Types of Medical Terms: Eponyms vs. Descriptive Terms

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  • 0:01 Medical Terminology
  • 0:50 Eponyms
  • 1:52 Eponym Examples
  • 3:50 Descriptive Terms
  • 4:36 Descriptive Term Examples
  • 6:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

We will explore the two main ways in which medical terms are designed in this lesson. Learning how medical terms got their names will help with understanding terms as you are learning medical terminology. We will look at some examples of both eponyms and descriptive terms.

Medical Terminology

Medical terminology is a lot like learning a new language. As a matter-of-fact, medical terms are often referred to as the language of medicine. There are many terms in this language that you would likely never use on a daily basis unless you are a healthcare professional speaking to another healthcare professional. Many of the words are lengthy and seem to include most letters of the alphabet, which is something that doesn't frequently occur in English.

There are many keys to learning and being able to use a new language. One key is to understand how the people who created the language came up with the words in the language. This holds true for medical terminology as well. Let's look at how this applies to medical terminology.


Humans tend to be very prideful people who are ready to share their accomplishments with the world. This leads many people to name their discoveries after themselves or something that reflects them. This is a way for them to get recognition for what they discovered. Now what this means to you is that you sometimes end up with some really funny or weird-looking names for some rather simple things. This is especially true when it comes to science and medicine. There are scientists and doctors all over the world that are seeking a deeper understanding of our bodies and how they function. When this is achieved, then a new word is needed. When a word is based on a person or place rather than a description of the meaning, then this is called an eponym. Eponyms in medical terminology are most commonly seen in the names of diseases.

Eponym Examples

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is an example of an eponym. The name of this disease doesn't tell you anything about the fact that the disease affects the brain and causes it to degenerate, or that it is passed from animals to humans due to consuming contaminated meat. The name does tell you the two people who it is named after. Two neurologists from Germany by the names of Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt and Alfons Maria Jakob discovered this disease.

Turner's syndrome is another example of an eponym. This condition is named after a physician by the name of Henry Turner. Turner's syndrome, while named after a man, ironically only affects females. It occurs when a female is created with one X-chromosome and a missing sex chromosome. You would never know what this condition entails based on the name alone.

There are also some eponyms in medical terminology that are not diseases. Have you given much thought to why the tubes in your ears are called Eustachian tubes? That term has nothing to do with ears or tubes. What it does have to do with is the person who discovered the tubes in our ears. That person's name is Bartolommeo Eustachii.

Some scientists also choose things that interest them or their beliefs to name their discoveries. Achilles tendon is an example of this. This part of the body was named after a character in Greek mythology. The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel of the foot. Achilles in Greek mythology is most noted in regards to his weakness in his heel, and so this tendon got its name based on that reference.

Descriptive Terms

So, every person that makes a discovery is not sold on naming things after themselves. Some people decide to name their discoveries based on what they discovered. Instead, they choose descriptive terms, which are terms that describe the discovery. This can be very helpful when it comes down to remembering new words as you are learning this new language. Images can be put into your head based on the words and what they are describing. We'll now take some time to go over some common medical terms that are descriptive terms.

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