In the late nineteenth century some 50,000 terms for various body parts were in use. The same structures were described by different names, depending (among other things) on the anatomist’s school and national tradition. Vernacular translations of Latin and Greek, as well as various eponymous terms, were barriers to effective international communication. There was disagreement and confusion among anatomists regarding anatomical terminology.

Basle Nomina Anatomica (BNA)Edit

Work on a new international system of anatomical terminology began in 1887. The system was approved in 1895 by the Ninth Congress of the Anatomische Gesellschaft in Basel (then "Basle"), Switzerland. It became known as the Basle Nomina Anatomica (BNA). The BNA reduced the number of anatomical terms from 50,000 down to 5,528.

The BNA was adopted by anatomists from many countries including Spain and the United States, but the reception was far from universal. French anatomists preferred to continue in their own tradition. British anatomists broke away from the BNA in 1933, adopting the Birmingham Revision (BR). The Anatomische Gesellschaft itself produced a revision, the Jena Nomina Anatomica (JNA), in 1935.

The BNA and its various revisions (BR, JNA) remained standard international terminology until 1955.

Nomina Anatomica (NA)Edit

The International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA) is the international body representing anatomical societies from throughout the world. The First Federative International Congress of Anatomy met in Geneva in 1903.

The Fifth Congress (Oxford, 1950) established a committee, the International Anatomical Nomenclature Committee (IANC), to work on standardized anatomical terminology. The IANC’s revision of the BNA was approved in 1955 at the Sixth Congress, meeting in Paris. It was originally called the Parisiensia Nomina Anatomica (PNA) but later became known simply as the Nomina Anatomica (NA).

The first edition of Nomina Anatomica was published in 1956. It contained 5,640 terms, of which 4,286 were unchanged from the BNA.

The IANC continued to work on anatomical terminology over the next thirty years. Revisions of Nomina Anatomica were approved at the Seventh Congress (New York, 1960), the Eighth Congress ((Wiesbaden, 1965), the Ninth Congress (Leningrad, 1970), the Tenth Congress (Tokyo, 1975) and the Eleventh Congress (Mexico City, 1980). The second edition of Nomina Anatomica was published in 1961; the third edition in 1966; the fourth edition in 1977; the fifth and last edition in 1983.

The IANC and the FCATEdit

Around the time of the Twelfth Conference (London, 1985), a dispute arose over the editorial independence of the IANC. The IANC did not believe that their work should be subject to the approval of IFAA Member Associations.

The types of discussion underlying this dispute are illustrated in an article by Roger Warwick, then Honorary Secretary of the IANC: [1]

An aura of scholasticism, erudition and, unfortunately, pedantry has therefore often impeded attempts to rationalize and simplify anatomical nomenclature, and such obstruction still persists. The preservation of archaic terms such as Lien, Ventriculus, Epiplooon and Syndesmologia, in a world which uses and continues to use Splen, Gaster, Omentum and Arthrologia (and their numerous derivatives) provides an example of such pedantry.
We have inherited a number of archaic and now somewhat irrational terms which are confusing to the non-Latinistic students and scientists of today . . . Knowledge of Latin is extremely limited today, and thus any Latin nomenclature must be simplified to the utmost to achieve maximum clarity, usefulness, and hence acceptance.
Unless anatomical nomenclatue is subject to a most rigorous revision, in terms of simplification and rationalization, general use of such an internationally official nomenclature as Nomina Anatomica will decline rather than increase.

What declined, however, was the influence of the IANC on anatomical terminology. The IANC published a sixth edition of Nomina Anatomica, but it was never approved by the IFAA. Instead, at the Thirteenth Congress (Rio de Janeiro, 1989), the IFAA created a new committee – the Federative Committee on Anatomical Terminology (FCAT).

The FCAT took over the task of revising international anatomical terminology. The result was the publication, in 1998, of a “new, updated, simplified and uniform anatomical terminology,” the Terminologia Anatomica (TA)[2] . The IANC was acknowledged in this work as follows:

Since the first meeting, the FCAT made several contacts with the IANC aiming at the natural transition from the old approach to the approach established by the General Assembly of the IFAA. Such initiatives, however, did not result in a modus vivendi for harmonious collaboration.

Terminologia Anatomica (TA)Edit

The Terminologia Anatomica is the joint creation of the FCAT (now FICAT – the Federative International Committee on Anatomical Terminology) and the Member Associations of the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA). The first edition, published in 1998, supersedes all previous lists. It is the international standard for anatomical terminology. The 39th edition of Gray’s Anatomy (2005) explicitly recognizes Terminologia Anatomica.


  1. Warwick R. The future of Nomina Anatomica - a Personal View. J. Anat.126:221-223, 1978
  2. Federative Committee on Anatomical Terminology. Terminologia Anatomica. Thieme, 1998


Clemente CD. Gray’s Anatomy, 30th American edition. Lea & Febiger, 1985

DiDio, LJA. History of IFAA.

Federative Committee on Anatomical Terminology. Terminologia Anatomica. Thieme, 1998

Ferner H. Eduard Pernkopf Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy. Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1980

Figge FHJ. Sobotta/Figge Atlas of Human Anatomy, 9th English edition.Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1997

Grant JCB. Grant’s Atlas, 5th edition. Williams & Wilkins, 1962

Standring S. Gray’s Anatomy, 39th edition. Elsevier Churchill Livingstone, 2005

External linksEdit

Terminologia AnatomicaEdit

International Federation of Associations of AnatomistsEdit

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