103/365 – What’s in a name?

Does what something’s called affect the way it is perceived? I asked myself this question after walking past the street pictured below today. How did it get the name Perkin’s Rents? Who was this Perkins? Why were his rents worthy of naming a street after? So many questions came to mind – all from those two words.   As I thought about more names that have caught my attention in the past, like who is the Tate in Tate Britain/Modern, I started to think about the name myasthenia gravis.

What does it mean?

According to the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America’s website, the name comes from the Greek and Latin words meaning ‘grave musclar weakness’.

How was it named?

According to this scientific paper on the history of neurological conditions, MG was first recognised in 1672 by Oxford physician Thomas Willis but was largely unnoticed until the nineteenth century. Around this time muscle diseases were studied across Europe, with the first full MG descriptions by Wilhelmina Erb of Heidelberg and Sam Goldflam of Warsaw. At what stage it was named is not mentioned.

What does myasthenia gravis convey?

Remember the first time you were told you had myasthenia gravis? How did you feel? I felt overwhelmed and terrified. The two words didn’t make sense to me – they were in a language I didn’t understand – and unfortunately the eye doctor who broke the news didn’t bother to translate. The fact that the name comes from ancient languages pushes understanding it even further away – it becomes a thing of epic proportions.

This is the same when you tell people, who aren’t medical professionals, you have myasthenia gravis. As the words are unfamiliar a wall goes up. Sometimes it’s like you can hear their mind processing “That’s not something I know about or understand – move on”.

Does myasthenia gravis need rebranding?

There are ways to make the name and therefore the condition more accessible.

There was an article in the Sun yesterday about a young guy with MG (more about this in my next post). It took the journalist to get down to the third paragraph before myasthenia was mentioned. It wasn’t myasthenia gravis but just myasthenia – the writer or editor had obviously taken the decision to lop off the surname.

Another way is by using the acronym MG and if you’re lucky enough to have just ocular symptoms you can use the fantastic acronym OMG. That’s got to be the best medical acronym in town and we’d be mad not to make more of it.

Myaware managed to do it by changing name last year. It still reflects myasthenia but the new name is a lot more engaging, It sparks curiosity rather than alienating.

Moving forward I think I will take the Sun’s approach and get rid of the gravis bit when describing my condition. The gravity bit has never lost it’s ability to intimidate me so I’m going to see how I get on without it, like I have in the title of this blog. 


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