Some Eponymous Women


This blogpost will be a bit of a break from my usual fare of biographical notes about interesting women engineers of the past. Today I want to consider women whose names have become attached to things or concepts: Eponymous Women.

A few months ago I wrote in to “Feedback” – the page of humorous oddities at the end of the New Scientist magazine, to ask for their help in finding women whose names were associated with something, anything, science or engineering-related. A few trickled in but the fact of the matter is that there are very few eponyms with women as the source. Having scoured Wikipedia’s lists of eponyms, there are distressingly few there too. Having disregarded women who gave their names to non-STEM eponyms, usually place names, I am left with 19 whom I consider to be oft interest. I suspect that in the medical field and probably Linnaean nomenclature of flora and fauna there are others but my list is below.

Some of these will be well known to even the general public these days, such as Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie and perhaps some will have heard of Beatrice Shilling, but I would guess that most will not be familiar with many of the others on this sadly short list.


Mary The Jewess or Maria Prophetissima

By Michael Maier (1566-1622) – Symbola Aurea Mensae Duodecim Nationum, Frankfurt, 1617, Public Domain,

My favourite discovery is probably Mary The Jewess. Next time you are preparing for a fancy dinner party and have to gently cook something in a basin over boiling water, you can thank Mary for her contribution to alchemy and cookery: the Bain Marie. Mary (as she was Jewish my guess is her actual name would probably have been Miriam) is said to have been the first western alchemist and is credited also with inventing or at least first recording the Tribikos and Kerotakis, both chemistry devices still in use in varied forms today.

Ada Lovelace, first person to describe computer programming (for the Babbage engine) – Ada programming language.

Virginia Apgar, American physician and anesthesiologist – Apgar score for assessing newborns’ health.

Ariadne, Greek mythological character – Ariadne’s thread (logic, widely used in AI)

Yvonne Barr and Sir Anthony Epstein, British physicians – Epstein–Barr virus

Myrtelle Canavan, American physician – Canavan’s disease.

Marie Curie (and Pierre) French physicists – unit: curie, element: curium

Deborah, biblical character – Deborah Number (dimensionless number in rheology) [honorable mention to my husband for drawing her to my attention]

Egeria, Roman mythological character – Egeria (female advisor), Egeria (genus)

Sophie Germain, French mathematician – Sophie Germain prime number

Lillian Gilbreth, American Motion Studies expert – Therblig unit of movement (surname backwards more or less)

Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Polish physicist – Goeppert-Mayer (GM) unit for the cross section of two-photon absorption. A 35-mile wide crater on Venus is also named after her.

Alice Liddell, British child after whom the Alice in Wonderland/Alice through the Looking Glass books are named – Alice in Wonderland syndrome (mental health)

Veronica Lodge, American comics character – the Veronica search engine (The search engine was named after the character Veronica Lodge from Archie Comics, an intentional analogy with the naming of the Archie search engine, a search engine for FTP servers. A backronym for Veronica is “Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computer Archives”)

Mary the Jewess, ancient alchemist, possibly the first western alchemist – Bain-marie to warm substances such as Elixir to germinate precious metals.

Medusa, Greek mythological character – Medusa (non-polyp stage of cnidarians), Medusaceratops, Medusa CAD software.

Beatrice Shilling, aviation engineering researcher – Miss Shilling’s Orifice, a device to ensure fuel flow in aero-engines when in a dive.

Trillian, British fictional character from Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy – Trillian (software), Project Trillian

Eudora Welty, American novelist – Eudora, an old e-mail client.

Mae West, American actress – Mae West lifejacket for WW2 aircrew



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