Nomenclature (anatomy)

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The anatomical nomenclature is a systematic collection of terms used to uniquely name parts of the body of living beings. It was developed so that it is possible for experts to use the same name for a certain anatomical term to always be able to specify the same proportions, regions or positional relationships in the body of a living being of the same species .

On the one hand, people often use the same natural language to name a similarly determined body part differently (e.g. head and head ) and, on the other hand, often differentiate it from other body parts (e.g. from the neck and neck ). They often use different names for parts of different living beings. Therefore there is a multitude of names for a similar or the same or the same part of the body. Since ancient times , there has been a search for a generally valid naming for the externally visible parts of a body in order to be able to communicate clearly with clear names. The internal structure of the body is aggravated by the fact that parts of the body, for example muscles and organs with multiple joints, can be divided up differently. For example, the term quadriceps is defined in some nomenclatures as a collective term for four muscles, while in other, more recent nomenclatures, the quadriceps is a single muscle with four muscle heads .

In ancient medicine , Greek and Latin names were mainly used. The influence of Arabic medicine resulted in a hodgepodge of expressions in Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, Syriac and Hebrew until the Middle Ages. Andreas Vesalius in particular , who was opposed to the Arabic-based words, developed a fundamental reform of the anatomical vocabulary based on Latin and Latinized Greek in the 16th century. Latin was generally the lingua franca at universities in Medieval Europe . Today's anatomical nomenclatures are still largely based on the Latin or ancient Greek language. One advantage is that this language as a so-called “dead language”, which is no longer actively spoken - except in Vatican City , where Latin is the official language - is subject to little change. In recent times, medical Latin has undergone minor changes due to the dominance of the English language as a modern scientific language . In particular, the diphthongs “oe” and “ae” are simply replaced by “e” in the more recent spelling and the German-language K by a C (e.g. Taenia → Tenia, Oesophagus → Esophagus).

Today there are around 8,000 internationally established names for anatomical terms that go back to around 600 basic terms (400 of Latin and 200 of Greek origin). Regardless of their origin, the terms are usually treated like Latin forms and declined in Latin . The usual pronunciation corresponds to the late Latin usage: c is pronounced before light vowels (e, i, ae, oe, y) like z, otherwise like k.


In order to standardize the variants of anatomical names, several sets of rules have been drawn up. If in doubt, the newer classification should always be used, but you will occasionally come across older definitions in the literature.

Various nomenclature works have been created or further developed for humans . These international human anatomical nomenclatures are the

  • Basler Nomina Anatomica (BNA) from 1895
  • Jena Nomina Anatomica (JNA) from 1935
  • Parisian Nomina Anatomica (PNA) from 1955
  • Terminologia Anatomica ( TA ) from 1998
  • Terminologia Histologica from 2008 (currently applicable)
  • Terminologia Embryologica from 2009 (currently applicable)

A standardization of the anatomical names on the basis of identifiable terms had become necessary, since a variety of different expressions for the same structure had developed from the Middle Ages. The BNA introduced in 1895 tried to stop this development. The PNA introduced in 1955 was more of a step backwards in terms of comparative morphology, because the location designations are based (as with the BNA) on the upright posture of people. The 1998 Terminologia Anatomica was developed by the Federative Committee on Anatomical Terminology (FCAT), a group of experts elected at the 1989 World Congress of the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA). The draft was sent to the 56 IFAA member associations, who were allowed to comment and suggest changes.

For other mammals , PNA was only useful to a limited extent. Therefore, a working group was founded in 1955 to develop the Nomina Anatomica Veterinaria ( NAV ). The first edition was published in 1968, the 6th edition from 2017 is now valid. The veterinary nomenclature is largely identical to the human nomenclature, so that mutual understanding is assured, even at the risk that certain names are actually not very useful. For example, the teres major muscle (translated: “large round muscle”) is round in humans, but a strip-shaped muscle band in other mammals, but it is also named that way in animals. NAV and PNA only differ from each other for certain location and directional descriptions. Another special feature of NAV is that it consistently dispenses with proper names.

The anatomical nomenclature could not be easily transferred to birds either, due to many structural peculiarities. Therefore, a separate nomenclature was created for this class of vertebrates, the Nomina Anatomica Avium ( NAA ). The second edition has been available since 1993.

Naming conventions

All of these regulations stipulate that anatomical names always consist of at least two parts, often three, sometimes even four. These parts are put together according to a simple system. One-part names are only available for higher-level regions ( caput head, collum neck, thorax chest, etc.) and important organs ( cor heart, cerebrum brain, etc.) and some other structures ( clavicle, collarbone, platysma, etc.)

The first part of the name names the "assembly" (for example bone - Os ) or characterizes the "design" (for example gutter - sulcus ). The second part of the name describes this in more detail by specifying the shape, position, length, color or belonging to an organ. If these two parts of the name are still ambiguous, additional parts of the name are appended which contain additional information about the place, size or number (the first, the largest, the second, ...).

In some structures that are frequently used, the first part of the name is abbreviated: A. for artery ( arteria ), Art. For joint ( articulatio ), For. for hole ( foramen ), Ln. for lymph nodes ( Lymphonodus ), M. for muscle ( Musculus ), N. for nerve ( nerve ), V. for vein ( vena ) and the like. If several muscles, veins, lymph nodes, etc. are meant, the last letter of the abbreviation is doubled: Mm. are therefore "several muscles", Vv. means "several veins", Lnn. "Multiple lymph nodes".

