With this dictionary, Room offers an all-in-one alternative to his more specialized works, such as "Dictionary of Tradename Origins" (Routledge, 1982) and "Room's Classical Dictionary" (Routledge, 1983). "Brewer's" is intended to "reveal the origins of a wide selection of familiar names." It derives its title from Dr. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, original author of the "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable"
The dictionary contains more than 7,000 alphabetically arranged entries. Each begins with a brief description of the name, followed by its etymology. Place-names comprise the largest category of entries. A large proportion of them reflect the dictionary's British orientation. There are entries for many small towns in the U.K. While names of U.S. states, their capitals, and major cities are included, many important cities are not. For example, there is an entry for Birmingham in England, but not in Alabama. Still, many Anglophiles will enjoy the explanations of colorful London placenames, such as "Elephant and Castle" and "Charing Cross"
Forenames and surnames also account for a large number of entries. Room provides information about the origins of first names, such as "Lucy" (the feminine form of the Roman Lucius, based on "lux", or light), and last names, such as "Burrows" (someone who lived by a hill or barrow). Other well-represented categories include mythological names ("Hero"), names of British schools and colleges ("Gordonstoun"), brand names ("Lego"), sports teams and events ("Stanley Cup"), and popular names of musical pieces ("Minute Waltz")
"Brewer's" includes entries for a surprisingly large number of rock groups, considering the classical approach of many of Room's other books. Baby boomers will be amused to find listed such groups as the Electric Prunes ("a surreal name that encapsulates the psychedelic values of the time"). Categories with smaller numbers of entries include literary characters ("Gunga Din"), political groups ("Baader-Meinhof Gang"), holidays ("Hock Tuesday"), Native American groups ("Sioux"), structures ("Bastille"), foods ("Lapsang Souchong tea"), stars and constellations ("Betelgeuse"), and scores of proper nouns that defy categorization, such as "Immaculate Conception" and "Gorgio" (a Gypsy word for a non-Gypsy)
The book's closest competitor, the "Penguin Dictionary of Proper Names" ["RBB" Ap15 92], offers a "highly personal" selection of 10,000 entries, also with a British orientation. Though the two dictionaries are similar in size and scope, overlap is minimal. Each includes approximately one-quarter of the entries in the other, with most duplication occurring among place-names and mythological characters. "Penguin "includes more literary terms, names of animal celebrities, and miscellaneous proper nouns (e.g., "Indian rope trick", "soap opera"), while "Brewer's" includes more names of smaller places, a wider selection of forenames and surnames, and more brand names. Room generally provides more detail about a name's etymology. For example, his entry "Monty Python's Flying Circus" includes the origins of each word in the name, while "Penguin" identifies the comedy troupe but does not address the origin of the name
"Brewer's" is most successful for browsing, trivia seeking, and reading for pleasure. Most large libraries will continue to rely on specialized sources for names.
Sterling Publishing Co. makes this dictionary available in the US. Over 8,000 entries contain origins and meanings of place-names from around the world; first names, surnames, and trade names; names of animals, stars, languages, ships, political parties, and criminal organizations; and names from pop music, the Bible, mythology, art, literature, sport, and history. A quick reference, remarkable in its scope. No pronunciation. No indexing or references. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)