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| One of the most prevalent neurodegenerative diseases worldwide is still referred to as ‘Parkinson's disease’. The condition is named after James Parkinson who, in 1817, described the shaking palsy (paralysis agitans). In the bicentennial year of this publication, we trace when and why the shaking palsy became Parkinson's disease. The term was coined by William Rutherford Sanders of Edinburgh in 1865 and later entered general usage through the influence of Jean-Martin Charcot and the school that he nurtured at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. Despite a move towards more mechanism-based nosology for many medical conditions in recent years, the Parkinson's disease eponym remains in place, celebrating the life and work of this doctor, palaeontologist and political activist.