Phobia Names: Why Can’t We Just Agree?

– Posted in: Phobias

Why are there so many names for phobias? Why can’t we just agree on one for each?

If you have the fear of newness or novelty, you get to choose among 8 terms: Cainophobia, Cainotophobia, Cenophobia, Centophobia, Kainolophobia, Kainophobia, Kainotophobia, and Neophobia. The fear of being touched has 6 names to describe it, and the fear of odors has 7!

Regrettably, the fellow on the right has only two terms to describe his fear of needles: Aichmophobia and Belonephobia. Maybe we could come up with a couple of others: stickophobia or ouchaphobia. Or if you’re classically trained: neraphobia, from the Latin root “nere,” or nemaphobia from the Greek “nema, ” both meaning “needle.”

Today’s post is a lighthearted look at all the multiple names given to phobias, complete with a cartoon. The topic is explored under the headings:

  • What are phobias, anyway?
  • Why are there so many names for the same phobia?
  • A big old list: Multiple names for the same phobia

What are phobias, anyway?

Marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association is the main diagnostic reference book for mental health professionals in the US and in much of the rest of the world.

According to the DSM-IV, a phobia is characterized by:

  • A marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (e.g., flying, heights, animals, receiving an injection, seeing blood). 
  • Exposure to the phobic stimulus almost invariably provokes an immediate anxiety response, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally predisposed panic attack
  • The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.
  • The phobic situation(s) is avoided or else is endured with intense anxiety or distress. 
  • The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared situation(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia. 

A study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that up to 18 per cent of Americans — 55 million — suffer from at least one phobia. If there are so many suffering people out there, why can’t the mental health profession agree on a single name for a single phobia?

Why are there so many names for the same phobia?

Aeluro-, aelur-, ailuro, eluro- are all Greek root words for “cat”

Some of the reasons for the multiple names for phobias lie in the language of the root source of the word, whether that root word is plural or not, and how the root word is spelled. 

Take, for example, some of the fear of cat’s terms.  Felinophobia’s root is the Latin word “felinus,” Elurophobia’s root is directly from the Greek “eluro,” and gatophobia’s root is derived from the Spanish word for cat, “gato.” All these root words mean “cat.” Two of the other terms for the fear of cats, Aelurophobia and Ailurophobia, come from variant spellings of the Greek root word “eluro.”

Another reason is that phobias were not studied much until recent times. Each physician over time invented his (and it was a “his,” almost exclusively) own word for an observed phobia, usually dusting off his grammar-school Greek or Latin for the root word. So these terms come down to us in all their plurality from the moldy tomes of the ancients. 

But not all terms were made hundreds of years ago. Greek and Latin root words are still being coined for certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, which is made of two Greek words slammed together in the early 20th century. Autism, neurotic, id and libido were all made up in the 20th century.

A big old list: Multiple names for the same phobia

Afraid of dirt? There are 11 names for it!

Below is a sample list of phobias with three or more terms identifying them — there are many, many more, but I decided enough was enough. So, sit back and relax while you read this list and wonder where all these terms came from:

