There are two major categories of medical terms: descriptive – describing shape, color, size, function, etc, and eponyms, literally “putting a name upon”. The latter has been used to honor those who first discovered or described an anatomical structure or diagnosed a disease or first developed a medical instrument or procedure. Some examples of eponyms are fallopian tubes (uterine tubes-Gabriello Fallopio) and eustachian tubes (auditory tubes-Bartolommeo Eustachii). The problem with eponyms is that they give no useful information about what is or where to find the item named. The duct of Wirsung? Oh, you mean the pancreatic duct!

In recent times, the trend has been toward replacing eponyms with descriptive names. For this reason, we will not spend time learning them. However, some things are known almost exclusively by their eponym. Would you recognize “paralysis agitans” as Parkinson’s disease? Also, some descriptive terms have been deemed offensive or stigmatizing. As examples, “mongolism” is currently called Down’s syndrome and “leprosy” has all but been replaced with Hansen’s disease. Want to bet that AIDS will take on a new name in the future?

By the way, eponyms are not unique to medical terminology. Would you know from Mount Rushmore that there are faces carved upon it or that it is located in South Dakota? Whose faces are on Mt. Rushmore? Think about it for a minute and then click on the name to check for yourself. The link will open up in a new window. When finished, close and return to this program.

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