7

In this question I asked:

Assume that Jane Doe has published a paper in 2010 where she has developed a model or a theorem or a similar result, let's say for concreteness that it relates to "growth"

Now assume that Jane Doe is writing another paper in 2015, where she refers to the model/theorem from her paper in 2010.

Is it acceptable for Jane to write: "Doe's growth model (2010), implies that ..." or "Doe's growth theorem (2010) implies that ...", or even "The Doe growth model (2010) implies ..."?

The answer seems to generally be "no".

@jakebeal states:

"Newton's Laws" and "Hawking radiation" and "Rayleigh scattering" are retrospective judgements of significance by the community.

@user2768 states:

Writing "Doe's growth model" or "Doe's growth theorem" suggests that the community has agreed to name Doe's results this way.

This leaves me with the question: How does the community come to agree to call such a model "Doe's growth model"? By what process is this decided?

8

There is no concrete way that I know of to determine the name of a model or theorem. In the past the following methods seem to have applied:

  1. The author calls it something to refer to it and then it gets famous and everyone else uses that name.
  2. The author doesn't name it but just talks about the subject and the idea through multiple papers. The papers become famous, and people start referring to it as "The Auther's Blank."
  3. The author comes up with an idea based on previous work, and in crediting the inspirational work, ends up calling it "Original Author's Special Idea" which then is how other people refer to it until said name becomes common.

While I personally believe that naming it after yourself is bordering extreme hubris a bit too much for my own comfort, I imagine that it's tough to refer to some nameless idea. My suggestion would be to give the specific model a name that doesn't use your name. This will emphasize the fact that it needs a name and that you're not some narcissist trying to name everything after yourself. Then, if the model proves useful, others also have a convenient name for it -- preferably something close to what you referred to it as in the original paper.

For example, if I were writing that, my reference to the model would be something like: "In the 2010 paper _______, Doe [and the other authors attributed fairly] put forth the model ____, termed for brevity." Then I would describe the model and how it relates to the work.

  • 8
    +1 There is no "decision" to name something after an author; it just happens over time. "We interpolate the data using the frequency estimation of Good (1953)." -> "Smoothing was done using Good-Turing frequency estimation" -> "Good-Turing smoothing" – errantlinguist Jan 11 '18 at 21:44
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    @errantlinguist Fantastic example. (It could almost be an answer on its own IMO) – David Z Jan 11 '18 at 22:35
  • @DavidZ your wish is my command: I wrote a far-too-detailed answer expanding my comment. – errantlinguist Jan 12 '18 at 13:43
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Matthew Dumas already answered from a historical perspective, explaining what scientists have done. Now I will answer from a linguistic one, explaining why it was done.

No person or people "decide" when to name a model after an author; What you see from today's perspective is a result of a long process of lexicalization, whereby new words (lexical items) or — more loosely — terms are added to the language of a community: Communication is a collaborative process, and language is always changing even without intentionally thinking "I'm going to use this other person's term because others are more familiar with it" (even Queen Elizabeth's language has changed over time, and she doesn't need to impress many people).

Naming scientific methods is analogous to other forms of lexicalization, such as

  • cleaning the floors with a vacuum cleaner/Hoovervacuuming/Hoovering the floorvacuuming/Hoovering
  • communicating via electronic mailwriting an e-mailemailing

In other words, descriptions of relatively "new" concepts are initially very analytic in structure, i.e. the meaning can be inferred directly from the structure of the language. Consider the examples below:

We interpolate the data using the frequency estimation of Good (1953).

Here, the concepts signified by frequency estimation and Good (1953) are already accepted well enough to be understandable by those in the relevant linguistic community; I imagine that this sentence would have been perfectly acceptable even in an article from 1954.

Over time, however, common concepts tend to be signified by more synthetic constructions, such as:

Smoothing was done using Good-Turing frequency estimation.

Here, Good-Turing frequency estimation signifies the same thing but is slightly less compositional: Yes, it is still denotes a "type" of frequency estimation, but in an associative manner rather than an ascriptive one (such as seen in effective frequency estimation). In other words, it is frequency estimation associated with Good and Turing. Jump forward even further in time and you have phrases like Good-Turing smoothing which are even less amenable to structural analysis.

At the end of the road, you finally have terms which are so firmly lexicalized that their "original" meaning is no longer apparent to any but the most historically-aware people. Exemplars of this in regards to scientists are e.g. watts, volts and angstroms: I knew what they were from a very young age, but only much later did I find out that there were actually people with those names, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

TL; DR

Eponymous names aren't invented; They form over time as people become accustomed to the work denoted by the name. In other words, language conventions aren't decided by anyone but rather emerge from the collective behavior of a large group of people.


What constitutes a "word" is itself debatable and is not a binary distinction of being either "100% word" or "0% word". The more "word-like" something is, however, the more stable the relationship between the signifier (the word) and the signified is, and the less compositional the meaning is: e.g. White House can be considered one word because its meaning is clearly not a "house which is white".

0

Often there is no committee or a formal decision, it just happens. So it is a complex social process. The consequence is that inventions are rarely called after its inventor. See Stigler's law of eponymy, which is of course not named after its inventor.

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