Medical & Psychological Disorders Named After Popular Literary Characters

Medical practitioners and psychologists use the term “syndrome” to refer to a set or pattern of symptoms that usually occur together and are indicative of a particular disorder, disease, or social condition.  Most syndromes are named after the physicians who first discovered or detected the association of the symptoms. There are exceptions, however.  Many names of syndromes originate from psychological analysis of fictional characters. The following examples are medical and psychological disorders named after literary characters:


  1. Pickwickian Syndrome

Named after an excessively fat boy named Joe Pickwick, a character in Charles Dickens’ very first novel, this syndrome is medically known as Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome.  This medical condition involves the combination of excessive obesity and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a life-threatening disorder characterized by repetitive breathing interruptions during sleep.  It has even been known to lead to heart failure.  The most effective treatment is weight loss, in combination with CPAP therapy.  This syndrome is often utilized in my lectures, showing that literature recognized OSA long before Sir William Osler did.

psychological analysis of fictional characters


 2. Othello’s Syndrome

Named after the Shakespearean character that murdered his wife out of intense distrust (also called delusional jealousy), describes a person’s stubborn belief that their mate is being unfaithful.  As a result, incessant groundless accusations of infidelity are made, taking considerable pains to test their mate’s trustworthiness – even to the extent of displaying stalking and violent behavior.  The average onset age of Othello’s Syndrome is 68 years old, with a 60/40-male/female ratio. Othello’s Syndrome is commonly associated with a neurological disorder rather than a psychiatric disorder.

Scene from 1995 film Othello



3. Lady Windermere Syndrome

Named after the vivacious but meticulous, difficult woman (the main character from an Oscar Wilde play), this mycobacterial lung disease exhibits symptoms such as persistent cough, shortness of breath and lethargy. Patients with this disorder voluntarily suppress their cough out of politeness, and it is typically treated with strong antibiotics and anti-tuberculosis drugs. This habit results in lung infection and inflammation, as it allows secretions to collect in the airways.

Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere


4. Peter Pan Syndrome

Named after the well-loved J.M. Barrie character that simply refuses to grow up, people with this syndrome display immaturity, shun responsibility and oppose accepted norms.  More often than not, they focus on fantasy rather than reality and usually need to be mothered well into adulthood. These individuals feel isolated and alone, and have a hard time building relationships with others.

Peter Pan


5. Mowgli Syndrome

Named after the main character in “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling, this syndrome describes children with weak mental and/or physical traits, especially those who have suffered tremendous emotional stress due to parental neglect and abuse. It is also used to refer to children who grew up without the influence of human contact (such as those said to be raised by wild animals). Isolation from human contact at a very young age results in little or no experience of human care, social behavior, eating habits, hygiene and human language.



6. Cinderella Syndrome

Named after Charles Perrault’s fairy tale character made popular by Disney, this syndrome is characterized by false accusations made by adopted children or stepchildren regarding abuse and neglect by their adoptive mothers or stepmothers. This syndrome can manifest from actual physical abuse that occurred in a child’s previous home, the early loss of a mother/mother figure, or emotional abuse received in another home. This syndrome should be recognized as a cry for help, although all reports of child abuse should be handled accordingly.


Cinderella’s cruel stepmother Lady Tremaine and stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella


7. Rapunzel Syndrome

Named after the Brothers Grimm fairy tale princess with amazingly long-flowing hair, this disorder is called trichobezoar. This rare condition is characterized by intestinal obstruction caused by hair ingestion, and occurs mostly in female patients with an underlying psychiatric illness. Trichobezoar is associated with trichotillomania – a psychological condition manifested by an uncontrollable urge to pull out head and body hair. Treatment options include endoscopic removal, laparoscopic removal, or via laparotomy.



8. Huckleberry Finn Syndrome

Named after a very popular adventurous boy-character created by the great American writer Mark Twain, this condition refers to the habitual neglect of responsibilities by kids of superior intelligence because of parental disapproval and feelings of rejection. These responsibilities avoided as a child turn into frequent job changes and absenteeism as an adult.  This can also stem from the inability of normal/bright children born to mentally impaired parents to adjust socially and psychologically.  This syndrome is thought to be a possible defense mechanism for low self-esteem and depression.



9. Dorian Gray Syndrome

Named after the character from Oscar Wilde’s novel about a handsome young man who desires his picture would grow old instead of himself, this condition describes people who are overly critical of their own physical appearance despite the lack of any defects. They have great difficulty coping with the aging process, and thus try to cling to their youth by depending heavily on cosmetic products and procedures. Psychological maturation is often lacking in people with this disorder.



10. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Named after the curious wandering character from Lewis Carroll’s most famous work, this neurological disorder is a condition wherein a person suffers from visual image distortions, perceiving parts of their body or any other objects as having been altered in size. Though most closely linked with migraine, it is also a sign of epilepsy, mononucleosis and hallucinogenic drug consumption.

Alice in Wonderland