  • Being alone – Autophobia, Eremiophobia, Eremophobia, Ermitophobia, Isolophobia, Monophobia
  • Being locked in an enclosed space – Cleithrophobia, Cleisiophobia, Clithrophobia
  • Being poisoned – Toxiphobia, Toxophobia, Toxicophobia
  • Being touched – Aphenphosmphobia, Aphephobia, Chiraptophobia, Haphephobia, Haptephobia, Haptophobia 
  • Blood – Hemophobia, Hemaphobia, Hematophobia
  • Cats – Aelurophobia, Ailurophobia, Elurophobia, Felinophobia, Galeophobia, Gatophobia
  • Childbirth – Maleusiophobia, Tocophobia, Parturiphobia, Lockiophobia
  • Cold – Cheimaphobia, Cheimatophobia, Cryophobia, Frigophobia, Pagophobia, Psychrophobia, Psychropophobia
  • Crowds – Demophobia, Enochlophobia Ochlophobia
  • Dirt and being dirty – Automysophobia, Coprophobia, Misophobia, Molysmophobia, Molysomophobia, Mysophobia, Rupophobia, Rypophobia, Scatophobia, Spermophobia, Verminophobia.
  • Disease – Nosophobia, Nosemaphobia, Pathophobia, Panthophobia, Monopathophobia
  • Everything – Panophobia, Panphobia, Pamphobia, Pantophobia
  • Fever – Febriphobia, Fibriphobia, Fidriophobia, Pyrexiophobia
  • Flying – Aviophobia or Aviatophobia, Pteromerhanophobia
  • France or French culture – Francophobia, Gallophobia, Galiphobia
  • Glass – Hyelophobia, Hyalophobia, Nelophobia
  • Hair – Chaetophobia, Trichopathophobia, Trichophobia Hypertrichophobia
  • Heights – Acrophobia, Altophobia, Bathophobia, Batophobia, Hypsiphobia, Hypsophobia
  • Insects – Acarophobia or Entomophobia, Insectophobia
  • Men – Androphobia or Arrhenphobia, Hominophobia
  • Mice – Musophobia, Murophobia, Suriphobia
  • Newness, novelty – Cainophobia, Cainotophobia, Cenophobia, Centophobia, Kainolophobia, Kainophobia, Kainotophobia, Neophobia 
  • Night or darkness – Achluophobia, Lygophobia, Myctophobia, Noctiphobia, Nyctophobia, Scotophobia
  • Odors – Autodysosmophobia, Automysophobia, Bromidrophobia, Bromidrosiphobia, Olfactophobia, Osmophobia, Osphresiophobia
  • Pain -Agliophobia, Algophobia, Algiophobia, Ergasiophobia, Ergophobia, Odynephobia, Odynophobia, Ponophobia
  • Rabies – Cynophobia, Hydrophobophobia, Hydrophobia, Kynophobia, Lyssophobia
  • Red (color or word) – Ereuthophobia, Ereuthrophobia, Erythrophobia, Erthyrophobia, Erytophobia, and Rhodophobia
  • Thunder and lightning – Astraphobia, Astrapophobia, Brontophobia, Ceraunophobia, Keraunophobia, Tonitrophobia
  • Walking – Ambulophobia, Basiphobia, Basophobia, Basostasophobia, Basistasiphobia Stasibasiphobia, Stasiphobia
  • Water – Aquaphobia, Caninophobia, Cynophobia, Hydrophobia, Hydrophobophobia, Kynophobia, Lyssophobia, Nautophobia

What do you think?

I have a fascination for words and their etymology. You can probably tell that! I hope I haven’t bored you with all these almost indecipherable Greek and Latin terms!

I want to emphasize that I in no way intend this post to make fun of people with these and other phobias. If you have a phobia that is impairing your life, I recommend seeing a mental health professional. Treatment usually takes only a few sessions for a lifetime of relief.

  • Do you have a phobia? Mine is roaches!
  • Do you find this list offensive, funny, or none of the above?
  • Did you even get this far with your reading?

As always, your comments are welcome!

If you have enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to this blog, either via RSS or email at the top of your screen. It’s free! You can also follow me on Twitter from the same place. I would also appreciate your sharing this post using your favorite social media, such as StumbleUpon or Digg. Just click the little green “ShareThis” button at the bottom of this post.

More phobia lists for your reading pleasure:

The Phobia List – An enormous list sorted by the phobia terms  

Types of Phobias – You can look up terms either by their names or “fear of…”  

Related posts:


33 comments… add one
stratosg November 24, 2008, 8:18 pm

Very nice and informative article… Had no idea there were SO many phobias around… Being Greek you didn’t actually bore me… I find it interesting how my language is used in the area of phobias (phobia is Greek too from the Greek word “Phobos” which means fear). I am not the type of Greek that says “Give me a word and i’ll prove you it’s Greek” but surprisingly you will find Greek and Latin roots in many English terms! As i said very nice and interesting article…

stratosg’s last blog post..Don’t use a cannon…

Tori Deaux November 24, 2008, 8:19 pm

Roaches? aayyeeee… it’s those big Palmetto bug-roaches that freak me out. You can hear them clunking along as they come for you! clunk-scutter, clunk-skutter *shudder*

