Do nurses need a new name?
We believe that the practical answer to all of this is simply to continue working to claim the word "nurse" by improving society's understanding and valuation of nursing. Part of that may be discouraging people from using "nursing" to mean breastfeeding, clerical work, unskilled care giving, or any other activity that discourages society from thinking of the word as synonymous with a highly skilled scientific profession. Language is organic, constantly changing, and it can be influenced by conscious social pressure (see our nurse friendly language FAQ page).
But it would not be irrational to wonder, given the various uses and abuses of the word "nurse," whether it may make sense to simply find or create a new English word to describe the profession. Of course, any new word would likely encounter problems, even apart from the low chance that society could be persuaded to change a name it has been using for well over a century, and in which most nurses take an understandable pride. There is another existing English word that is sometimes used to describe one who provides nursing care: infirmarian, which has long been the title of one who provides health care in a Christian religious community, whether as a nurse or not. The word is not an exact fit with "nurse," though it closely resembles the Spanish and French words for "nurse" (enfermera and infirmiere). Some may also be uncomfortable with the word's length or its clerical associations, or find it too close to "infirm," associating the profession too closely with illness rather than efforts to prevent it.
In Esperanto, which was created to serve as a global language, the words for nurse appear to be flegistin (female) and flegisto (male). We're not so sure about those either. Other Esperanto words that may be relevant to nurses' roles as health advocates and teachers include proparoli (to advocate or intercede for), instruistino or instruisto (teacher), sano or saneco (health), and saniga or sana (healthy). So we came up with ideas for words that combined some of the above ideas: Proparologist, Proparola, Proparolo, Proparole, Proparolist, Proparflegist, Proparolician, Propasaneco, Sanproparologist, Sanparologist, Sanparolist, Proparolvarti, Proparvarti, Parolvartist, Provartist, Proparvartist, Prosanec, Provartician, Prosantruist, Prosantist, Prosanecian, Prosanician, Prosanvartist...
Or Cole Summers suggests we use "Lifeguard."
We're not recommending that nursing change its name, much less that it adopt any particular alternative, but we did want to use the discussion to get people thinking, and to highlight just how severe the abuse of the profession's name is. What do you think? Please join the discussion below. Thank you.