Nomenclature in medicine; a perspective

Ahmad Al Aboud1, Nora Mohammed Al-Aboud2

1Department of Dermatology, King Abdullah Medical City, Makkah, Saudi Arabia, 2College of Applied Sciences, Umm Al-Qura University, Makkah, Saudi-Arabia

Corresponding author: Dr. Ahmad Al Aboud, E-mail: ahmadalaboud@hotmail.com
Submission: 16.03.2014; Acceptance: 19.06.2015

There are several types of nomenclature used in medicine [13]. These include eponyms and acronyms. This journal already published two supplements for eponyms in dermatology.

There are, also, several origins for the medical terms. This may include places (e.g. Lyme disease) or food (e.g. Salmon patch) [4].

In this manuscript, We shall present a perspective on medical terminology.


There are several names in medicine which originated from animals names. The genes in humans have been named after some of the animals like mice, drosophila, and hedgehog [5].

An example for a term related to animal is ‘’Elephant man syndrome’’.

Sir Frederick Treves first showed Joseph Merrick, (Fig. 1), the famous Elephant Man, to the Pathological Society of London in 1884. A man with gigantic growth, thought to have neurofibromatosis or Proteus syndrome [5,6].

Figure 1: Joseph Carey Merrick (1862-1890).


Researchers who named the medical things are also influenced by public characters or stories. So it is not strange to find some medical terms based on non-medical things.

For example; Kabuki syndrome, which is a congenital disorder with multiple anomalies and intellectual disability. It is named Kabuki Syndrome because of the facial resemblance to Kabuki actor’s mask [7], (Fig. 2). Kabuki is a Japanese traditional theatrical form.

Figure 2: Two Kabuki actors.

Another example for the above subheading is Rapunzel syndrome, which is a gastric trichobezoar with a tail extending up to the jejunum, ileum, or ileocecal junction [8]. It was first described by Vaughan et al. in 1968 It is named after the eponymous heroine of a German fairy tale written by the Grimm Brothers in 1812 about a 12-year-old princess imprisoned by a witch in a tall tower with neither stairs nor doors for many years; the princess lowered her long hair to the ground from her window, allowing a young prince to climb up and rescue her [8] (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Rapunzel story. From: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and New Media Strategies.


Rarely a disease may be named after something related to the paients. For example; Ambras syndrome (AS), which is a form of hereditary, generalized hypertrichosis. The Ambras name was given because the family portraits of Gonzales (The first recorded case of AS) were discovered in Ambras castle, (located in Austria) amongst an art collection started by the archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595) [9].

Petrus Gonzales (Fig. 4) was born in the Canary Islands in 1556. Out of curiosity, Petrus was brought to France where he was presented as a gift to the nobles. He subsequently produced offspring with similar AS features. Currently, the same paintings of Gonzalez which were in Ambras castle, hang in the Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna [9].

Figure 4: Petrus Gonsalvus.
Figure 5: Henry Louis Gehrig (1903-1941).

Patients have been immortalized by having their names or initials incorporated; for example, B-K mole syndrome, where the letters B and K refer to the two patients in whom the condition was first described. The same is true of anti-Sm, anti-La, and anti-Ro antibodies, each of which is derived from letters of a patient’s name. In table1 [1017], I listed selected medical terms in which the name of disease refers to the patient’s name.

Table 1: Selected medical terms in which the name of the disease refers to the patient’s name

Out of curiosity a reverse might happens, and a person might carry the name of the disease. This is what happened to Mary Mallon (1869-1938), (Fig. 6), who was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever. Mary Mallon was then best known as Typhoid Mary [18].

Figure 6: Mary Mallon (1869-1938).


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

2. Al Aboud K, Al Hawsawi K, Ramesh V, Al Aboud D, Al Githami A, Eponyms in dermatologySkinmed 2004; 3: 11-12.

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

4. Al Aboud K, Al Hawsawi K, Ramesh V, Al Aboud D, Al Githami A, Foods and places in dermatological termsDermatol Online J 2003; 9: 24.

5. Al Aboud K, Words Related to Animals in Dermatology Literature – From Cutaneous Horn to Elephant ManDermatol Nursing 2010; 22: 36.

6. Tibbles JA, Cohen MM, JrThe Proteus syndrome: the Elephant Man diagnosedBr Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1986; 293: 683-5.

7. Spano G, Campus G, Bortone A, Lai V, Luglie PF, Oral features in Kabuki make-up syndromeEur J Paediatr Dent 2008; 9: 149-52.

8. Kim JS, Nam CW, A case of Rapunzel syndromePediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr 2013; 16: 127-30.

9. Rashid RM, White LE, A hairy development in hypertrichosis: a brief review of Ambras syndromeDermatol Online J 2007; 13: 8.

10. Auberger’s blood group. [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 2012Nov2; cited 2014March 8Available at; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auberger%27s_blood_group.

11. Philip J, Sarkar RS, Kumar S, Prathip BR, Pathak A, Factor IX deficiency (Christmas disease)Med J Armed Forces India 2012; 68: 379-80.

12. Lloyd KM, IIDennis M, Cowden’s disease. A possible new symptoms complex with multiple system involvementAnn Intern Med 1963; 58: 136-42.

13. Bardach H, Gebhart W, Luger T, Genodermatosis in a pair of brothers: Dowling-Degos, Grover, Darier, Hailey-Hailey or Galli-Galli disease?Hautarzt 1982; 33: 378-83.

14. El Shabrawi-Caelen L, Rutten A, Kerl H, The expanding spectrum of Galli–Galli diseaseJ Am Acad Dermatol 2007; 56: 5SupplS86-91.

15. Bröer S1, Cavanaugh JA, Rasko JE, Neutral amino acid transport in epithelial cells and its malfunction in Hartnup disorderBiochem Soc Trans 2005; 33: 233-6.

16. Ray SS, Lansbury PT, JrA possible therapeutic target for Lou Gehrig’s diseaseProc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2004; 101: 5701-2.

17. Pandhi D, Sonthalia S, Singal A, Mortimer’s Malady revisited: a case of polymorphic cutaneous and systemic sarcoidosisIndian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2010; 76: 448.

18. Brooks J, The sad and tragic life of Typhoid MaryCMAJ 1996; 154: 915-16.


Source of Support: Nil,

Conflict of Interest: None declared.



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