that is defunct or rejected because another, more valid name exists and is in use.
A metonym is a specific word of phrase used in a broader sense; when a concept or thing gets referred to by a word that means something similar. For example, the US government in the news is often referred to as “Washington,” as that’s where most federal government activity takes place.
An acronym is a type of abbreviation which is formed from a longer name or phrase. For places, that could be NYC’s Soho district, for the area SOuth of HOuston Street.
Places like LA and NYC are sometimes confused to be acronyms, but they are actually initialisms, as you say each letter separately when speaking aloud. POTUS is an acronym (President of the United States), however, because we read it aloud as POH-tuhs.
A geonym is a name for a particular geographical feature, such as Pike’s Peak or the Aldridge Promontory.
An odonym, sometimes spelled as hodonym, is a specific name for a particular road or street. “Main Street” is the odonym for a specific street in many towns you’ll find when traveling around the United States, for example.
Check out our guide to understand the differences between odonyms such as streets vs roads vs avenues.
A hydronym is the name given to a particular body of water, such as the Nile for the longest river in Africa.
A hypocoronym, also known as a hypocorism or hypocoristicon, is a diminutive form of a name, often used colloquially, admiringly, and with familiarity; a term of endearment. An example would be in Slavic culture, where it’s common for most given names to have diminutive versions, such as Masha for Maria (Ukrainian) or Kuba for Jakub (Polish).
A linguonym is the name of a language, sometimes known as a glossonym. Dutch, Swahili, Punjabi, and Spanish are all linguonyms for the languages they represent.
An oronym is the name for a hill or mountain, a subset of toponyms specifically for these types of geography. The Carpathian Mountains is the oronym for the mountain range running through parts of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, for example.
A theonym is the name of a particular god, goddess, or other deity. For example, Hasamelis was the god of travelers in Mesopotamian folklore.
Well, there you have it! Hopefully this quick look at -onyms was helpful and insightful and you now know the meanings of ethnonyms, endonyms, autonyms, toponyms, and more. If you have a question, comment, or another onym that should be on our list, write to us below in the comments, and thanks for reading!