Whose name is it anyway? Varying patterns of possessive usage in eponymous neurodegenerative diseases

PeerJ. 2013 Apr 16;1:e67. doi: 10.7717/peerj.67. Print 2013.


There has been long-standing debate over whether use of the possessive form of the names of eponymous neurological disorders should be abandoned. Which view has actually predominated in practice? We empirically assessed current and historical usage in the scientific literature. The PubMed database was queried for the percentage of titles published each year from 1960-2012 which contained the possessive form of Parkinson's (PD), Alzheimer's (AD), Huntington's (HD), Wilson's (WD), and Gaucher's (GD) diseases (e.g. Huntington's disease or chorea vs Huntington disease or chorea). Down syndrome (DS), well known for its changes in terminology, was used as a reference. The possessive form was nearly universal in all conditions from 1960 until the early 1970s. In both DS and GD it then declined at an approximately constant rate of 2 percentage points per year to drop below 15%. The possessive forms of both PD and AD began to decline at the same time but stabilised and have since remained above 80%, with a similar but more volatile pattern in HD. WD, meanwhile, is intermediate between the DS/GD and PD/AD/HD patterns, with a slower decline to its current value of approximately 60%. Declining possessive form usage in GD and DS papers has been remarkably uniform over time and has nearly reached completion. PD and AD appear stable in remaining predominantly possessive. The larger volume of papers published in those fields and their possibly greater public recognition and involvement may make that unlikely to change in the short-term. In a secondary analysis restricted to PD, we found that practices have switched dramatically several times in each of three US-published general neurology journals. Meanwhile, in two UK-published journals, and in the specialist title "Movement Disorders", the possessive form has been maintained consistently. The use of eponyms in neurology shows systematic variation across time, disorders, and journals.

Keywords: Eponyms; Historical neurology; Neurodegenerative disorders.

Grant support

No funding supported this study other than the salaries provided by the authors’ employers.