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What is it called when you talk about yourself by name?

Talking about yourself in the third person by using your own name is a linguistic phenomenon that has a few different names depending on the context. Some common terms for this practice include illeism, autonym, and third-person self-reference. While this way of speaking may seem unusual to some, it actually has some valid uses and interesting psychological implications. In this article, we will explore what drives people to talk about themselves in the third person, look at various examples of its use, and examine the different terms used to describe this phenomenon.

What is Illeism?

Illeism is the most common and broad term used to describe the act of referring to oneself in the third person by using one’s own name. It comes from the Latin ille meaning “he, that man” and -ism denoting a practice or ideology. Some key things to know about illeism:

– It involves using your own name or referring to yourself as “he/she” rather than using first-person pronouns like “I/me.”

– You are distancing yourself from your identity by adopting an outsider’s perspective of yourself.

– It can be used consciously or unconsciously.

– It appears in literature as early as the 3rd century BC and Julius Caesar was known to use it in his writings.

– Certain modern celebrities have exhibited illeism during interviews or in their lyrics.

So in summary, illeism is the broadest term for the third person self-referencing phenomenon. It can manifest either consciously or subconsciously and has been observed for thousands of years across cultures.

Examples of Illeism

Illeism is not commonly used in everyday speech, but there are some well-known examples of public figures, literature, music, and more that demonstrate this quirk:

Julius Caesar

The ancient Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar used illeism in his historical writings like Commentarii de Bello Gallico where he frequently refers to himself in the third person as “Caesar.” This was likely done out of humility to avoid seeming arrogant.

Bob Bobson

In the hit sitcom Arrested Development, the character Bob Loblaw frequently refers to himself in the third person for comic effect. “Bob Loblaw lobs law bomb” is a famous quote exhibiting his illeism.


The popular Sesame Street character Elmo notoriously speaks in third person, endearingly referring to himself as “Elmo.” This creates a separation between the puppet character and the puppeteer’s identity.


The rapper Busta Rhymes uses illeism in many of his songs where he refers to himself as “Busta” or his alter ego “Jimmy.” This adds variety to his lyrics and creates a more boastful, dominant persona.

Richard Nixon

Former American president Richard Nixon was known to sometimes refer to himself in the third person, as heard on the Watergate tapes from the 70s. This could have been an attempt to distance himself from responsibility.

So while illeism is uncommon in regular speech, it has been used consciously or unconsciously by various public figures and characters throughout history for different effects.

What is Autonym?

Autonym is a more specific term that refers to the practice of using your own name to refer to yourself. It comes from the Greek autos meaning “self” and onym meaning “name.” Some key things about autonym:

– Always involves specifically using your own name.

– Used to be more common historically when people were named after virtues.

– Can signify different psychological states based on context.

– Autonym is a subset of illeism, referring only to name usage.

For example, a person saying “John is going to the park” would be using autonym, while saying “He is going to the park” would just be illeism. So autonym specifies the direct usage of your name rather than third person pronouns.

Examples of Autonym

Here are some examples of autonym throughout history and culture:


As mentioned before, Julius Caesar frequently referred to himself in the third person as “Caesar” in his writings, a prime demonstration of autonym.

The Rock

Wrestler and actor Dwayne Johnson often refers to himself as “The Rock,” his stage name. This represents autonym used for branding oneself.

Elrond Hubbard

L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, would sometimes refer to himself as “Elrond,” a constructed identity, in his writings.

Bob Dole

Former senator Bob Dole was known for using autonym, like saying “Bob Dole knows a few things about X.” It was part of his political speaking style.

The Beatles

Songs like “Come Together” exhibit the Beatles using their band name rather than “I/we” for lyrical effect and styling.

So while autonym examples are rarer nowadays, they illustrate the specific phenomenon of directly using your own name or identity to refer to yourself in speech or writing.

What is Third-Person Self-Reference?

Third-person self-reference is the most clinical, scientific term for describing the phenomenon of illeism and autonym. Some key aspects:

– Most objective, precise term for this practice.

– Encompasses all uses of third person pronouns like “he/she/they.”

– Does not specify using your own name like autonym does.

– Used in academic literature in psychology and linguistics.

So third-person self-referencing is a very broad term that includes any instance of someone referring to themselves in the third person perspective rather than using “I/me.” It could involve using your name, but also pronouns like “she went to the park.” Scientific literature tends to use this term for its neutrality and applicability to many contexts.

The Psychology Behind It

What would drive someone to start referring to themselves by their own name or in the third person? There are a few key psychological explanations:

Distancing oneself

By using your name or third person pronouns, you create separation from your core identity. This can help compartmentalize thoughts or emotions.

Morality framing

We judge ourselves less harshly in the third person. Illeism allows us to communicate in a more diplomatic way.

Performative tool

Public figures may use illeism or autonym for enhancing their persona or “personal branding.”

Identity disorders

Those with psychological conditions like schizophrenia may use illeism due to distorted self-perception and identity fragmentation.

Cognitive impairment

Some forms of neurocognitive decline are linked to increased illeism as internal speech control deteriorates.

So while in moderate degrees illeism allows healthy distancing, in the extreme it can signal psychological disorders resulting from trauma or organic brain dysfunction. Typically it does not occur in isolation and may point to other issues.

Is Illeism Grammatically Correct?

There is no rule in standard English grammar that prohibits referring to yourself in the third person or using your own name. Some key considerations around illeism:

– Not part of mainstream modern English, but still comprehensible.

– Some argue it indicates immodesty or arrogance.

– Others contend it has valid literary or psychological uses.

– It occurs in dialects like Southern American English (“Bob don’t know the answer”).

– Using your name and “he/she” interchangeably can be confusing.

-Illeism makes action unambiguous by clarifying who is performing it.

So ultimately illeism does not violate grammatical conventions, but it is an unconventional mode of speaking that writers or speakers may utilize strategically in certain contexts. As with singular they/them pronouns, illeism reminds us that language norms evolve.


In summary, referring to yourself by your own name or using third person pronouns is known by terms like illeism, autonym, and third-person self-reference. This phenomenon allows for distancing from thoughts or emotions and creating an alternate persona. Famous examples can be seen across history from Julius Caesar to modern figures like Elmo. While illeism does not break grammatical rules, it is uncommon in mainstream English due to its literary and psychological implications. However, its usage highlights the flexibility and diversity of human language. When encountered, illeism warrants reflection on the speaker’s potential motivations and mental state.