Luckily, I share your fond obsession with words, so I usually have a dictionary or thesaurus handy for throwing purposes… clunk-skutter, clunk-skutter *squish*

Seriously, I’d always wondered why phobias had so many names. Thank you for clearing up that mystery :)

Tori Deaux’s last blog post..Make It Personal: A Tip for Personal Excellence

Mike November 24, 2008, 9:33 pm

@stratosg English is a mongrel language with over half of it borrowed from other languages. There’s lots of Greek-based words in English. Of course, medical terms are mainly Latin and Greek. Check out the links to the Phobias List and the Types of Phobias — there are hundreds of them!

@Tori LOL! Yep. Snakes and spiders I can deal with. But a big old cockroach will have me climbing into my chair, squealing, every time!

John Roach November 25, 2008, 3:32 am

Interestingly enough, my biggest fear is of Nicholses.

Has there been any effort to reach a consensus on the names? Seems like it would be distracting to work this way, to say the least.

But you know us copy editors, always reaching for the stylebook….

John Roach’s last blog post..Top 5 grammar myths

Mike November 25, 2008, 4:08 pm

John, welcome and thanks for the comment!

LOL A lot of people are scared of the Nicholses. With good reason!

There are some names that are more commonly used than others, but the main reference for mental health diagnosis, the DSM-IV, doesn’t list them; doctors are free to use whichever term suits their fancy. Most of them choose the DSM-IV’s more formal diagnostic terms.

Now, Mr. Copy Editor, the first sentence in the previous paragraph reached Johnsonian length. Tell me how I could have crafted it better!

John Roach November 25, 2008, 4:24 pm

I would leave it. It’s long, but perfectly understandable. It’s a good use of a semi-colon. Throw in a solid conjunction and an appropriate apposition and you’ve got a grammatically inoffensive sentence. Good work!

I would, however, consider hyphenating “mental health,” as it modifies “diagnosis,” but without an APA stylebook handy, I can’t be sure.

John Roach’s last blog post..Top 5 grammar myths

Mike November 25, 2008, 4:39 pm

John, thanks for the analysis. I used an appolonian rejective along with an horatian to great effect, I thought!

In general usage — at least as far as I’ve seen — mental health is unhyphenated. I would be curious to see what the APA stylebook says about it.

Pam November 25, 2008, 4:49 pm

is there a phobia of phobias? Phobiaphobia? Let’s hope if you have that you don’t also have a fear of stuttering or you’re really in trouble! LOL
Interesting article…I think most of us have a fear/phobia about something and it’s always interesting to learn more about what others have going on inside. Levity about it is a good thing. I love words, too.

Pam’s last blog post..What Type of Blog Do You Have?

Pam November 25, 2008, 4:58 pm

Ok before I posted my last comment, the cartoon hadn’t loaded…. so I missed that, and appear redundant! OOPs Good thing I don’t have a fear of mistakes! My main fear is spiders, as well as other creepy crawlies like the roaches that you mention…. I can stand lady bugs and fireflies, houseflies and ants (up to a point) but anything else sends my heart racing and me into a panic. I have other fears but nothing that comes close to the bug fear thing.
that’s it this time.

Mike November 25, 2008, 5:02 pm

Thank you, Pam, for the comment.

“Phobia” means fear, so phobiaphobia would mean “fear of fear,” and I think a lot of people have that!

You’re right. Many, many people have a secret fear of one thing or another. It’s interesting to look at a list such as the Phobia List and wonder if somebody really has that fear, or are they just coining words.

Mike November 25, 2008, 5:06 pm

Pam, we apparently were writing comments at the same time, so your last didn’t appear before I saved mine.

I can stand most insects, but beetles and roach-like things make me extremely squeamish. Spiders I can stand, as long as they’re not crawling on me. I’m not very good with the various things kids emit, even though I raised two myself!

The Social Reformer November 26, 2008, 4:15 pm

i like this article alot =)

The Social Reformer’s last blog post..A Foundation For Life Long Learning

Mike November 27, 2008, 4:44 pm

The Social Reformer – Thank you for visiting and thank you for the comment. I’m glad you like this article. I’m always hesitant to post a humorous article when there is so much serious information waiting to be covered. But I think it’s good to lighten up every once in a while.

