Christmas and eponyms

Christmas seems an appropriate time to be looking at eponyms (think about it)

Today is December 1st so I get to open the first window on my advent calendar.

It is a tablet calendar.  If you aren’t Scottish, or don’t know what tablet is then you are missing out but also far less likely to become diabetic.

As well as my actual advent calendar I am also running #Anatomyadvent where each day I am posting an eponym, a structure in the body that is named after the person who described it, and we are seeing what anatomists in twitterverse call it.

The academic move is against using eponyms.  They don’t encourage understanding and you can see that naming something after ‘some white dude’ doesn’t tell you a lot about what it does or where it is.

A common language in medicine is a great way to communicate.  Trips to the A and E with my son have  sped up since I have learned the language.  We can be precise, the medic knows exactly what we are talking about.

Opinions are split about eponyms and I think whether they are good or bad  depends who you are talking to.

If I am talking to the medical student then their learning the term  ‘pouch of Douglas’ tells them nothing about where it is, what it does.  You can see that the powers to be might think calling it ‘retro uterine pouch’ tells the student where it is.  It helps, it helps those people who understand latin.  Translating things out of Latin so that more people could understand them is a move we made back in the 1600’s.  Is this a backwards step?  putting things back into Latin.

If I am engaged in Science communication then ‘retro uterine’ means nothing more than ‘Douglas’ . It sounds like Latin, it sounds elitist, it puts people off.  Douglas, on the other hand, begs the question ‘Who was Douglas?’  It opens up stories from the history of medicine.  It allows conversations about why parts of the body are named after ‘some white dude’.  It promotes discussions about why no one else seems to appear in history -its all ‘random white dudes.’  Eponyms can be a springboard off into other directions.

Are they good or bad?  I think it depends where you are standing.  Let’s see what #Anatomyadvent shows us about their use.  Have they gone or are they still in use?


P.S.  It appears that the pouch of Douglas might actually be called the Rectouterine pouch now because it is between the rectum and the uterus, rather than the Retrouterine pouch because it is behind the uterus – both factually correct –  but only one will be the correct name.   Ironic that trying to clarify the name of it has actually created confusion.

Author: Anatomy Fundamentals

Janet Philp has spent a lifetime exploring fitness and wellbeing. Starting in group exercise, travelling through rugby to representing the UK at martial arts before including Yoga, meditation, Budokon and personal instruction. Her passion is anatomical function and educating people to use their bodies to their full potential.

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