Are You Using Titular And Eponymous Correctly?

Every once in a while we all need to pull out a 50-cent word to make us look and feel smart, such as titular or eponymous. Use those words incorrectly, though, and your lofty vocabulary ain't worth a nickel. With similar but crucially different definitions, titular and eponymous are interesting examples because they're easily and often mixed up. By the time you're finished reading this, though, you'll have no question what they mean and when to use them correctly. Then, at your next business meeting, Glen in accounting will say, "Look at the big brain on you!"

What makes those two words doubly challenging is that their definition and appropriate use has changed over time. And, that's particularly true in terms of eponymous (per Grammarphobia). Thing is, language evolves and a few of the ways that eponymous and titular get used these days aren't exactly wrong, they're just new. So to clear things up, let's take a look at what each word used to mean, and how the right context has changed over time. We'll begin with eponymous.


The word eponymous was originally used to refer to a person after which something is named, according to Grammarphobia. So, for example, Sherlock Holmes is the eponymous character in Arthur Conan Doyle's "Tales of Sherlock Holmes," but the stories themselves should not, strictly speaking, be considered eponymous. These days, though, eponymous often gets used in association with works of art, such as The Beatles' eponymous debut, meaning their self-titled first album, via Grammarist. Strictly speaking though, eponymous should refer to a person, not to a thing.

Eponymous is derived from the Greek word "epṓnymos," which means "giving name." When broken down, "ep" means "after" and "onym" means "name," — adding "ous" transforms it into an adjective, as Dictionary points out. 

As previously though mentioned, though, how language is used defines the meaning of a word. Today, for example, "Cyrano De Bergerac" is the eponymous character in the play "Cyrano De Bergerac" and the play itself is, in fact, eponymous. Therefore the statement, "Cyrano De Bergerac is the main character in his eponymous play" is acceptable. See the difference? The word titular, though, is not quite so interchangeable.


The secret to what titular means is hidden right there in the word itself: title. The best way to think of the word titular is "in title only," or sometimes the person from which a title is taken, according to Dictionary. Confused? Don't be. Look at it this way: Your manager, who never really does anything but still calls himself "boss" is the "titular" head of your company — because he has the title of "boss" in name only.

Titular can also mean anything related to a title, or a person from whom a title or name is taken. Did your parents name you Michael Jordan in the`90s because they love the Chicago Bulls? Then Michael Jordan is your titular athlete. Hamlet, on the other hand, is not the titular character in William Shakespeare's play about the Danish prince because he gives his name to the title of the play. This makes Hamlet the eponymous character and not the "in title only" character.

Sometimes titular can also mean anyone who bears a title, as in a titular head of state. As previously mentioned, though, usage and definitions shift in language. But, with this easy primer, you should now have a better idea of how to use both eponymous and titular correctly.