There is no place you visit or news channel you tune to today you won’t hear of Coronavirus or COVID 19. To the extent social media and entertainment industry turned it into fun of the day. And to even spice it up, according to aljazeera, a couple in India’s central state of Chhattisgarh have named their newborn twins Corona and Covid amid the country’s nationwide lockdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Yes! This is how popular COVID 19 has become. Now the question is have you ever pondered how this virus got its name?

It is not news that scientific or any form of discoveries and inventions are named after the individual or group of persons involved in the whole process. This however is slightly different in the case of disease outbreak. We can recall that the Ebola virus which ravaged Africa and some other parts of the world in 2014 was named after the Ebola river located in Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). Oh yes, you may not have known this! Now that you know, you may also need the reason. This is because the virus started its spread from the village near Ebola River. It could have been same with Coronavirus if it is named after Wuhan City where the 2019 outbreak began.

In the case of coronavirus, Researchers did not wake up one morning to assign a name to one newly discovered disease reason being that there are prodeures for naming viruses and diseases. First, let’s look at the meaning of the virus COVID. According to World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

How come about the name?

The name Coronaviruse was coined from the Latin word corona meaning crown. This is because the coronaviruses are named for their appearance. When viewed under electron microscope, they take the shape of a crown surrounded by long pointed spikes.

As for the new disease caused by the coronavirus, it was originally called novel coronavirus during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in 2003. In February 2019, the World Health Organization gave us the name COVID-19.

The CO stands for corona. VI is for virus. And D means disease.

The 19 is for 2019, the year the disease first appeared in China.

Let’s see some questions that may have come across your mind while reading. Don’t panic there are answers to them. WHO has been doing a lot of great work especially this period that the world is battling a disease that the cure is difficult to find.

Can we then say that SARS outbreak of 2003 and COVID 19 are same?

Official names have been announced for the virus responsible for COVID-19 (previously known as “2019 novel coronavirus”) and the disease it causes. The official names are:


coronavirus disease

severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2

Why do the virus and the disease have different names?

Viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names. For example, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People often know the name of a disease, but not the name of the virus that causes it.

There are different processes, and purposes, for naming viruses and diseases.

Viruses are named based on their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines. Virologists and the wider scientific community do this work, so viruses are named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).

Diseases are named to enable discussion on disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment. Human disease preparedness and response is WHO’s role, so diseases are officially named by WHO in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

ICTV announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus on 11 February 2020. This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003. While related, the two viruses are different.

WHO announced “COVID-19” as the name of this new disease on 11 February 2020, following guidelines previously developed with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

WHO and ICTV were in communication about the naming of both the virus and the disease.

What name does WHO use for the virus?

From a risk communications perspective, using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003.

For that reason and others, WHO has begun referring to the virus as “the virus responsible for COVID-19” or “the COVID-19 virus” when communicating with the public. Neither of these designations are intended as replacements for the official name of the virus as agreed by the ICTV.

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You can also read my previous post on Coronavirus disease for broader scope.