Body parts (1st part of the name)
Latin Abbreviation German
Angulus Angle, corner
Aperture opening
Arcus arc
Artery A. Artery (vein leading away from the heart)
Articulatio Art. joint
Bursa B. Bursa
Canalis channel
Caput Head (as a shape, not as a skull; for example: joint head)
Cavitas cave
Collum Neck (e.g. bones)
Cornu Horn, appendix
Corpus Body, shaft (for bones)
Crista Comb, protrusion, reinforced edge
Duct Corridor, tube
Fascia Fascia (connective tissue covering around muscles)
Fossa Pit, depression
Foramen hole
Glandula gland
Gyrus Convolutions, especially brain convolutions
hiatus Entry point, crevice, opening
Lamina Cuticle, layer
Ligament Lig. tape
lobe Lobes (cerebral lobes, lung lobes)
Margo edge
Muscle M. Muscle (actually: little mouse )
Nerve N. nerve
Nodus Nd. node
Nucleus Ncl. Core, core area
Os bone
Pars Part, one of several
Plexus Braid
Processus Proc. Projection, projection
Radix Wheel. Root, origin
Ramus R. Branch, branch
Recess from re ~: back ~ and cedere: soft
Septum Wall, separation
Sine Bulge, depression, cavity, paranasal sinuses , enlargements of veins ( cavernous sinus etc.)
Sulcus Furrow, groove
Tendo tendon
Tuber Hump, bulge
Tubercle Tub. Humps
Tuberosity uneven, bumpy, rough spot (often the attachment point for the tendon of a muscle)
Vas Vessel, vein
Vena V. Vein (vein that leads to the heart)
Location details (2nd part of the name)
Latin Abbreviation German
abdominalis the belly ( abdominal duly)
acromialis belonging to shoulder height ( acromion )
brachialis on the upper arm ( brachium )
costalis on the ribs ( Costa )
cranialis belonging or pointing to the skull ( cranium ), located above (towards the skull)
cysticus belonging to the biliary system
dorsalis on the back ( dorsum ), backwards, also applies to the back of the hand and foot
femoralis on the thigh ( femur )
fibularis for calf bone ( fibula ) belonging
gastricus belonging to the stomach ( gaster )
hepatis on or in the liver ( Hepar , Greek)
iliacus on or in the iliac bone ( os ilium )
lienalis belonging to the spleen ( Lien )
palmaris belonging to the palm ( Palma manus )
pectoralis on the chest ( pectus )
peroneus on the fibula
plantaris belonging to the sole of the foot ( planta pedis )
pulmonalis on or in the lungs ( Pulmo )
radial on the spoke ( radius )
renalis on or in the kidney ( ren )
thoracicus on or in the chest ( thorax )
tibialis on the shin ( tibia )
transversus running transversely, striving through
ulnaris to the ulna ( ulna )
vertebralis the vortex ( vertebra )
Directions and sizes (2nd, 3rd or 4th part of the name)
Latin Abbreviation German
anterior ant. front
ascending ascending
caudalis down, tailward
cranialis up, upside down
descending descending
dexter dext. right (from the patient, not from the observer!)
dorsalis dors. behind, on the back, backwards
externus ext. outside, on the surface
inferior inf. lower
internus int. inside, in the body
lateralis lat. laterally, outside
longitudinalis longitudinal
maximus Max. the biggest
medialis med. inside, towards the middle
medius middle, between two others
minimus min. the smallest
posterior post Office. rear
profundus prof. deep
sinister sin. left (from the patient, not from the observer!)
superior sup. upper
superficialis superf. superficial
ventral ventr. in front, on the belly, towards the abdomen

Note: The Latin adjectives mentioned in the second and third tables appear in different forms, depending on the grammatical gender of the noun in the word compound. The adjectives are adjusted to the nouns so that both are in KNG congruence to one another. The ending can change. Only the masculine form of the adjectives is listed here. The female form of the male medius, for example, is media , the neuter medium .

See also


  • Heinz Feneis : Anatomical picture dictionary of international nomenclature. 1967; 2nd edition 1970; 4th edition 1974.
  • Wolfgang Dauber, Heinz Feneis: Feneis' picture lexicon of anatomy . 9th edition. Thieme, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-13-330109-8 .
  • Ian Whitmore (Ed.): Terminologia Anatomica. International Anatomical Terminology . Thieme, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-13-114361-4 .
  • Joseph Hyrtl : Arabic and Hebrew in Anatomy. Vienna 1879; Reprint Wiesbaden 1966.
  • Joachim-Hermann Scharf : The nomina anatomica in the system of scientific language through the ages. In: Negotiations of the anatomical society. Volume 80, 1986, pp. 27-73.

Individual evidence

  1. Adolf Fonahn: Arabic and Latin anatomical terminology, chiefly from the Middle Ages. Oslo 1922 (= Videnskapsselskapets skrifter, II: historisk-filosofisk class. 1921, 7).
  2. a b Heiner Fangerau (Ed.): Medical Terminology . 3. Edition. Lehmanns Media, 2008, ISBN 978-3-86541-297-3 .
  3. Karl-Wilhelm Grabert: The Nomina anatomica with the German surgeons Hieronymus Brunschwig and Hans von Gersdorff, their relationship to Guy de Chauliac and their relationship to the Jenenser Nomina anatomica of 1935. A contribution to the history of the anatomical nomenclature, with a sketch about the life, work and position of the three authors in German anatomy and surgery in the Middle Ages. Medical dissertation Leipzig 1943.
  4. a b c see Terminologia
  5. Preface to TA
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on September 14, 2005 .