6 People Whose Names Took on Regrettable Meanings

Imagine having your name turned into a common word that will still be in use hundreds of years after your death. Cool, huh? Now imagine that the word named after you means something like "He who has his way with farm animals." Before you say that something like that could never happen to you, consider the fact that it has totally happened to other people. You've almost certainly used some of those words at some point today.

We've told you before about the real men who inspired embarrassing words like "dunce" and "masochism," but they weren't the only ones in that unfortunate situation. Here are six more people who probably wished that everyone would just stop saying their names.

#6. "Chauvinist" (from Nicolas Chauvin)


The Word:

"Chauvinist," as in "Of course I know what 'chauvinist' means, you sexist pig."

The Man:

Nicolas Chauvin was (supposedly) an early 19th century French army soldier and Napoleon Bonaparte's number one fan. When he wasn't singing praises to Napoleon, Chauvin passed the time getting poked at with bayonets. He is said to have been badly wounded in service a total of 17 times, and as a result, he "had three fingers amputated [and] suffered a shoulder fracture and a horridly disfiguring facial wound." And yet Chauvin kept coming back for more, fueled by his insane devotion to his beloved emperor.

Cabinet Magazine
"I only need two fingers to hold this ridiculous pipe."

In other words, the guy was basically a real-life version of the accident-prone Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies combined with Smithers from The Simpsons (with Napoleon being his Mr. Burns).

While Napoleon himself was apparently fond enough of Chauvin to reward his devotion with a small pension, everyone else saw him as a ridiculous ass-clown who took the whole "patriotism" thing way too far. After Napoleon's fall, Chauvin's name became a synonym for anyone who was extremely patriotic to the point of stupidity. Entire plays and books were written about the poor idiot -- how much of his life really happened and how much came from those stories is up for debate.

This roughly translates to "Chauvin the Shitheaded."

A century and a half later, the word "chauvinist" was adopted by 1960s feminists looking for a better way to describe men who are irrationally convinced of their own superiority, because sometimes "Nazi" just doesn't cut it. The new meaning soon overshadowed the old one, but what hasn't changed is that Chauvin is still a moron.

#5. "Tawdry" (from St. Audrey)


The Word:

"Tawdry," as in "Why did you say 'tawdry' when you could have said 'tacky' or something, you pretentious shit?"

The Woman:

St. Audrey (or Etheldreda) was the daughter of the king of East Anglia, England, who in the seventh century lived in a monastery and devoted her life to God. God, however, wasn't such a huge fan of Audrey, and she died of a nasty case of the plague. To add insult to injury, the Black Plague created a huge red pulsating growth on her neck, which was said to be divine punishment for the fancy necklaces she wore in her youth.

And for all the churches she destroyed as a giant.

After Audrey died, the locals at the Isle of Ely, where she founded a cathedral, honored her memory by holding an annual fair where showy but inexpensive silk and lace necklaces were sold (known as St. Audrey's lace). We're not sure if the point was to remember St. Audrey by covering imaginary tumors in your neck, mocking God for supposedly punishing his loyal servant for such a silly sin or just making money selling cheap stuff.

Whatever the case, the St. Audrey's lace, shortened to "tawdry lace," was considered popular for about 15 minutes before it fell out of fashion and became a synonym for any cheap, gaudy, poor-quality garment, and that meaning just caught on. Even in death, St. Audrey just couldn't catch a break.

#4. "Boycott" (from Charles Boycott)


The Word:

"Boycott," as in "You can't go into Walmart without pants? Let's boycott them."

The Man:

Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott was a 19th century British land agent in charge of managing some Irish farmlands, which at the time consisted of paying Irish workers as little as possible while charging them as much as he could to live there.

"You think this is easy for me? I have a wife and beard to support!"

In 1880, poor weather led to poor harvests, which in turn led to poor tenants who were struggling to pay their rent. Boycott sympathized with their situation by raising their rents, cutting their salaries and finally telling them to gather their things and bugger off. Being evicted in this particular time and place meant almost certain death, but Boycott didn't give much of a shit.

When Boycott tried to evict 11 tenants, the entire community called shenanigans and decided to give him and his family the silent treatment. Workers refused to harvest his crops, postmen refused to deliver his mail, cows refused to give him milk and so on. Since Boycott totally depended on his underpaid Irish workers to keep the farms going, he appealed to the London newspapers to send help and someone to talk to.

John Nash via Today In Irish History
Boycott, being farted at from six different angles.

The British ruling class was outraged by Boycott's case, specifically the part where a rich person was being messed with by some Irish upstarts. Fifty men were sent to save Boycott's crops, plus 1,000 soldiers to protect those 50 men from the pissed-off Irish locals (seems about right). After a nine-hour walk to the farm (horses refused to carry them), Boycott greeted the 50 volunteers by immediately putting them to work and charging them for their potatoes.

In the end, the rescue operation proved to be way too expensive to be repeated every time a greedy landowner was shunned by his community, and "boycotting" became a thing.

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