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Guppy to Guillotin: The Namesakes of Words

Feb 9, 2008 (All Things Considered)

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For author Philip Dodd, a simple trivia question sent him on a quest that crossed oceans and spanned continents.

The question: What fish was named for a West Indian clergyman?

The answer is in the title of Dodd's new book, The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium: From Joseph P. Frisbie to Roy Jacuzzi, How Everyday Items Were Named for Extraordinary People. From Guppy himself, who was quite a character, to the Earl of Sandwich and instrument-maker Adolphe Sax, Dodd delves into the lives of those who left their names deeply embedded in the English language.

Tracing the paths of these often unwitting heroes, Dodd's travels took him from Texas — where he met the notorious cattle rancher Samuel Maverick — to Trinidad, where he found the spot where naturalist Robert Lechmere Guppy found his now-famous freshwater fish. Though many of his subjects are long dead, Dodd also found people still alive, well and brimming with ideas, including inventor Roy Jacuzzi, who lives in California.

Some of the stories Dodd discovered were tragic. He tells the sad family story behind the Mercedes, which was named for the young daughter of Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur who commissioned the first Mercedes cars. Jellinek lost his fortune in the war and died a broken man in 1918.

Andrea Seabrook spoke with Dodd about the stories behind some of the characters who give the English language its color.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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