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Eponymous vs Noneponymous Terms 

Eponymous vs Noneponymous Terms


Richard M. Glass

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Eponymous vs Noneponymous Terms

Use of eponyms in the biomedical literature should be considered with regard to their usefulness in transmitting medical information. Although some eponyms are evanescent, many are permanently integrated into the body of medical knowledge. Eponyms have a degree of historical and cultural value and sometimes become well known. In the converse of historical value, it has been argued that certain eponyms should not be used because the named individual was involved in war crimes.5 In any case, many eponyms can be replaced with a noneponymous term consisting of a descriptive word or phrase that applies to the same disease, condition, or procedure. For example:

osteitis deformans, instead of Paget disease of bone

hemolytic uremic syndrome, instead of Gasser syndrome

The use of the noneponymous term may provide information about location or function and may serve the goal of clarity in international biomedical communication. The noneponymous term may be preferred in such contexts. This will also avoid confusing distinctly different disease entities with similar eponymous names (eg, Paget disease of bone, Paget disease of the nipple).

In some cases readers may be more familiar with the eponymous term. To insist on the use of either the noneponymous or the eponymous term would be contrary to a major purpose of scientific writing, which is to disseminate information that can be quickly understood by all. Placing the descriptive term(s) in parentheses after first mention of the eponymous term is another option that may be helpful, for example:

Stein-Leventhal (polycystic ovary) syndrome

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (bullous erythema multiforme)

The eponym, but not the noun or article that accompanies it, should be capitalized:

Babinski sign

Osler nodes

the Fisher exact test

Derivative adjectival forms of proper names are not capitalized, eg:

parkinsonian gait (from Parkinson disease)

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