In American English, the traditional definition of namesake is one who is named after another. For example, John, Jr. is the namesake of his father, John, Sr. But in 21st-century usage, namesake is often applied to the source of the name, making John, Sr. the namesake of his son, John, Jr. This makes usage of namesake rather confusing. Fortunately, it’s usually easy to figure out which version of namesake a writer means.
In British English namesake often means simply one who shares a name with another, without implying that one is named after the other. Two unrelated Johns on opposite sides of the country might be called namesakes of one another.
Namesake usually applies to people, but it’s sometimes used for things. For instance, we might say Washington, D.C. is the namesake of George Washington. Or, if we were using the other sense of namesake, we would of course say George Washington is the namesake of the city.
It is only fitting then, in this week of remembrance, that the U.S.S. New York pay a visit to its namesake. [New York Times]
In the years after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, his successors did their best to run his namesake company as they thought the founder would have wanted. [Los Angeles Times]
The windmill’s namesake is Samuel G. Murphy, a prominent local banker who donated $20,000 toward its construction. [San Francisco Chronicle]
Alejandro Guirra was enjoying a break in the rain with his namesake son, who was playing on the sidewalk. [The Times of Trenton]
Miss Wells contacted her Nottingham namesake to inform her of the mistake. [Birmingham Mail]
A Tesco checkout manager who sold £100,000 of shares meant for his executive namesake has been jailed for two years. [Evening Standard]