Should eponyms be abandoned?

bmj_eponyms.gif   The September 1, 2007 issue of BMJ contains a feature entitled Should eponyms be abandoned? Alexander Woywodt and Eric Matteson wrote the Yes response, and Judith A Whitworth the No response.

Excerpt from Should eponyms be abandoned? Yes:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an eponym as a person . . . after whom a discovery, invention, institution, etc is named or thought to be named. Eponyms are deeply rooted in tradition and their use has long been viewed as a matter of taste. However, it is time to abandon them in favour of a more descriptive nomenclature.

Eponyms often provide a less than truthful account of how diseases were discovered and reflect influence, politics, language, habit, or even sheer luck rather than scientific achievement. Moreover, the continued use of tainted eponyms is inappropriate and will not be accepted by patients, relatives, or the public.

Read the BMJ Rapid Responses to Yes

Excerpt from Should eponyms be abandoned? No:
Some years ago, filling in time between candidates in a clinical examination, I was chatting to a colleague about eponyms. His view was that eponyms were not particularly useful and he recalled an encounter with a young woman struggling in a similar examination. She couldn’t find the lymph nodes and seemed unfamiliar with pulmonary auscultation. To bolster her spirits, he asked her who discovered Koch’s bacillus. She became even more anxious and lost for words. My colleague helpfully asked, “Who wrote Mendelssohn’s Spring Song?” and she burst into tears. Similarly, I recall a friend coming out of a fine arts examination and asking who designed the Eiffel Tower.

I understand there was a long line of people happy to argue that eponyms be abolished, and few prepared to take the contrary view. This I can only ascribe to the well known human propensity to enjoy tilting at windmills.

Read the BMJ Rapid Responses to No

Join the debate and respond to the survey at the medpageTODAY site:

Should Medicine Abandon Eponyms for More Scientific Descriptions?
* Yes, Addison, Zollinger, Ellison and the others didn’t do anything that merits a permanent entry in Dorland’s
* No, eponyms are a convenient shorthand

Survey results (398 responses) as of Wednesday, September 5, 2007, 6:16pm in Ontario: Yes/No

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