What Is a Misnomer? | Definition, Meaning & Examples

Misnomer is a noun that refers to a wrong, misleading, or inappropriate use of a name or designation. It’s also used to refer to the misleading name or designation itself.

Examples: Misnomer in a sentence
It’s a misnomer to call it “tennis elbow.” I got it playing golf.

It’s a bit of a misnomer to call nachos “fine dining.”

“Stand-up comedy” turned out to be a misnomer for the show we went to see. I didn’t laugh once.

In legal contexts, misnomer has a similar meaning. It’s used to refer to the use of an incorrect name in a legal document and to the legal processes related to this offense (e.g., “law of misnomer”).

Examples of misnomers

There are numerous examples of commonly used misnomers.

Misnomer Explanation
Koala bears A koala bear is actually a marsupial, not a bear.
Light-year A light-year is a measure of distance, not time. It’s the distance light will travel in a vacuum in one year.
Chinese checkers This game is not of Chinese origin and is not actually related to the game checkers. It’s officially called Sternhalma.
Peanuts Peanuts are technically legumes, not nuts.
Holy Roman Empire Voltaire famously joked that the Holy Roman Empire was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
Lead pencil Pencils contain graphite and clay, not lead.

Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

Frequently asked questions

What is a synonym of “misnomer”?

Misnomer is quite a unique word without any clear synonyms. Some phrases that convey the same idea are:

  • Inaccurate label/name/title
  • Misleading term
  • Wrong label/name/title
What is an example of a misnomer?

Some well-known examples of terms that are or have been viewed as misnomers, but are still widely used, include:

  • Koala bears
  • Light-year
  • Chinese checkers
  • Peanuts
  • Lead pencil
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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.

1 comment

Eoghan Ryan
Eoghan Ryan (Scribbr Team)
September 9, 2022 at 4:18 PM

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