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 Tower of Babel

The linguistic discussion about eponyms is a thorny question.

Eponyms bring colour to Medicine, but they contribute to a
prosopographical interpretation of science and to the diffusion of the
“forerunner’s virus”.

From the patient’s point of view, the use of eponyms may represent a
further obstacle for a proper understanding and it deeply marks the
distance between the cultural background of the physician and of the
patient himself.

Even if we examine the problem from the physician’s standpoint, eponyms
may produce misunderstanding, above all if we consider the problem of
translations: at least three different pathologies, for example, are
designated by the name of Marfan syndrome and the Babinski sign is known by a
number of other names.

Eponyms, however, represent a very interesting chapter in the History of
Medicine: they can be considered an opportunity to investigate the
creation and the development of a medical concept and the knowledge of the
scientist’s personality.

As far as the scientific communication is concerned, Claude Bernard wrote
that scientific style is like a crystal. Scientists' eloquence is
clarity.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 September 2007
Donatella Lippi
Prof. History of Medicine
University of Florence, 50134 Careggi, Viale Morgagni 85, Dep. Anatomy