Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Head to head

Should eponyms be abandoned? No

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39308.380567.AD (Published 30 August 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:425

The eponym should always live on

In the increasingly bland medical world of reduced individuality,
standard formats and political correctness, it’s more important than ever
to keep the eponym!
As Judith Whitworth says ( BMJ Sept 1st ), they bring colour to medicine
- and they remind
us of our medical culture and history.

Woywodt’s three arguments ( BMJ Sept 1st ) in favour of their
abandonment don’t really stack up to anything resembling robustness.

Firstly he is concerned that eponyms associated with the Nazis are
inappropriate. I agree with that, and any other conditions associated with
criminals – if there had been a Shipman Syndrome, it could easily be
renamed. But this is neither here nor there in the overall scheme of
over 7,000 eponyms.

Second, he complains that they may not be named after all the people
involved in their discovery. Well, life is unfair, in many aspects! Many
activities are the result of good teamwork, but frequently only the leader
of the team is remembered. In my neck of the woods, Caleb Parry
described thyrotoxic eye disease well before Graves, but his descriptions
weren’t written up till after his death, and he didn’t get his eponym.
Better to remember someone associated with the discovery, than no-one at
all, Dr. Woywodt.

Third, a lack of scientific accuracy is not necessarily something
that will be improved by abandoning eponyms. And as for the assertion that
they cause confusion and hamper scientific discussion – where’s the
evidence for that bit of fiction? Are the readers of this week’s BMJ
confused by the articles on Silver Syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease and
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and are they hampering scientific discussion?

I would think just the opposite and furthermore, some details of the
life of James Parkinson, Edward Ehlers and Henri Danlos would have
enhanced the articles.
Keep the eponym, medicine would be poorer without it!

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

02 September 2007
Neil G Snowise
Pharmaceutical Physician
Bath