You have to admire the cheeky acronym.
N = Non
O = Original
M = Malappropriate
E = Eponymous
N = Nomenclature
And, to hear Dr. Amanda Meyer tell it, NOMEN is not really intended as an attack on those white men—mostly white men—whose names are being used to identify certain parts of the anatomy.
What it’s meant to do is raise the issue and highlight the need for everyone to use a common terminology that is all based in science and not on the names of the scientists who identified certain anatomical structures.
We blogged about this topic recently (“What’s In A Name”) here. But we thought it was worth Round 2 after visiting with Dr. Amanda Meyer on the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System podcast.
Dr. Meyer teaches at The University of Western Australia in Perth. She teaches gross anatomy, histology, neuroanatomy, and neuroscience. She teaches everyone from first-year medical students to master’s level neuroscience students or students who are working on a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a doctorate in neurophysiology. As she puts it, her courses “run the gamut.” The university has about 24,000 students.
About ten years or so ago, Dr. Meyer started scratching her head about this topic. Students asked which term they needed to learn? The name connected to the discoverer of the part or the scientific one? The students, she said, thought it was stupid they had two learn at least two different names for each structure.
For instance, Gabrielle Fallopius, the 16th century Italian anatomist whose name is attached to Fallopian tubes. Dr. Meyer points out that that the tubes were actually described much earlier by Herophilus (born 336 BC) and Galen (born 129 AD). Why did Fallopius’ name stick? And why not just call them the uterine tubes? (In fact, Fallopius had many other contributions to anatomy, notably around the ear.)
Irish anatomist Benjamin Alcock, who worked in the 19th century, loaned his name to the Alcock Canal. Why not just call it the pudendal canal? Getting rid of “Alcock” would also relieve some snickering, too. And Dr. Meyer points out the Latin origin of ‘pudendal’ means ‘to be ashamed’ so no word is perfect.
Another wrinkle? Alcock was a good guy. He was forced to resign from his job (and flee) because he refused to illegally procure bodies for study. Is ‘pudendal’ better than ‘Alcock,’ she wonders. The issue, she says, “gets blurry.”
After bantering informally about the topic on Twitter, Dr. Meyer looked for like-minded fellow anatomists and found Associate Professor Margaret McNulty at the Indiana School of Medicine and a PhD student by the name of Rebecca Wisner. The trio wrote a paper, “NOMENS Land: The place of eponyms in the anatomy classroom.”
“When it went to the reviewers, that's when it got a bit interesting, because then we started getting feedback and they're like, ‘this seems really pointed at white males.’ You shouldn't put NOMENS in the title and there was quite a bit of pushback,” says Dr. Meyer. “But we put our foot down and we said no, we want this to be slightly controversial because we want to push our agenda. We want to get this discussion out into the open.”
The paper was published in 2021.
Dr. Meyer knows the campaign is going to take a long time. Textbooks linger for decades. Clinicians, according to surveys by Rebecca Wisner on this topic, vastly prefer eponyms. That’s especially true for clinicians who have been in the field for more than 20 years. Dr. Meyer is currently editing a book and having the same debate with the authors. “I’m saying we should remove the eponyms and they’re saying no, we’ve got to keep the eponyms.” The solution may be that both will be printed.
But today’s students, she says, are believers in NOMEN. However, she says, “it’s going to be a hard push,” especially to get the textbooks converted.
“I'd love to see it in my lifetime,” she says. “I'm in my mid-forties. I don't know if that's going to happen, but I would love to see it.”