Homonyms in medicine: A perspective

Khalid Al Aboud

Department of Public Health, King Faisal Hospital, Makkah, Saudi Arabia
Corresponding author: Dr. Khalid Al Aboud, E-mail: amoa65@hotmail.com
Submission: 27.05.2013; Acceptance: 21.09.2014
DOI: 10.7241/ourd.20151.30

In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that share spelling and pronunciation but may have different meanings. Thus homonyms are simultaneously homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of their pronunciation) and homophones (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of their spelling) [1].

One can find easily a name in medicine which be perceived as 2 different meanings [2]. Table 1, list few examples, and Table 2 [26], focus on few eponyms which can be misunderstood as related to countries.


Table I: Few examples of Homonyms in medicine


Table 2: Few eponyms who can be misunderstood as related to countries

Acronyms might be considered a major source for homonyms. Acronyms such as CHILD, CLOVE, KID, LEOPARD, NAME, and POEM might cause confusion to the patient as to the relation to the other meanings of these acronyms [7]. CLOVE syndrome stands for (congenital lipomatous overgrowth, vascular malformations, and epidermal nevus) [8].

The Eponyms are the most common type of medical names which may cause confusion with other names, inside and outside medical field [1]. A previous paper in this journal highlighted on this issue1. From which I am copying the following segment; Similar name might be thought for and confused with another person, for example verrucous carcinoma of Ackerman is named after Lauren Vedder Ackerman (1905-1993) and not, A. Bernard Ackerman (1936-2008).

One may see also identical names for 2 different eponyms.

For examples “Sjögren” in “Sjögren’s syndrome” (Sicca syndrome), is named after Henrik Samuel Conrad Sjögren (1899-1986), Swedish ophthalmologist. Whereas, “Sjögren”, in “Sjögren-Larsson syndrome”, is named after, Karl Gustaf Torsten Sjögren (1896-1974), Swedish physician, psychiatrist and inheritance researcher.

Similarly, “Stewart’’ in “Stewart-Treves syndrome”, (a malignancy that arises within chronic lymphedema), is different from the one in “Stewart-Bluefarb syndrome’’. The latter is a type of acroangiodermatitis which was described independently by Stewart as well as by Bluefarb and Adams on the legs of patients with arterio-venous malformations. The term, pseudo-Kaposi sarcoma, is generally used synonymously with acroangiodermatitis of Mali, but is a broader term and includes both acroangiodermatitis of Mali and Stewart-Bluefarb syndrome.

As one more example, there are 2 “Bart’s’’ in the eponyms of dermatology. Dr Bruce J Bart, who is behind “Bart syndrome’’, and Dr Robert Bart, who was one of the men behind “Bart-Pumphrey syndrome’’. “Look-alike or sound-alike’’ eponyms are not rare. This is because there is extensive list of eponyms bearing the name of the same scientist.

Hutchinson’s sign, for example which can be seen both in subungual melanoma and ophthalmic herpes zoster. In such situations it is better to be more specific by adding the site of involvement when mentioning the sign, e.g., Hutchinson’s nail sign [910].


Medical practitioners should be vigilant about the homonyms in medicine in order to protect the safety of the patient. Care should be taken in spelling and pronunciation of medical terms to prevent any possible mistakes.


1. Homonym. [A page on the Internet]. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. [This page was last modified 2014 Feb 19; cited 2014 March 8Available at; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homonym.

2. Al Aboud A, Al Aboud K, Similar names and terms in dermatology;an appraisalOur Dermatol Online 2012; 3: 366-7.

3. Kopáèová M, Urban O, Cyrany J, Laco J, Bureš J, Rejchrt S, Cronkhite-Canada Syndrome: Review of the LiteratureGastroenterol Res Pract 2013 2013; 856873

4. Lewin SO, Hughes HE, German syndrome in sibsAm J Med Genet 1987; 26: 385-90.

5. German J, Morillo-Cucci A, Simpson J L, Chaganti RSK, Generalized dysmorphia of a similar type in 2 unrelated babiesBirth Defects Orig Art Ser 1975; XI: 34-8.

6. Baban A, Torre M, Costanzo S, Gimelli S, Bianca S, Divizia MT, Familial Poland anomaly revisitedAm J Med Genet A 2012; 158A: 140-9.

7. Al Aboud K, Acronyms in dermatology literature;an appraisalJ Pak Asso Dermatol 2012; 22: 50-4.

8. Happle R, The group of epidermal nevus syndromes Part II. Less well defined phenotypesJ Am Acad Dermatol 2010; 63: 25-30.

9. Al Aboud K, Al Hawsawi K, Ramesh V, Al Aboud D, Al Githami A, An appraisal of terms used in dermatologySKINmed 2003; 2: 151-3.

10. Al Aboud K, Hawsawi K, Ramesh V, Al Aboud D, Al Githami A, Cutaneous signsSKIN med 2003; 2: 104-7.

11. Al Aboud K, Al Hawsawi K, Ramesh V, Al Aboud D, Al Githami A, Eponyms in dermatologySkinmed 2004; 3: 11-2.


Source of Support: Nil

Conflict of Interest: None declared.



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