Metonymic Use of Proper Names as the Window to American Popular Culture

  • Muhammad Adam Universitas Balikpapan
  • Dita Dewi Palupi Universitas Airlangga
Keywords: COCA, Corpus linguistics, metonymy, proper name


The study of proper name metonymy still needs more attention than metaphors, particularly the one related to creative metonymy from popular culture. Due to such rationale, this study examines how the proper names of famous American athletes are utilized as metonymy in English. The study objective is to identify the frequency, range period, and context or source of the metonymic use. In accomplishing this goal, three well-known American athletes become the focus of this study: Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, and Muhammad Ali. The study is mainly qualitative, with simple quantitative analysis to measure the frequency. The data source was the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), then the collected data from the three athletes were analyzed for their metonymic use. The analysis discovered that Michael Jordan became the most famous athlete with 67 usages, 58 of which were metonymic, followed by Babe Ruth with 23 usages and 21 metonymic use, and Muhammad Ali with all 18 data as metonymic. The characteristic or metonymic concepts attached to those famous names were uniquely dissimilar; Michael Jordan was associated with greatness, Babe Ruth was related to excellence, and Muhammad Ali was linked to magnificence. The field of context for these names’ utilization was not only from sports but also extended to social, scientific, art, business, law, and political areas. Meanwhile, the periods of use range from 1992 to 2018, with various sources from movies, magazine and newspaper news, TV news, and blogs. This study highlights how cultural aspects and cognition are essential in language expression, indicating how the dynamic change in society affects the dynamic shift in language expression.


Adam, M., Hafsah, S., & Wahyuni. (2021). Kartini and Srikandi: Representation of women in Indonesian political discourse through metonymy. Journal of Language and Literature, 21(1), 148–159.
Alfano, P. (1983). Jordan settles into success as a tar heel. The New York Times.
Augustyn, A. (2022). Forbes. In Encyclopedia Britannica.
Barcelona, A. (2004). Names: A metonymic “return ticket” in five languages. Jezikoslovlje, 1(2003), 11–41.
Beith, D. (2023). Animal phenomenology: Metonymy and sardonic humanism in Kafka and Merleau-Ponty. Humanities, 12(18), 1–15.
Coulson, S., & Oakley, T. (2003). Metonymy and conceptual blending. In K.-U. Panther & L. L. Thornburg (Eds.), Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing. John Benjamins Publishing.
Dator, J. (2020). The mystery of Michael Jordan’s mind-boggling 40-yard dash time. SBNation.
Davis, S. (2020). Michael Jordan once added 15 pounds of muscle in one summer to prepare for a rival and changed the way athletes train. Insider.,215%20with%20upper%2Dbody%20work
Eschner, K. (2017). Why was Babe Ruth so good at hitting home runs? Smithsonian Magazine.
ESPN. (2020). Top North American athletes of the century.
Gardner, H. E. (2008). Multiple intelligences: New horizons in theory and practice. Hachette UK.
Gleick, J. (2022). Richard Feynman. In Encyclopedia Britannica.
Huddleston Jr., T. (2020). How Michael Jordan became great: ‘Nobody will ever work as hard as I work.’ CNBC.
Hurd, H. (2016). Muhammad Ali: Agent for change who did it his way. Appen Media.
Inglis-Arkell, E. (2015). Here’s what happened when psychologists tested Babe Ruth. Gizmodo.
Kenton, W. (2021). Forbes. In Investopedia.
Kosse, M. (2021). “Don’t make me pull a Britney”: Onomastics and genericness in the PULL A [PROPER NAME] construction. Colorado Research in Linguistics, 25, 1–13.
Kosterec, M. (2021). A hyperintensional theory of (empty) names. Erkenntnis, 88, 511–529.
Kövecses, Z. (2010). Metaphor: A practical introduction. Oxford University Press.
Kumar, S. (2016). Metonymies of fear: Islamophobia and the making of Muslim identity in Hindi cinema. Society and Culture in South Asia, 2(2), 1–23.
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2008). Metaphors we live by. The University of Chicago Press.
Lexico. (2022). Magnificent. In
Littlemore, J. (2015). Metonymy: Hidden shortcuts in language, thought and communication. Cambridge University Press.
Parham, J. (2016). Muhammad Ali knew he was beautiful. The Fader.
Patton, P. (1994). Agents of change. American Heritage.
Radden, G., & Kövecses, Z. (2007). Towards a theory of metonymy. In V. Evans, B. Bergen, & J. Zinken (Eds.), The Cognitive Linguistics Reader (pp. 335–359). Equinox.
Rader, C. (2007). Wenatchee is the apple capital of the world. The City of Wenatchee Washington.
Rushcutters Health. (2022). The workout Michael Jordan used to WIN 6 NBA championships!
Textor, M., & Rami, D. (2015). Proper names: Philosophical and linguistic perspectives. In Erkenntnis (Vol. 80, Issue 2, pp. 191–194). Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Vasiloaia, M. (2018). The use of metonymy in business linguistic culture. Economy Transdisciplinarity Cognition, 21(1), 183–191.
Wardhaugh, R. (2006). An Introduction to Sociolinguistic (5th ed.). Blackwell Publishing.
White, R. D. (2019). How Michael Jordan became a brand. Los Angeles Times.
Zinken, J., Hellsten, I., & Nerlich, B. (2008). Discourse metaphors. In R. M. Frank, R. Dirven, T. Ziemke, & E. Bernárdez (Eds.), Body, Language, and Mind: Sociocultural Situatedness (Vol. 2, pp. 363–386). Mouton de Gruyter.