Why do we call the brain ‘brain’?

Alberto García-Molina, Antonia Enseñat

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


    © 2017 Revista de Neurología. Introduction. Every day millions of professionals use a countless number of technical words to refer to the different structures inside the skull. But few of them would know how to explain their origin. In this study we take an in-depth look into the etymological origins of some of these neuroanatomical terms. Development. The study takes an etymological tour of the central nervous system. It is in no way meant to be an exhaustive, detailed review of the terms currently in use, but instead a means to familiarise the reader with the linguistic past of words like brain, hippocampus, thalamus, claustrum, fornix, corpus callosum or limbic system. All of them come from either Greek or Latin, which were used for centuries as the lingua francas of science. The study also analyses the evolution of the word meninges, originally of Greco-Latin origin, although its current usages derive from Arabic. Conclusions. The neuroanatomical terms that are in use today do not come from words that associate a particular brain structure with its function, but instead from words that reflect the formal or conceptual similarity between a structure and a familiar or everyday entity (for example, an object or a part of the human body). In other cases, these words indicate the spatial location of the neuroanatomical structure with respect to a third, or they may be terms derived from characters in Greco-Latin mythology.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)85-90
    JournalRevista de Neurologia
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2017


    • Brain
    • Etymology
    • History
    • Mythology
    • Neuroanatomy
    • Skull


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