The Reliability of Orthopaedic Eponymous Terms

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There are approximately 20,000 medical eponymous terms in use today. Familiar eponymous terms serve as shorthand during communication with colleagues. This study tested the reliability of the everyday use of common orthopaedic eponymous terms.


Using an online survey, 224 orthopaedic surgeons were quizzed on common eponymous terms. The correspondence of each eponymous term with its original description (termed appropriate use) was calculated with 95% confidence intervals. We measured the reliability of the use of eponymous terms using the kappa statistic and the proportion of agreement.


The percentage of appropriate use averaged 45% (ranging from 27% [for the Barton fracture eponymous term] to 75% [for the Sever’s disease eponymous term]), with greater misuse among European surgeons. The reliability of the use of eponymous terms was low (kappa, 0.11; proportion of agreement, 68%). The support for using eponymous terms in daily practice was significantly lower among surgeons practicing in North America (63%) than among their colleagues in Europe and South America (80%; p < 0.001). Eponymous terms were used more often than anatomical descriptions or classifications.


Using eponymous terms is an inaccurate and unreliable method of communication. Descriptive terms are preferable to eponymous terms.

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