What's in a name? Do you know the meaning of your name? Do you know the meaning of your muscles' names? Find out how many of the funky muscle names originated.
What's In a Name?
Some names, like mine, don't tell you much in common language unless you are well aware of Greek mythology and Artemis. But other names clearly tell you what they're all about. Taylor is a name that originally denoted that someone was a tailor. The same goes for Baker, Smith, and many other common first and last names today.
Thankfully, the way muscles are named usually tells you a bit about where they come from, or what they do, or what they look like.
Origin & Insertion, or Location
Muscles move, thanks in part to the fact that they originate and insert somewhere. The origin of a muscle is the place where a muscle begins, and it's also the less moveable attachment point. The insertion of a muscle is the place where a muscle ends, and it's usually the more moveable part of a muscle's attachment to the body.
You know how some surnames, at least originally, tell you where a person may originate from or be located in, like how the surname York used to mean someone was from York, England? Well, some muscles are named for their origin and insertion points, or for their location.
One muscle that's named for its origin and insert points is the sternocleidomastoid, which originates at the sternum and clavicle - in this case, 'cleido-' means 'clavicle' - and inserts on the mastoid process of the temporal bone.
An example of a muscle named for its location is the muscle pectoralis major, where 'pectoral' is a word that means relating to the chest. So, the name itself tells us this muscle is located on the chest. You know these muscles as the 'pecs' that you might work out at a gym.
Other examples of muscle names referring to their location include muscles with the words 'external,' 'internal,' 'superficial,' or 'deep,' denoting location on or in the body.
Action & Direction
Some people names denote action or direction. Names for cardinal directions, like baby North West, seem to be popular now. Action names, like Chase, are pretty common too.
Similarly, muscles can be named for their action or direction, as well. The flexor carpi muscles flex the carpi, or wrists, while the extensor carpi muscles extend the wrists.
As for direction, I mean the direction in which the muscle fibers run. Names for this include:
Oblique, which means at an angle, like the external oblique muscle
Transverse, meaning the fibers run in a crosswise direction, like the transverse abdominal muscle
Sphincter, which implies a ring-like muscle, such as the anal sphincter
Rectus, meaning that it's aligned straight with the vertical axis of your body, such as the rectus abdominis muscle, your abs
Number, Size, Shape, & Others
People names and nicknames can be pretty much all over the place in general. We have names that denote numbers, like Trinity representing three. We have names that represent a size, like Max, and a shape, like Star.
Muscles can be named for their number, size, shape, and many other things, sometimes inexplicably so. The biceps clearly imply two divisions, from 'bi-,' meaning 'two.' The triceps imply three divisions, from 'tri-,' which means 'three.'
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The gluteus maximus comes from Latin for largest, 'maximus,' and so it refers to the largest muscle of your butt, where 'gluteus' is the Latin for 'buttock.' Note how some muscle names contain more than one naming component, such as the gluteus maximus indicating location and size. This isn't the case, though, for the deltoid muscle, which is named for the shape of the Greek letter delta.
And like I said, some muscles have kind of inexplicable, or at least very strange, nomenclature. The hamstrings are named for the muscles and their tendons on which a butcher hangs a freshly killed pig, or at least their hams, the thighs, or so the story goes, at least.
Pretty cool, huh? This lesson was full of cool and strange human and muscle names. The people names aren't all that important, but you should know how muscles are named. In summary, some muscles are named for their origin and insertion.
The origin of a muscle is the place where a muscle begins. The insertion point of a muscle is the place where a muscle ends, and it's usually the more moveable part of a muscle's attachment to the body. An example of this naming scheme is the sternocleidomastoid.
Other muscles are named for:
Location, like the pectoralis major
Action, like the flexor carpi
Direction, like the external oblique
Number, like the biceps
Size, like the gluteus maximus
Shape, like the deltoids
And crazy reasons, like the hamstrings
The Strength in a Name
The human body is made up of thousands of individual pieces, each with their own purpose and function. Science has studied the body extensively and has fully categorized each of those parts. The muscles, much like the body as a whole, have been categorized and named using a variety of methods. These names can contain different descriptive terms, such as the location, action, size, or shape of the muscle. Understanding the name of the muscle will often help identify which one is being referenced.
After reviewing this lesson, you should be able to define and describe the different names for muscles.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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