Kim Woodbridge November 27, 2008, 8:00 pm

I don’t like rats but I don’t really have a phobia of anything. I would deal with it if I had too.

I really like the Twitter plugin and am thinking of adding to my site.

And I think it’s good to have a not so serious article once in awhile.

Kim Woodbridge | (Anti) Social Development’s last blog post..Google Page Rank – A Sudden 3 Point Drop!!!

Mike November 27, 2008, 8:09 pm

Hi, Kim!
I don’t like rats either, but both my son and daughter had pet rats for a while and I got used to looking at them, but I would never touch them. Something about their hairless tails is repulsive to me. And I keep thinking about the Black Death.

I really like the WP-Twitip-ID plugin. It’s simple to install and just works. It’s still in beta at this moment, but I don’t know what he could do to make it better! He has a stock birdie that’s cute, but I changed it to match my Twitter subscribe at the top. Let me know if you want to use mine.

Jim November 28, 2008, 11:51 pm

Hi Mike,

I really enjoyed reading this article. I learned a lot. :-)

I would say I’m very close to arachnophobia. I find myself pretty freaked our of a lot of bugs in general.Usually things with many legs. If it’s furry, I’m good and I could deal with snakes but for some reason bugs really get to me. It’s stupid to me too because I know I’m huge compared to them but I still get creeped out.


Jim’s last blog post..3 Fake Game Shows Cooler Than ‘Deal Or No Deal’

Mike November 29, 2008, 12:01 am

Hi, Jim! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I’m really glad you enjoyed the article — I enjoyed writing it!

One of the defining characteristics of phobias is that we recognize that the fear is excessive or unreasonable. I know that roaches are way smaller than me and could in no way hurt me, even if a 100 were crawling on me. But even the though of one crawling in my hair, much less 100, gives me the shivers!

We humans are just big bundles of little fears and apprehensions. Most of them are illogical and unreasonable, but we can’t seem to reason our way out of them. It’s these little fears that drain life of its joy and spontaneity. Just think what life could be like without them!

D November 30, 2008, 11:34 am

I think these specific phobia names are throwbacks to the days when all quirks of mental illness were labeled (and used to identify people). The terms are stigmatizing. The media likes to use them to describe people, but the labels are too simplistic. Just my thoughts at least :)

Mike November 30, 2008, 5:29 pm

D, thanks for dropping by, and thanks for commenting!

Yes, labels stigmatize. I had not thought about the stigmatizing effects phobia labels have, but you’re right, they do. Even an attempt at humor, such as this post, serves to stigmatize others to at least some extent.

I have strong feelings about the stigma of mental illness, as witnessed by the several posts I’ve written about it. It’s a sign of the deeply embedded culture in all of us that I can joke about phobias, which plague many, many people worldwide.

I’ve learned my lesson, and will not be flippant about phobias again! Thank you for helping me to realize the effects of phobia names.

Tracy December 1, 2008, 9:05 pm

“It’s interesting to look at a list such as the Phobia List and wonder if somebody really has that fear, or are they just coining words.”

I’ve wondered that myself with the phobia names and the names for groups of animals. When I was in school a teacher read us a book called something like “An Exclamation of Larks” with all the names for groups of animals and it really caught my fancy. Thanks for bringing back that nice memory!

Tracy’s last blog post..I am Learning the Social Web Media Networking 2.0

ILIKEPIE February 4, 2009, 3:16 pm


karen July 14, 2010, 10:56 pm

I loved this! I have a portion of my blog title “the Panic Room.” I try to update with my own experiences as well as scientific studies. I happen to be exploring a bit about agoraphobia as it relates to panic disorder. Indeed the definition of being agoraphobic is the fear you might have a panic attack in an area where it would be embarrassing, escape cannot occur, or help is not available. I am definitely a phobiaphobic. I found it amusing!!By the way–the cartoon depicts me on any given day–I also work for the government! Maybe that is the real problem!

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