How Muscles Are Named

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  • 0:00 What's In a Name?
  • 0:30 Origin & Insertion, Or…
  • 1:55 Action & Direction
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

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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