In the late 1970s, the FBI’s Witness Protection Program needed a long-due overhaul. They brought in their chief creative consultant, the head ideas guy, the man with the jazz going on. His name was Sam, and he liked to wear skirts. Sam heard his superiors out, and then Sam went home to think about it. Sam then flipped to MTV while channel surfing becausing thinking hurted and heard the word “eponymous”. That one word conjured up visions of romance and mystery and other intriguing emotions that would provide a poet enough food money for a week. But Sam wasn’t a poet. He was an ideas guy. How could I use the word “eponymous” to liven things up, he asked himself. Sam thought it sounded an awful lot like “anonymous”—perhaps too much. But you know, Sam said to himself, that one ep makes a whole lot of difference. People like short sounds like ep’s. Nobody likes anon. Anon sound like some sort of vaccine you had injected into your arm. Sam shuddered. Sam didn’t like needles, and he thought others wouldn’t either. So Sam went back to the meeting room the next day. He explained his idea. Everybody liked being anonymous in the Witness Protection Program. But how would they like to be eponymous? The guys in expensive suits glistening with blood talked it over. They talked some more. Then they nodded. And they talked and continues this in a very roundabout fashion before returning to Ted (it doesn’t matter) with an affirmative. In the words of a classic song with the wrong verb tense for this piece, “Whoop! There it [was]!”
Beginning in 1976, participants in the Witness Protection Program were given the choices of anonymity or epoonymity, which wasn’t a word. People who chose the second choice were people who didn’t know what the word meant or, as Sam predicted, liked the ep sound. They became situated in a neighborhood where everything was named after them. Their neighbors were the same name, as well as their children. Landmarks, streets, churches, ponds, playgrounds, and any object that had a name would be renamed to whoever entered the program. Historians look back and explain the logic thusly: by concealing everything with the same name, it made it difficult for any maliciously intended person to find that exact person. It was like zebras traveling in a pack except all the other zebras were lakes, ponds, streets, churches, and playgrounds, and you weren’t a zebra at all, even if your identically named neighbors think you have an uncanny ability to whinny. That, of course, is a bunch of hooey since there was no logic behind eponymity.
However, by 1979, many people had grown tired of the eponymous option. Re-making signs was tiring and renaming your family to somebody else’s name was disturbing, if not satisfying some communist fetish. So the bleeding suits removed the option and the neighbors all went back to being boring individualists. But the program did not leave behind just a legacy. It left behind a legacy and some fries. Famous participants include Martin Luther King (Junior, not the smelly Senior), Ronald Reagan, Julius Cæsar, and Th Street. 1979 marked the end of an era of eponymity and, perhaps, one nation’s illiteracy.