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Paediatrics: the etymology of a name
  1. John Pearn
  1. Correspondence to Professor John Pearn, History and Heritage, Department of Paediatrics & Child Health, Royal Children's Hospital and Royal Children's Hospital Foundation, Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane, QLD 4029, Australia; j.pearn{at}


Within the history of paediatrics is the history of the name used to describe it. The etymology of the word ‘paediatrics’ dates from its first written use, recorded as ‘pädiatrik’ in the German literature and as ‘paediatric’, later ‘pediatric’ in the USA, both first in 1850. Professor Robley Dunglison (1788–1869), the British and American medical lexicographer, first defined ‘paediatria’ as ‘the treatment of the diseases of children’ in 1855. ‘Pediatric medicine’ was promoted as a specialty in the USA in 1880. The oldest monumental inscription defining the specialty of ‘paediatrics’ in the UK is to be found on a plaque added (in 1950) to the memorial to Dr George Armstrong (1719–1789), a founder of the specialty of paediatrics, in Castleton Cemetery, Scottish Borders, Roxburghshire. ‘Paediatrics’ and ‘child health’, with subtle semantic distinctions, had become well established in the English-speaking world by the middle of the 20th century. This paper presents an interpretative chronology of the etymology of the descriptors of the specialty that enjoins all who care for children.

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  • Conflicts of interest None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.