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a person who is mononymous uses only one name


noun [countable]

a name consisting of one word only

'"Get Over Yourself, Rog!" So jeers Nige, the mononymous blogger …, who flatly declares that the court case was "all about money".'

Atlantic Wire 14th March 2010

'It is a select band. Madonna, Maradona, Pele, Sting and even, possibly, Jordan. People who wear their fame with such confidence that they have dispensed with the B-list concerns of having more than one name. They are the mononym brigade …'

The Observer 29th January 2006

Bono the rock star, Pelé the footballer, Molière the playwright, Plato the Greek philosopher and Twiggy the model – they might have very different roles in cultural history, but they all share one obvious characteristic: they are mononymous.

though it's difficult to really understand why, there is something rather groovy and instantly memorable about a single name

A person who is mononymous only uses one name, and it's a practice familiar to all of us from the entertainment world. Though it's difficult to really understand why, there is something rather groovy and instantly memorable about a single name, hence its popularity as a means of aiding recognition and nurturing fame.

In order to be successful, however, a mononym (single word name) has to be unique – you don't tend to see mononymous celebrities called run-of-the-mill names like Jane or Bill. People who had the good fortune to be given a more unusual name from birth might choose to use it – compare Cher, born Cherilyn Sarkisian and Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson. Original surnames sometimes become mononyms too (e.g. Liberace, Morrissey).Those who by contrast started life with something more ordinary tend to go for a new invention, often leading us to speculate about what their 'real name' really is. The model Twiggy for example, was born Lesley Hornby, and rock star Bono entered the world as Paul Hewson.

Sometimes, the way in which mononymous individuals arrived at their names is an interesting little anecdote in itself. Pop star Moby for instance, is so called because he is a distant relative of Herman Melville, author of the famous novel Moby Dick. Bono is actually based on the Latin expression bonavox, meaning 'beautiful voice', given to the singer as a nickname during the 1970s. Bonavox was in fact the name of a hearing aid shop that Bono and his friends passed regularly, the joke being that Bono sang so loudly it was as if he was trying to make deaf people hear him!

However in today's online culture, being mononymous is not the preserve of the rich and famous. Whether it's setting up an account on eBay® or posting a comment on a blog, many of us are often required to adopt a mononym (think for example Zack1, Cooldude and Edinburghlass). Somewhat bizarrely, it seems that in order to remain anonymous, we often have to become mononymous!

Background – mononymous and mononym

The word mononymous is an adjectival derivation of mononym, which has two main components: prefix mono–, deriving from Greek monos, (meaning 'alone'), and suffix –onym, from Greek onuma, meaning 'name' (compare pseudonym and aptronym, etc). There is also some evidence for a derived noun mononymity, meaning something like: 'the state of only using one name'.

Though the concept of being mononymous goes right back to early civilization, use of the term itself is comparatively new, and is still not well documented in published dictionaries.

A lexical variant, mononomial, appears in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and dates back to 1844.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

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This article was first published on 11th May 2010.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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