Eponymous vs Noneponymous Terms - Eponyms

AMA Manual of Style - Stacy L. Christiansen, Cheryl Iverson 2020

Eponymous vs Noneponymous Terms

Eponyms are names or phrases derived from or including the name of a person or place. These terms are used in a descriptive or adjectival sense in medical and scientific writing to describe diseases, syndromes, signs, tests, methods, and procedures.

Eponyms often indicate the name of the describer or presumptive discoverer of the disease (Alzheimer disease) or sign (Murphy sign), the name of a person or kindred found to have the disease described (Christmas disease), or, when based on the name of a place (technically called toponyms), the geographic location in which the disease was found to occur (Lyme disease, Ebola virus). Historically, eponyms named after the describer or discoverer took the possessive form (’s) and those named for other persons or for places took the nonpossessive form. As the use of the possessive form for all eponyms has become progressively less common (see 15.2, Nonpossessive Form), this formal distinction has faded.

Correct use of eponyms should be considered with a view toward clarity and consistency, the awareness that meanings can change over time and across cultures, and a desire to minimize misunderstanding in the global medical community.

15.1 Eponymous vs Noneponymous Terms.

Use of eponyms in the biomedical literature should be considered with regard to their usefulness in transmitting medical information. Medical writing is replete with eponyms; however, descriptive terms are often more useful for a reader. For instance, the pancreatic duct is sometimes referred to as the duct of Wirsung, after its discoverer, but that term gives no useful information about the function or location of the duct. In any case, many eponyms can be replaced with a noneponymous term that consists of a descriptive word or phrase that designates the same disease, condition, or procedure. For example:

osteitis deformans (instead of Paget disease of bone)

hemolytic uremic syndrome (instead of Gasser syndrome)

amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (instead of Lou Gehrig disease)

The use of the noneponymous term may provide information about location or function and facilitate international communication. It also helps 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. Placing the descriptive term(s) in parentheses after first mention of the eponymous term may be helpful in this instance. For example:

Stein-Leventhal syndrome (polycystic ovary syndrome)

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (bullous erythema multiforme)

Crohn disease (regional enteritis)

Eponyms, but not the nouns or articles that accompany them, should be capitalized.

Babinski sign

Osler nodes

the Fisher exact test

Adjectival forms of proper names are not capitalized.

parkinsonian gait (from Parkinson disease)

addisonian crisis (from Addison disease)